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Site Assessment
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SOLUTION 5

Tall wheatgrass

 

5.2  Most likely situations for tall wheatgrass

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Landscape niche

All plants have landscape niches or zones (combinations of climatic and soil conditions and management) where they are most competitive or where they will perform best. Saltland plants are the same, each tending to have a particular set of climatic (rainfall, temperature etc) and soil (salinity, waterlogging) factors which determine where they will be able to survive, and where they are likely to thrive. For tall wheatgrass, these factors are summarised in Figure 5.2.

Figure 5.2 Most likely situations for successful tall wheatgrass pastures. 

Subsoil salinity/ depth to watertable matrix

 Winter

Summer 

 

 

Drivers of plant zonation

  • Deeper rooted halophyte
  • Damaged by salt/waterlogging interaction in winter
  • Less waterlogging tolerant than puccinellia
  • Growth in summer assisted by groundwater accessible to roots
  • Rainfall 400–800mm

 


Key to symbols

red dot

This is the zone most preferred by saltbush and where it is highly recommended;

Small Dot

Saltbush is one of the possible options for this zone but it is outside its preferred conditions;

red ring

Saltbush will most likely survive in this zone, but its growth will be poor and therefore it is not recommended.

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Common indicator species

Tall wheatgrass thrives in conditions that also favour buck’s horn plantain, sea barleygrass and spiny rush (Figures 5.3, 5.4 and 5.5). These are conditions characterised by low to moderate subsoil salinity (ECe 2-8 dS/m) measured in summer and low to moderate waterlogging. Tall wheatgrass is unlikely to be found in saltier environments where samphire dominates, or in areas that have high waterlogging or inundated for extensive periods during the warmer months. SALTdeck cards assist with the identification of the 50 most common saltland species. These can be viewed on this website or they ordered from the Land Water and Wool website.

Figure 5.3 – SALTdeck card for sea barleygrass, an indicator species for tall wheatgrass suitability. 

Figures 5.4 – SALTdeck card for buck’s horn plantain, an indicator species for tall wheatgrass suitability. 

Figures 5.5 – SALTdeck card for spiny rush, an indicator species for tall wheatgrass suitability.

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Soil & climate requirements

The minimum annual rainfall for tall wheatgrass is reported as about 400mm, although it is generally regarded as a pasture for higher rainfall zones, up to as much as 800mm. It is frost tolerant and recovers well after burning. It does not persist in soils that have high waterlogging over spring and into summer, but it does persist in soils subject to low to moderate waterlogging in winter that dry out over summer.


Tall wheatgrass is tolerant of acid and alkaline soils. It grows particularly well in soils of moderate subsoil salinity (ECe 4-8 dS/m), soils often supporting sea barleygrass and buck's horn plantain. It can tolerate soils in which the salinity of the topsoil reaches summer ECe values of 20dS/m, providing it can still access moisture from the subsoil in late spring. Once well established it can tolerate higher surface salinities if it has access to fresher water at depth.


Because salinity is so often associated with waterlogging it is generally more meaningful to consider not just salt tolerance but saltland capability which takes account of both constraints. Figure 5.2 illustrates this, showing the tolerance of tall wheat grass to both salinity and waterlogging.

It is not uncommon for farmers to sow a mix of tall wheatgrass and puccinellia, allowing each to find its niche in a saline/waterlogged but nonetheless heterogeneous landscape. Whilst quantitative data on salt and waterlogging tolerance is generally unavailable, CRC Salinity research shows species change from almost 100% tall wheatgrass to 100% puccinellia in response only to slight changes in microtopography and subsequent waterlogging. This is illustrated in the SPA newsletter.

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Waterlogging and surface water management

Tall wheatgrass is tolerant of moderate waterlogging in the cool season and brief periods of inundation, provided some of the plant is above the water level. As noted above, it is less tolerant of waterlogging under saline conditions than puccinellia, and improved surface drainage should improve its growth during periods of excess water.

Surface drainage can also be of value in allowing initial access to the site for establishing the pasture. However, deeper groundwater drains may prove to be a disadvantage to tall wheatgrass, potentially depriving the pasture of moisture from deeper in the soil profile in early summer. For more information, see Surface water key to success.

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