Sometimes the book does not have the answers. Take establishing forage crops for example. There are sound principles for this process in the book; adherence to them maximizes the chance for success. Sometimes breaking one of them is a risk worth taking. The rule I am thinking of is seeding cool season grasses in spring rather than fall.
The two week period at the first of April is a potential seeding period for cool season forages, including cool season grasses. The ‘book’ as well as forage experts tend to discourage spring seedings of grasses like tall fescue because the success rate for this period is much lower than fall. Fescue seedlings are slow to emerge and remain a slender spike for a long period. These young plants do not fare well against the heat and aggressive weeds of summer.
But this spring, seeding tall fescue into torn up hay feeding areas may be a risk worth taking. Taking this risk (spring planting) is the only chance to have the kind of stand of grass needed to support cattle when hay feeding begins again next year. Here is the way to manage the risk associated with seeding tall fescue in the spring.
Plant as soon as possible. Hay feeding areas are going to need tillage and smoothing prior to seeding which may delay planting. Get the tillage done as soon as possible and be ready to seed immediately afterward.
Seed at a higher than normal seeding rate. Normal seeding rates of tall fescue range from 15 to 25 lb per acre. Use at least 25 pounds per acre. There is not perfect seeding rate for this situation, although there is a thumb rule for seeding problem areas that says use double the recommended rate. A rate of 30-40 pounds per acre is a reasonable amount.
Plant shallow and get good seed-soil contact. Grass seed needs to be no more than ½ inch deep, maximum. If using a no-till drill into tilled ground, be very careful not to bury the seed because the cutting coulters will go too deep if you are not careful. When drilling, go over the field twice, with the rows at right angles using a half rate of seed each time. This will speed up ground coverage.
Broadcasting the seed followed by a corrugated roller is a great way to get shallow seed placement, good seed soil contact. Seedings made from this method are quick to give ground cover. Rollers and brillion-type seeders can be hard to find, but they are ideal for seeding small forage seeds on prepared seedbeds.
Get a soil test for the field and be ready to topdress in mid-summer or early fall as needed. Hay feeding areas are likely high in fertility, at least P and K. Mark your calendar now for application of some late summer (mid to late August) nitrogen to stimulate fall growth. Remember that top growth is proportional to root growth, and we need all the roots and soil structure we can get for next winter.
Prepare for weeds. You are going to have weeds on this site. Weeds are more easily controlled when small, so keep an eye on the field to know when they are small and tender. We have many options for controlling small broadleaf weeds – be ready to use one of them (See Broadleaf Weeds of KY, AGR-207, on the forage website. Grassy weeds are a problem that we will just have to deal with by mowing or flash grazing.
Spring seedings of cool season grasses are a risk, with an uphill battle against summer heat, invasive weeds and even competition from companion clovers, such as crimson clover above. Seedling grasses such as shown above emerge slower than legumes and are slower to form a canopy. A spring seeding of tall fescue on hay feeding areas is a risk we must take to get a thick stand of grass before next hay feeding season.
Don’t graze this area except as needed to remove a canopy of crabgrass or other summer grasses. These new seedlings are going to need time to establish. Just getting through the summer is going to be stress enough.
Plant only grass. In this case, tall fescue. Especially don’t include fast establishing legumes like red and white clover. They also form a leaf canopy much faster than seedling grasses. Low rates of a small grain (like 1lb/a oats) can be added for rolling sites to help control erosion.
Spring seedings of tall fescue are difficult but not impossible. Control the factors you can, and you manage the risks associated with these plantings. Finally, fall stockpile the fescue to produce the maximum growth possible before your next hay feeding season. ~ Dr. Jimmy Henning, Farmers Pride.