Sorghum bicolor
Common Name: sorghum 
Type: Annual
Family: Poaceae
Native Range: China, South Africa
Zone: 2 to 11
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: Flowers not showy
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Annual, Vegetable
Attracts: Birds

Culture

Grain sorghum is treated as an annual in temperate regions, although it is a perennial grass and in the tropics may be harvested many times. Sorghum is a warm weather crop, and like corn should not be planted before 4 inch depth soil temperature reaches 55° F. Plant 1 to 2 inches deep about 10 to 15 inches apart in rows 24 to 36 inches apart. While sorghum can tolerate many different types of soil, it does best in deep, fertile, well-drained soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Insure seed bed is clean and firm before planting. Keep weed free with shallow cultivation to avoid harming roots. Regular ground watering and fertilization will improve harvest. Depending on grain maturity, harvesting for grain should be in about 120 days. In the backyard garden, harvest is usually by hand. If only the heads are cut, place in small heaps on the ground or on cement to dry. If entire plant is cut, stack in small shocks to dry. Protect from birds and rodents. After about 10 to 14 days, depending on temperature and humidity, grain should be sufficiently dry to thresh.

Noteworthy Characteristics

From the Kansas State Historical Society: “They covered homes, cars, and stores in golden and silvery plumes of grain. They fed it to their livestock. They even popped it to eat. During a brief period of time, Kansas went plain crazy over Kafir corn, the once popular sorghum grain that survived the droughts of Kansas. Nowhere in Kansas was Kafir so popular as El Dorado. Butler County residents declared Kafir the queen of the prairie and staged a three day festival in honor of the grain.” At the first Kafir Corn Carnival in 1911, El Dorado, with a population of 3,000, drew 20,000 people. Kafir, if not the queen, was clearly the ruling grain of the region because of its drought and heat resistance and its usefulness as cattle and poultry feed. In years so dry corn wouldn’t even tassel, Kafir corn delivered bountiful crops. But from 1930 on, Kafir production declined. Kafir had been harvested with horse-drawn equipment and required hand-processing whereas Milo, the next generation sorghum, could be cut with the new motor-driven combines. In time, Kafir corn became only a faint memory for Kansas farm families.

Originating in northeastern Africa as much as 3,000 years ago, sorghum gradually spread throughout the drier portions of Africa. By 1,000 BC, it was reported to be under cultivation in India, and by the beginning of the Christian era, had spread along the coast of Southeast Asia and on to China. Grain sorghum arrived in the Americas about the middle of the nineteenth century. Worldwide, grain sorghum is today considered one of the four most important cereal grains used for human consumption. It continues to be a leading cereal grain in most areas of Africa.

Grain sorghum is one of four major types of Sorghum bicolor. They are:
1. Milo sorghum: drought resistant, many tillers and early tilling.
2. Kafir sorghum: thick stalks, large leaves, used for forage and grain.
3. Sweet sorghum: sweet, juicy stalks, used for animal fodder and sorghum syrup, can reach 14 feet tall.
4. Broomcorn sorghum: has multiple branches and is used for making brooms.

Grain sorghum kernels vary in color from white through shades of red and brown to pale yellow to deep purple-brown.

Genus name comes from the Italian sorgo that was Latinized.

Specific epithet means two-colored.

Problems

Weeds can be a problem if not dealt with early, but shallow cultivation is necessary to avoid damage to the sorghum roots. Birds and rodents can be a nuisance once seedheads form.

Garden Uses

None