Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 3: Pasture and Hay Planting Time Has Arrived

Richard Taylor, Extension Agronomist;

In previous articles, I’ve discussed some of the decisions and planning that needs to be taken ahead of planting hay and pasture fields but we now have entered the ideal planting time for forage grasses and legumes. This holds true at least for those parts of the state that have received the recent rainfall — some areas in southern Delaware still have inadequate soil moisture levels to even think about attempting to seed new forage fields. For those areas that have remained dry and do not receive the rain currently in the forecast over the next five days, the decision to plant will have to be delayed until adequate surface and subsoil moisture is present.

Some species have specific requirements that limit how late in the fall you can plant. For example, reed cararygrass requires at least six weeks between planting and the average date of the first frost, otherwise the crop can be winterkilled or be severely weakened over the winter so that it’s unable to compete with the usual weed competition crops experience in the spring. Other species, such as Kentucky bluegrass, just take a very long time (21 to 28 days) to germinate and begin fall growth and so should not be planted very late in the fall. Before deciding to plant a species or mixture, be sure to study the species in question to avoid problems with late plantings.

In other areas of the state that received some of the recent downpours and that now have adequate soil moisture reserves, planting can begin. Early planting can lead to well established forage seedings that will be able to survive the winter and get off to an early vigorous start the following spring. Early planted stands are much better at competing against weeds the next spring and will often yields much better as well. Work by Dr. Marvin Hall at the Pennsylvania State University showed significant yield decreases for all forage species tested as the date of fall planting was delayed with higher losses occurring the further north the site was located.

If planting into a prepared/tilled seedbed, be sure that all weeds have been killed during soil preparation and that a good smooth (clod-free), firm (your shoe should not sink deeper than the sole level) seedbed is prepared for planting. Seed can then be broadcast over the seedbed and then firmed into the soil with any number of devices but seed should only be pressed into the soil and not buried more than 1/8 to ¼ inch deep. Covering the seed is ideal since the seed will be able to take in water from the soil but not be quickly dried out again by the sun’s rays. Seed can also be planted using a brillion seeder followed by a cultipacker or roller or seed can be placed in the soil using a drill. Since drills place the seed in rows from 4 to 8 inches apart, depending on the drill, I generally recommend that you drill at half the recommended seeding rate and run the drill at about a 45 degree angle across the field. This will help bring the rows closer together and allow the seedlings to more rapidly fill in the space so competing weeds can’t find space to grow.

Another method of seeding is to use a no-till drill following an herbicide burndown program. This is especially useful when perennial weeds with underground rhizome systems are present. Examples of these weeds are hemp dogbane, Canada thistle, and horsenettle. Although several herbicide treatments are often needed to get these weeds under control, one of the best times to apply herbicide is in the fall when the weeds are sending carbohydrates (sugars) down into the underground storage organs (rhizomes). If a systemic herbicide that can move in the plant is used, it will be taken with the sugars down to the rhizomes and help kill the meristem buds or next year’s growing sites in the weed. Read the herbicide label for exact requirements between treatment and seeding but generally for Roundup® or glyphosate you should wait several weeks after herbicide application before planting.

The no-till drills are similar to other grain drills in that the seed is placed in rows and then the open slot in the soil is closed with some type of packer wheels. I again recommend that you calibrate the drill for half the seeding rate and go over the area twice at a 45 degree angle to minimize the distance between rows.

In all cases I’ve talked about above, be certain to calibrate your seeding equipment and make sure the drills or other equipment is clean and functional before entering the field. These days forage seed is quite expensive so make the most of the money you spend by accurately calibrating your equipment. This involves the following procedure: weigh out some seed to add to the planting equipment, determine the width of area covered with seed by the equipment (in feet), run it for a certain number of feet (the length—say 50 or 100 feet); multiplying the two numbers together to get the number of square feet covered by the seed; divide that number by 43,560 (number of square feet in one acre); and finally weigh the amount of seed remaining in the equipment. Subtract the final weight from initial weight and divide that number by the number of acres you covered (usually this will be a number such as 0.15 or even 0.015 or other very small number). If your seed weights were in pounds of seed then the number you calculate at the end will be in pounds per acre or if you had access to an egg scale or something that measures in grams then divide the number of grams of seed used by 454 (grams per pound) to obtain pounds of seed and then divide that number by the number of acres planted in the calibration test. If all else fails, email me or give me a call and I’ll help you do the calculations.

The other articles in this series are:

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 2: Planning to Planting

Thinking of Renovating or Planting a New Pasture or Hay Field? Part 1: The Pre-Planning Process

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