Preparing the pasture for winter planting

Published on Saturday, 17 August 2013 18:14 - Written by By Chad Gulley, Smith County Extension Agent

Winter pastures in East Texas can extend the grazing period and improve animal performance because of their high nutritive value. So what are the options as we start deciding what to plant this fall?

Ryegrass, small grains and clovers are the most commonly planted winter forages for East Texas. Some prepare a seedbed while others just broadcast seed over warm-season perennial grasses. One of the first things to do before planting a winter forage is to perform a soil test on our property. A soil test costs $10 at most laboratories and is money well spent to insure we have the proper nutrients present for our grasses to get established and produce well.

Soil pH and proper fertilization are important for a good stand of winter forage. Soil pH is something we can change by following our soil report from the soil test we performed on our property. Limestone may need to be applied in advance of planting to change the pH of the soil for the desired winter forage species. Most winter forage species grow well in a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 but some clover species may have a different pH requirement. Study this as you decide what you are planning to plant.

Ryegrass is the most widely grown winter forage for the southern United States. Ryegrass performs well in most soils and tolerates wet, poorly drained soils. Ryegrass responds to fertilization and produces forage high in nutritive value. Ryegrass can be planted at a seeding rate of 25 pounds to 40 pounds per acre. Varieties include Prine, Jumbo, Marshall, TAM 90, Gulf and Passeral to name a few.

Small grains are an option as well. Small grains in East Texas are usually planted in a mix with ryegrass. Small grains are also high in nutritive value. Small grain varieties can be planted at a seeding rate of 70 pounds to 100 pounds per acre depending on the variety and if planted as a pure stand or if mixed with ryegrass. Examples of small grains for East Texas pastures include rye (cereal rye), wheat and oats.

Clovers are an option for winter pastures as clovers are a cool-season legume. Clovers too can be planted in a mixed planting of ryegrass. Clovers, being a legume, also offer the added benefit of nitrogen fixation. Clovers can contribute about 75 pounds to 100 pounds of nitrogen into the soil for subsequent grass crops. Clovers fix nitrogen by utilizing Rhizobia bacteria present on nodules of the roots. The seed must be inoculated with the proper Rhizobia strain of bacteria before planting. Pre-inoculated seed for many varieties is also available. Examples of clover varieties for East Texas include Crimson clover, ball clover, white clover and Arrowleaf clover to name a few. Seeding rate for clovers will vary for each variety ranging from 2 pounds to 20 pounds per acre.

Planting dates for winter forages range from mid-September through October. A general recommendation is to plant cool-season annual forages four to six weeks before the average first killing frost. If broadcasting seed, be sure the warm-season forage is grazed low or cut short for hay. Good soil to seed contact is important for a better stand of forage. Some prepare a seedbed or use a drill to plant their seed. Either way works just make sure you follow planting recommendations for each variety and avoid planting too deep.

The Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Overton conducts field trials each year comparing the various varieties of ryegrass, small grains and clovers. These field trials are evaluated and the results are published online at overton.tamu.edu/.

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