The canopy height (CH) at 95% light interception (LI) is a valuable defoliation frequency strategy used to handle variability in herbage accumulation throughout the year, mainly in C4 grasses. Such a strategy has been adopted as an open pasture management index, but defoliation frequency and intensity remain unsolved issues for shade-grown forages. A field experiment was conducted for 2 years to determine the influence of tree canopy (Eucalyptus dunnii) shading and nitrogen availability (0 and 300 kg N ha–1 year–1) on CH at 95% LI of six perennial tropical forage species. The plots were cut at 95% LI, and the height of the residual sward was kept at 50% of the corresponding CH at 95% LI. The shade level ranged from ∼40% at the beginning of the experiment to ∼60% at the end of summer 2013. Variations in CH at 95% LI occurred because of shading and across seasons. The range of these variations was species-dependent. Overall, species growing under trees showed higher CH, except for Paspalum notatum and Megathyrsus maximus in the first year. There was a significant increase in the length of the sheaths and leaves, as well as a decrease in tiller density and leaf : stem ratio in plants growing under trees. Nitrogen also had an impact on CH; however, its application did not compensate the shade effect on CH. Therefore, our results suggest that greater CH should be considered in case of defoliated, shade-grown plants and that such strategy might change throughout seasons.
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Vol. 67 • No. 11