Friday, September 30, 2011

Flooded Pasture: Species and Seeding Options

Eric Mousel, Forage and Alfalfa Specialist, Millborn Seeds Inc.

My last article discussed the impact that flood waters have on pasture soils and some thoughts on what a person should do to revitalize those soils. I listed several species that can tolerate soils that have been impacted dramatically by flood waters.

But what about pastures that flooded out, but the soil tests come back indicating that the soil is in fairly good shape? Let’s look at some options for when it comes time to renovate or reestablish those pastures.

Wet vs. Dry

The first thing to think about when evaluating what type of grass to seed into a grass stand that has been damaged or if you are starting completely over is whether the pasture is normally a fairly wet area or if it just flooded out because of the high standing water from this spring.

If the site is normally a wet area, consider using a Garrison creeping foxtail which can withstand being underwater for 60 days or so without affecting it too much. Reed canarygrass is another species that really likes a lot of water. Although it is pretty decent quality forage early in the year, it tends to get pretty coarse later in the summer and doesn’t have a lot of feed value. You may have to hedge your bets a little and seed a mix of both if the pasture is pretty wet in some areas and just occasionally wet in others.

You may have gotten a big flush of Reed canarygrass once the flood water receded, but be aware that it won’t grow very well in areas that aren’t wet all of the time. So as the soils start to dry out, it will start to disappear and be confined to wet areas. The options are to over-seed the reed canarygrass regrowth to get some other grass species started or just wait until the canarygrass starts to disappear and then seed a mix that is more conducive to the normal soil conditions.

If you are seeding an area that is not normally very wet, I would recommend a mix with some orchardgrass ,pubescent wheatgrass, tall fescue, and meadow brome. This is a very nice mix for haying or grazing because none of these species get very coarse, especially if they are harvested at appropriate times. If you live a little further west (west of Hwy 281) I would substitute the orchardgrass for intermediate wheatgrass and/or Canada wildrye to improve the drought tolerance of the stand.

Seeding method

The next big thing to consider is the best seeding method to use. If you are completely reestablishing the pasture, the need to do a full tillage treatment is going to depend on how bad the weeds got after the water receded. If you didn’t get a lot of weeds, you can either no-till or broadcast seed direct with little or no tillage. Drilling is the best but that isn’t always feasible for everyone. Blowing seed on with a floater and roller packing has resulted in successful stands for a lot of guys so that certainly is an option.

If the weeds did get bad, you may have to consider tillage to reduce the amount of residue that may plug up the drill and to help with weed control next spring. Again, drilling seed in is best, but broadcast with a roller pack will work.

Seeding depth

If you do use a conventional or no-till drill, seeding depth is critical. Grass seed is not like wheat. Grass seed should only be seeded at a depth of ¼ to ½ inch. Any deeper and the seed will likely germinate, but won’t be able to reach the soil surface, thus you get a really spotty stand or none at all.

When to seed

Right now is not a very good time to seed grass. The risk is that the seed may germinate in the warm temps during the day but will freeze off at night and winter-kill. It would be a good idea to wait until the end of October or the first half of November to plant. Late fall plantings are generally very successful and will remove the risk of seed germinating and winter killing.

There is still time this fall to seed pastures damaged by flooding. Having the right grass species, seeding methods and timing will result in a successfully rejuvenated pasture for you. Give me a call and we will talk about your specific situation.
Thank you and have a great day!!

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