Forage establishment success can be accomplished in late summer

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The next few weeks provide an opportunity for seeding forages. While sometimes referred to as ‘Fall seedings’, August is the most appropriate time to make them, assuming adequate soil moisture — and we have had plenty of moisture!

Late summer seeding allows plants to be well established before the first killing frost, which may occur in early to mid-October for our area. Another advantage to seeding in the late summer is, if the seeding fails, it can be replanted in the spring. It’s not recommended a companion crop be included in late summer seedings as it will compete for soil moisture and may not allow the crop to be established prior to a killing frost.

What and when to plant

There are a number of legumes and perennial grasses available for planting in Ohio. Below is a table of legumes and grasses, along with planting dates, adapted from the Ohio Agronomy Guide.

Forage species:
LegumesPlanting date
AlfalfaAug. 1 – Aug. 15
Red CloverJuly 20 – Aug. 10
White CloverJuly 20 – Aug. 10
Perennial grasses
FestuloliumAug. 1-20
Kentucky BluegrassAug. 1-20
OrchardgrassAug. 1-20
Perennial RyegrassAug. 1-20
Reed CanarygrassAug. 1-15
Smooth BromegrassAug. 1-20
TimothyAug. 1-Oct. 5
ChicoryAug. 1-20
Annual
RyegrassJuly 20 – Aug. 30

Consider the following when making a seeding this late in the summer.

Soil test

If you don’t have a current soil test of the field you intend to seed, you need to obtain one. Without proper fertility, nutrient uptake may suffer, causing plants to be weak, unable to compete, and unable to survive winter.

Contact your local Extension office or agronomist for help collecting, submitting and interpreting a soil test and results.Soil pH should be around 6.5, unless you are seeding alfalfa. If so, the pH requirement increases to around 6.8. Adjustments to pH are made with the addition of lime incorporated into the soil surface. Phosphorus and potassium fertilizer are important for successful establishment of new seedings. If your soil test calls for more lime or fertilizer than should be applied at one time, consider making soil pH and fertilizer adjustments now and make the seeding in 2016.

Weed control

Controlling perennial weeds is critical to a successful forage stand. Newly emerging plants will have difficulty competing against established weeds for moisture and sunlight. Consult the Ohio State University Extension Weed Control Guide for specific herbicide recommendations.

Seeding

The ideal seedbed for conventional seedings is smooth, firm and weed-free. The lack of a firm seedbed is a major cause of establishment failure. Cultipackers and cultimulchers are excellent tools for firming the soil. Don’t overwork the soil, but have it firm enough that a footprint is no deeper than 1/2 to 3/4 inch. The seeding depth for most forages is between 1/4 and 1/2 inch. Seeding too deep is one of the most common reasons for seeding failures.

Tillage

No-till and minimum tillage practices can be used successfully when establishing new forage crops. Advantages include soil conservation, reduced moisture loss, reduced fuel and labor requirements and seeding on a firm seedbed. As with conventional seeding methods, placement of the seed is critical when using no-till or minimum tillage. Plant seeds about 1/4 to 1/2 inch in firm contact with the soil.

Disease

Be aware that Sclerotinia crown and stem rot is a serious disease threat when seeding alfalfa and clover in late summer. The risk increases in fields where forages have been grown recently and minimum tillage is used. Sclerotinia infects plants in the fall, but injury is not visible until plants begin to die in late winter and early spring. Conventional tillage, crop rotation, timely seeding and the use of resistant varieties reduce the risk of severe damage.

Summary

Late summer represents an opportunity to make forage seedings that can be successful, assuming a few basic steps are followed. The cost of seed, fertilizer, lime, time and equipment make forage establishment a costly endeavor. Make sure you do your homework before heading to the field.

Resources

Contact your local Extension office to request a copy of the Ohio Agronomy Guide. Other useful resources include: the Forage Field Guide; Corn, Soybean, Wheat and Alfalfa Field Guide; and the Weed Control Guide.

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(Chris Zoller is an agricultural extension educator in Tuscarawas County and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team.)

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