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Spring a time to work with nature, not against it

March 07, 2011
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Spring is just around the corner, and with a few warm days, we will all be itching to get outside and do something.

We all know spring is a time of birth and rebirth, planting and sowing, as well as the flowering of trees and bulbs that have been slumbering in winter’s cold.

However, we need to be cautious as spring approaches.

You are probably thinking, what is there to be cautious about? Spring is for celebrating. That’s true, but what we need to do is work with nature and not against it.

Now is the time when I get many calls about pasture renovation. Many folks are not happy when I start asking questions and giving recommendations. First, I ask if they have a soil test. Many do not. I suggest that is where we start. Take a soil test to find out what the soil is capable of producing and what is needed to improve it.

Secondly, I ask about current situations like what the present grass is and the density of the stand as well as if there is a weed problem.

Now comes the part everyone hates to hear; the best time to seed your grass is in the fall. After a few seconds of dead air, I usually get follow-up questions trying to get me to say it is OK to seed in the spring. While spring is the time of growing, it should not be the time of planting most grasses.

Though the list is long, the main reason is competition from the grass already in the pasture and from the weeds waiting to spring forth. We need to seed like nature would. Think about perennial grasses for a second. They make their seed in early summer, drop it in mid- to late summer, and are ready to take off in the moisture and warmth of September.

The other complication in many cases is the animals. Folks think they can plant their grass and then turn their horses or cattle or sheep back on the land. The grass has to have time to get a start. The rule of thumb is when you can pull up a handfull of grass and not pull up roots, the grass is ready to graze. It is not, however, ready to graze to the ground. You must allow the grass time to regrow and build its root system.

Well, it is spring. What can I do?  

First, if you haven’t taken a soil test in three years, start there. Once you have the results, plan to improve your soil’s fertility. Then control your weeds this summer, select a grass that will perform in your soil conditions and get ready to seed in late August.

If you would like help with interpreting soil test results or weed control or variety selection, give us a call. We are more than happy to assist in these matters. We can also help with grazing management once the grass is growing. Nothing leads to failure faster for a new stand of grass than overgrazing.

If you need to plant something and watch it grow, I would suggest vegetables. You can always sow a few carrots and enjoy them yourself or share them with your livestock.

 Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at jsemler@umd.edu.

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