Late summer is an excellent time to establish forages.
The following steps will assist producers in successful renovation and establishment of grass fields and legumes.
Nutrients. Have the soil tested and apply the needed lime. Fertilize according to the soil test recommendations for the desired crop.
For tall grass or legumes, mix pasture, or hayfields, maintain available phosphorus levels of 25-40 ppm or 50 to 80 pounds per acre.
Phosphorus can be a limiting factor in seeding forage. A supply of phosphorus needs to reach the roots of young plants for normal root development.
Therefore, when phosphorus levels are low, an application of P2O5 in the row at planting can be beneficial.
Soil test values for exchangeable potassium should be at or above 75 + (2.5 x CEC) for all crops.
Potassium is not often deficient and is more likely a limiting nutrient in pastures or hay fields that have been in production for many years.
Potassium becomes more important once the forage has been established and harvested.
The Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet ANR-5-99 contains useful information concerning the management of forage nutrients. The publication is free and available at your local extension office.(Read the online version here.)
Choosing legumes. Select the legumes for renovation based on soil characteristics and forage management.
For example, white clover and ladino clover favor rotational grazing, are persistent, more tolerance to a pH below 6, and will survive better than red clover on poorly drained soil.
The extension’s Ohio Agronomy Guide is a useful tool when comparing the suitability of forages to your soil and management techniques.
What forage is suitable to your soil? Take a look at what’s growing. The characteristics of the forage currently growing should be similar to the ones selected for renovation or pasture management.
Fertility will need to be adjusted. Perhaps the most important tool in establishing, renovating or maintaining a forage is a soil test. If fertility needs of the plant are not met, all other efforts are useless.
Seeding. When seeding, follow the recommended seeding rates and be sure legume seeds are inoculated, except when clovers already exist in the stand where seeded.
Inoculants should be stored in a refrigerator from time of purchase to time of use. Also, check the date of the inoculant. You can avoid problems by not purchasing out-of-date products.
When problem broadleaf weeds are present when renovating, establish the grass first. This allows for the use of broadleaf herbicides with minimal damage to the stand. Clovers can be added to the stand once the weeds are under control.
Grass should be seeded 1/4 to no more than 1/2 an inch deep. Seeding too deep is the most common reason for seeding failures.
When planting grass into a fully prepared seedbed, the seed bed must be firm prior to planting. A footprint in a properly prepared conventional seedbed will be 1/2 to 3/4 an inch deep. Cultipackers are excellent tools for firming the soil.
Alfalfa. New alfalfa seeds should be planted in well-drained, fertile soils with a pH of 6.5 to 7 for greatest persistence.
When soil tests recommend fertilization with P and K, it is best to apply the fertilizer prior to the planting and work it into the soil.
Soil pH adjustments should also be worked into the soil, preferably six months prior to planting.
Seed alfalfa after alfalfa is risky since old stands of alfalfa release a toxin that reduces germination and growth of new alfalfa seedlings.
It is best to wait six months to a year before re-seeding alfalfa back into the same field.
When seeding into fields that were row crops the prior year, make sure there is no danger of herbicide carryover.
Alfalfa stands mixed with grass should receive 10 to 20 pounds of nitrogen at seeding.
Weed control. Weed control can be a problem when renovating forage. Fall is a good time to control problem weeds in pastures and hayfields.
However, extremely dry weather can reduce the effectiveness of herbicide applications.
Summer annuals such as common ragweed, giant ragweed, lambsquarters, yellow foxtail and velvetleaf can be partially controlled through regular clipping or mowing.
If herbicide applications are used, control is best when annuals are small and actively growing in the spring or fall.
Problem biennials such as bull thistle, musk thistle, burdock and poison hemlock are best controlled in the fall; their next best control period is early spring.
Perennials are best controlled in the fall when weeds are in the bud to bloom stage.
Woody brush found along fence rows and in pastures is best controlled when actively growing and fully leafed.
Specific information for tough to kill perennials can be found in the extension’s Agronomy Fact Sheet 306 and the Weed Control Guide, Bulletin 789.
Tables found in the Ohio Weed Control Guide list the effectiveness of herbicides on individual weeds. It is more difficult to find information on restrictions to feeding, grazing, harvesting and reseeding.
Maintenance. Manage hay harvest and grazing to favor quality forage and legume growth.
Harvest hay at timely intervals when the grass is in the pre-boot to boot stage. In addition, when grazing, leave 3-4 inches of forage, then rotate to another paddock. Return livestock to paddocks before the grass heads.
In the spring, this will mean a quick rotation or possibly clipping grass before it heads. The old rule of thumb, “Take half and leave half” is still a good principle to follow when rotationally grazing.
Allow adequate rest periods for each forage species to replenish energy resources.
Maintaining good forage growth and health usually provides for good weed and disease control.
Each forage plant stores energy differently and will respond to fertility management, grazing and harvest differently.
Become familiar with your forage and its needs, then manage accordingly.
For more information on forage establishment or renovation contact your local extension office.
(The author is an OSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent in Guernsey County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem OH 44460.)