University of Maryland Extension

Improve Spring Pastures by Amending in Fall

Sara BhaduriHauck

    Although fall marks the end of the growing season and is harvest time for most other crops, it’s the best time to make improvements to pasture. Are there bare spots in your pastures? Has it been really weedy this year? Are you considering some minor renovations to enhance next year’s growth? If so, FALL is the time to act!

       Overseeding of cool season grasses, which are the mainstays of most Maryland pastures, is most successfully done between mid-August and mid-September. Seeding at this time allows new grasses to germinate and become established before winter. If you wait too long to seed, the new grass won’t have adequate time to develop root stores and won’t provide as much ground cover to protect bare soil from erosion.

        It is possible to overseed in late winter so that grasses germinate and begin developing as soon as temperatures warm in spring. However, fall seeding is preferred: if you can get plants established in fall, you can ensure that bare spots are filled in with grass rather than weeds. Most weeds germinate at lower soil temperatures than grasses do, so bare spots are more likely to be filled with weeds in spring even if you overseeded in winter.

       Whenever you choose to overseed, it’s crucial that you restrict animals from accessing overseeded areas. Grasses must be allowed enough time to develop an adequate root system. If grazed too early, delicate seedlings will simply be uprooted. It’s recommended to allow new plants to grow to a height of 8-12 inches, mow, and then allow them to grow again before grazing.

       If your pastures were especially weedy this year, check out your pH level with a soil test. Maryland soils tend to become acidic over time, and most weeds thrive at acidic pHs. (Most grasses thrive at pHs close to neutral.) Applying lime according to your soil test recommendations may help encourage grass growth and hinder the growth of weeds next season. Since it takes several months for lime to have its affect in the soil, apply it in the fall so your soil will be well-amended come spring.

       If you’ve been unsuccessfully battling hard-to-control weeds over the summer and want to try an herbicide, fall is a good time for that as well. Translocating herbicides – which move through the plant and attack its roots – are most effective during the fall when plants are moving nutrients into the roots for winter storage. (During other times of the year, plants are moving nutrients out of the roots so it’s harder for herbicides to get there.) Because of weed life cycles, not all weed species are good candidates for fall chemical control. If the weed has already flowered and is dying, mowing is about all you can do. But weeds that are still green and actively growing – like horse nettle, pokeweed, and multiflora rose – should be controlled.

       Large, densely vegetated plants can be difficult to spray. Make sure you apply the herbicide to as much of the leaf area as possible. And don’t mow the plant before applying herbicide. Making the plant smaller may make it easier to spray, but it also decreases the leaf area available to absorb the herbicide.


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