The month of August offers a window of great opportunities to get a jump on pasture planning and development.
Late summer pasture or hayfield establishment success hinges partly on sufficient soil moisture. This year, moisture shortages haven’t been a problem!
Questions. This season’s precipitation may be conducive to summer seeding, but when exactly is the proper time for establishment and what other things should be considered?
First of all, check the soils planned for the pasture establishment. Hopefully, the recent soil test values for the field are in the “sufficient” range, as corrections for this fall may not be very helpful in the short term.
Additions of phosphorus, potassium, and lime take some time to react with the soil, even if they are incorporated.
Next, how many weeds are out there? Starting clean (in both conventional and no-tillage) is important, as perennial weeds have a habit of growing and competing with your forages throughout.
Tough and persistent weeds, such as Canada thistle, dandelion, quackgrass, and docks are much easier to control before the pasture or hayfield is established.
Weed-free conditions after crop emergence will result in cleaner forage and better yields in the spring.
The time is now. OK, now that the weeds are under control, when is the best time for seeding? Research shows that the month of August is best to allow for some crop growth before the killing frost.
Seedings made after late September may not show any growth before frosting in the fall, and may not grow at all the following spring, definitely a costly result.
The earlier planted grasses tend to produce pastures that survive and yield better in the following year.
Proven success. Recent research from the University of Wisconsin (using orchardgrass, smooth bromegrass, timothy, reed canarygrass, perennial ryegrass, and tall fescue) shows that grass established in mid-August out-yielded grasses seeded in mid-September by about 1 ton per acre (dry matter basis).
Additional early planting benefits exist if alfalfa and clovers are in the forage mixture. Those species need to be planted in early August to help mitigate the effects of Sclerotinia, which can infect those species in the fall and cause plant decline in the spring.
Conventional tillage will help with Sclerotinia risks as well.
No companion. Regardless of the forage mixture chosen, avoid “companion” or “nurse” (I call them “competitive”) crops. Moisture normally is not as plentiful in the late summer as it is in the spring, and these “companion” plants will compete with the desired forage grasses for water.
Good luck and happy grazing!
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator in Wayne County.)