Establishing late-summer forages

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, August 16, 2017

By Clay Stamm

The period from late summer into early fall in Kentucky is the best time to establish the common cool-season grasses such as orchardgrass, tall fescue, timothy and bluegrass for pasture or hay. These four grasses make up 95 percent of pasture acreage.

Many years of research have shown this time frame is the best opportunity for successful establishment. Mother Nature has a hand in this because seed produced in late spring remains dormant until late summer and then early fall rainfall provides the moisture necessary for the seed to germinate.

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To increase your success rate, remember these four points.

First, address soil fertility needs. Take soil samples now to determine fertility needs and to give you enough time to supply the needed nutrients. Inadequate levels of phosphorous, potassium or limestone can limit the success of late-summer seedings. For pure grass stands, apply nitrogen at the rate of 40 to 60 pounds per acre.

Second, control competition. Late-summer seedings most often fail from competition and lack of water. When you control existing vegetation with herbicides or tillage, the emerging seedlings will have access to whatever water and nutrients are present without having to compete with weeds.

To maximize the success of seedings, use a burn-down herbicide to kill annual weeds. Translocated herbicides can be used where labeled to kill or suppress perennials such as johnsongrass.

Remember to wait two to three weeks after spraying translocated herbicides before you plant in no-till situations. This will allow time for killed weeds to dry out and for residual effects of the herbicide to decay.

Third, select high quality seed of an adapted variety. Planting high quality seed is an essential step toward establishment and longevity of a pasture. These seeds have high percentages of germination, low percentages of weed seed and freedom from noxious weed seed.

Certified seed meets or exceeds minimum standards for purity, germination and quality. The certified seed should be from an “improved” variety adapted to your farm. “Improved” means the variety has been selected for improved yield, quality, persistence, disease resistance or other positive traits.

Varieties greatly differ in yield, persistence, disease resistance and cost. Expensive varieties aren’t necessarily good, and the cheaper ones aren’t necessarily bad.

If you’re uncertain about a variety’s adaptation and performance, you can obtain information on the leading performers in the University of Kentucky forage variety tests calling me at the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service at 744-4682 or by going to the following website Scroll down to 2014 Tall Fescue Report; 2014 Timothy Report and 2014 Orchardgrass Report. You can find reports as far back as 2001 on this site.

Fourth, seed at the proper time and depth. You should seed legumes and grasses before mid-September. Grasses are less sensitive to later seeding than legumes. The major cool season grasses will not do well if you simply broadcast them onto existing overgrazed or mowed pastures. Forages should be seeded no deeper than one-fourth to one-half inch.

Late-summer alfalfa seedings are susceptible to sclerotinia stem and crown rot. If sclerotinia has been active in your area or farm, strongly consider waiting until next spring to seed.

Source: Garry Lacefield, Professor Emeritus and Extension Forage Specialist

Clay Stamm is the Clark County Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.