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Clay Stamm: Handling buttercups in grazed pastures

One of the signs spring has arrived is when the yellow flowers of buttercup begin to appear, but it’s during the winter months the vegetative growth of buttercup takes place.

As a cool season weed, this plant often flourishes in over-grazed pasture fields with poor stands of desirable forages.

In fact, many fields with dense buttercup populations are fields heavily grazed by animals during the fall through the early spring months.

Buttercups are sometimes classified as short-lived perennials, but often grow as winter annuals. Plants typically produce five, shiny yellow petals in the early spring.

There are four different species of buttercups that may be found in Kentucky: bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris) and small flower buttercup (Ranunculus arbortivus).

Although each of these plants may have somewhat similar flower heads, each buttercup species differs somewhat in their vegetative leaf characteristics. New seed are produced during the time petals are showy. Waiting until after flowers appear can be too late to implement control tactics. This is one reason buttercups can survive year to year and new plants emerge each year.

Most buttercup plants emerge from seed during the fall or late winter months. Therefore, pasture management practices that improve and promote growth of desirable plants during these months is one of the best methods to help compete against the emergence and growth of this plant.

Whereas, livestock animals allowed to overgraze fields during the fall and winter months is one of the main factors that contribute to buttercup problems.

Mowing fields or clipping plants close to the ground in the early spring before buttercup plants can produce flowers may help reduce the amount of new seed produced, but mowing alone will not totally eliminate seed production.

For chemical control, herbicides registered for use on grass pastures that contain 2,4-D will effectively control buttercup. Depending on other weeds present products that contain dicamba+2,4-D (eg. Weedmaster), aminopyralid (eg. GrazonNext, Milestone), triclopyr (eg. PastureGard, Crossbow), or metsulfuron (eg. Cimarron) can also be used. However, legumes such as clovers interseeded with grass pastures can be severely injured or killed by these herbicide products.

For optimum results, apply a herbicide in the early spring (February to March) before flowers are observed, when buttercup plants are still small and actively growing.

For best herbicide activity, wait until daytime air temperatures are greater than 50 degrees Fahrenheit for two to three consecutive days.

Consult the herbicide label for further information on grazing restrictions, precautions or other possible limitations.

For fields heavily infested with buttercup, a variety of control tactics may be needed.

Apply a herbicide to help reduce the population of buttercup plants in the spring plus use good pasture management techniques throughout the year to help improve and thicken the stand of desirable forages.   

For additional information about buttercups in grazed pastures, contact the Clark County Extension Office at 859-744-4682.

Column by Dr. J.D. Green, Reprinted from “Grazing News.”

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