With fall around the corner it's time to start thinking about ways to improve your pasture production for the next growing season. After a summer full of high temperatures and inconsistent rain, it's important to do a late summer evaluation of your pastures to see how well they handled the season's weather. Upon examination you can decide whether you want to restore or renovate your pastures.
One of the easiest ways to increase pasture productivity is through restoration. Rather than starting from scratch, a little TLC can help bring your pasture back to life. Restoration can be accomplished through fertilization, liming and weed management.
Your first step should be to test your soil to better understand the needs of your pasture. Southern States Agronomist Ken Sechler says, "Soil testing is important to determine soil pH and appropriate lime requirements, as well as fertilizer needs (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), based on the size of your pasture."
Weed management is also a key component of pasture restoration. Weed problems usually exist when there is improper soil pH or unbalanced soil fertility. "Late summer or fall is a great time to consider weed control for biannual and perennial weeds," notes Sechler. "Herbicides often perform better in the fall on biannual and perennial weeds, due to herbicide transport down to roots, as plants prepare for winter dormancy."
If desired grasses and legumes have perished due to drought or thinned as a result of normal summer use consider overseeding. Overseeding replenishes the stand of grass and legumes within an existing pasture area. The best time to overseed is from mid August to September.
Did your lush green pasture turn into a haven for weeds? Has it been overgrazed this summer? If so, you may want to start fresh and renovate your pasture. Renovation is the complete destruction of an existing pasture and reestablishment of that pasture. The goal of renovation is to free your pasture of weeds and allow new plants to take root.
If possible, seed in the early fall months. Warmer soil temperatures will facilitate rapid seed germination. As with restoration, it's important to conduct soil tests to gather information about your soil's needs. Matching soil test results to seed selection will ensure plant survival over time.
When you see your seeds start to sprout, you may be tempted to use your pasture for grazing again. Avoid the temptation! Newly planted grasses and legumes need time to develop a strong root system. If grazed too early, plants may die and be replaced by unwanted weeds or less desirable species. Immature roots cannot handle the stresses of grazing and trampling caused by turned out animals.
Regardless of whether you chose to restore or renovate your pasture fall is a prime time to make the effort. According to Sechler, "University research supports fall fertilization as standard approach to forage production as it increases root mass and provides energy for spring growth." Fall seeding is also positioned to yield well the following spring as they have had a 4-5 month head start on spring seedlings.