Is It Too Late To Seed?
Jimmy Henning, PhD, extension professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, provided this information. Credit to the Forage News from University of Kentucky’s Horse Pasture Evaluation Program. Photo credit, Jimmy Henning.
By the time you read this, we will ‘officially’ be out of the recommended period for seeding most cool season species. Experience tells me, however, that we are not done seeding cool season perennials across Kentucky. This article addresses some of the questions that I have been getting this spring.
So when is it too late to seed cool season perennials? It depends. Don’t groan, it does! For example, tap rooted legumes like alfalfa and red clover do better in spring seedings than grasses, so if you are seeding these you have a bit of a cushion of time past the official cutoff.
Well what about late-seeded cool season grasses? Frankly, this is a higher risk proposition. Grass seedlings have shallow fibrous root systems and take longer to germinate than legumes. Fescue planted on April 15 will take at least a week to 10 days to emerge under good conditions where alfalfa or red clover can be up in three. I have made successful spring seedings of cool season perennial grasses but it sure helps if it is a wet, mild summer. I am not ruling out spring seedings of grasses but if you do, realize it is going to be challenging.
Planting decisions always involve an element of risk of failure. Being slightly out of the ideal window for seeding is a small and manageable risk. Keep in mind that the better job you do with the parts of the process you can control (like variety, fertility, seed placement and weed control), the more you increase the probability of success with spring seedings.
Weather obviously plays a big role. If some intermittent rain and moderate temperatures are predicted for the next two weeks, that gives seedlings the moisture and the environment to germinate and start establishing a root system.
The soil and site also plays a large role. Deeper more loamy soils will have more available water in the root zone and allow deeper rooting in general. These soils will be more forgiving than shallow or heavy clay soils if you have to seed later than April 15. Is the site weed free or grazed down close so that the emerging seedling has a fighting chance to compete for water and sunlight? Trying to interseed into a lot of standing vegetation (brown or green) lowers the success rate.
Should a chain harrow be used after broadcast seeding of alfalfa on conventionally tilled ground ahead of a corrugated roller (cultipacker)? Sometimes, but only to smooth up the field and only with the smooth side down (flip it so the tines are pointed up). The corrugated roller alone is sufficient to get the seed soil contact needed for good germination and emergence of the alfalfa.
What about using a nurse crop of oats with spring seedings of alfalfa? The upside of using a nurse crop like oats with alfalfa is quick cover, prevention of erosion and perhaps a bump in the yield of the first cutting later this summer. The downside is that oats will be competitive with the seedling alfalfa, which does not do well at all in shaded conditions. This decision will likely come down to personal preference. I prefer to seed alfalfa alone, unless the site is sloping such that oats can help prevent erosion. If a nurse crop of oats is used, use a light seeding rate of 0.75 to 1 bushel per acre.
And the last one: I have just drilled clover into my fescue pasture and the grass is starting to get ahead of the seedling clover. Can I graze the fescue to minimize its competition? Yes you can. Having a good subdivided pasture system is going to be helpful. Good grazing management is also needed. Rotate grazing animals through the paddocks fairly quickly at a higher than normal stock density and pay close attention to how low they are grazing. The high stock density will take away selectivity and result in a bit more uniform grazing pattern. Move before you think you need to, even though it seems like you are wasting feed. Clover is going to take at least a week or more before it is up and tall enough to be grazed, so you have a bit of time to graze with no chance of nipping off the new seedings. Make sure you move livestock before they get a chance to graze the new clover seedlings. Time on a paddock needs to be short, ideally no more than three or four days. You will likely need to clip some pastures anyway to remove excess grass competition.
So it is too late to plant? You have heard most of my wisdom, such as it is. Happy foraging.