Abstract To test whether or not the ‘stay-green’ (SG) characteristic confers benefits in terms of crop yield or distribution of dry matter (DM) in selected forage maize cultivars, an experiment was conducted in 1998 and 1999 at two sites in England: Writtle College, Essex and the University of Leeds, West Yorkshire. Five SG and five conventional (C) cultivars of forage maize were grown in replicated field-scale plots at each site in both years. One-metre lengths of single rows in each plot were harvested by hand, leaving a 20-cm stubble, on four occasions each year over 3-week periods (harvest 1 to harvest 4), prior to the harvest of the remainder of the fields. Plants were chopped, mixed and a subsample taken for determination of DM content by oven-drying. Mean yields of whole plant DM were similar between SG and C cultivars. Both yield of DM and proportion of ear in the total plant DM increased from harvest 1 to harvest 4 (P < 0·01). The increase in DM yield between harvest 1 and harvest 4 was greater for C than for SG cultivars (P < 0·05). Within sites there were no differences in the concentration of whole plant DM between SG and C cultivars, which increased from harvest 1 to harvest 4 (P < 0·001). The proportion of ear DM in the whole plant DM tended to be higher for C than for SG cultivars in both years and increased (P < 0·001) from harvest 1 to harvest 4. The concentration of DM in the ear fraction was higher (P < 0·05) for C than for SG cultivars. We conclude that differences between SG and C cultivars of forage maize are likely to be relatively small when grown in the English climate and harvested after the same growing period.