Summer Annuals

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Tell me you live in North Carolina without telling me you live in North Carolina… I will go first! We can experience several seasons in one day – 80 degrees, 30 degrees, cloudy, rainy, sunny, tornado…good ole, North Carolina weather, am I right? The weather may show us different, but I can assure you the calendar says it’s spring, and during this time of year, I usually start to get calls with questions about possible planting of summer annuals. I want to touch on a few of those below.

Pearl millet, Sorghum-Sudan, and Crabgrass are the most common summer annuals planted in the eastern part of the state. Summer annuals will provide grazing from June through September. Summer annuals are mostly used as a grazing source because of the drying time required; they are hard to harvest for hay. It is recommended summer annuals be rotationally grazed to reduce overgrazing. Summer annuals that are overgrazed will usually not yield multiple grazing periods. Animals can be allowed to graze when the summer annuals reach 18 – 24 inches in height and should be taken off or rotated when the forage reaches 6 – 8 inches in height. Summer annuals are excellent quality and will meet the needs of most animals: 60 – 65 percent total digestible energy (TDN) and 14 – 18 percent crude protein (CP).

Pearl millet can be used for all grazing animals. It is very productive over a short season, usually from June through September. Pearl millet is best planted May 1 through May 15, with possible plant dates of April 20 through June 30, depending on soil moisture.

Sorghums, Sudans, and Sorghum-Sudan hybrids are tall-growing, coarse-stemmed summer annuals. They are adapted to well-drained, fertile soils and do not tolerate acidic soils. It is NOT recommended for horse grazing because of cystitis, which is inflammation of a horse’s bladder that prevents them from urinating. They are very productive over a short season, usually from June through September. Sorghums, Sudans, and Sorghum-Sudan hybrids are best planted May 1 through May 15, with possible plant dates of April 20 through June 30. If soil moisture is low it is not recommended to plant in June, unless there is a way to irrigate. One note of caution for Sorghums, Sudans, and Sorghum-Sudan hybrids is the potential for prussic acid poisoning. Prussic acid poisoning usually occurs after a frost, after herbicide use, or after a long drought. Glycosides in the plant cause prussic acid, or hydrocyanic acid (HCN), to build up to toxic levels in the leaves of the plant. Prussic acid can cause death from suffocation, excessive salivation, rapid breathing, muscle spasms, and staggering. It is recommended you remove the animals for 7 – 10 days after a killing frost or severe drought.

Crabgrass. Yes, you read that right. Did you have to do a double-take? Or do you think I am crazy? Crabgrass is usually considered a weed, and lots of farmers spray to get rid of it in their hayfields because it increases the drying time for hay production. Crabgrass is actually a high-quality annual that acts like a perennial and will reseed itself. It is a competitive grass that usually grows from June through September and will yield 3-5 tons/acre. There are limited varieties of crabgrass to plant. Red River and Quick-N-Big are varieties that have shown success.

If you have any questions about planting summer annuals or you want to plant a perennial grass, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions. I look forward to working with and making farm visits to my farmers in the county.

For more information, please contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at 910-671-3276, by email at, or visit our website.