Pastures damaged by cold temperatures last winter can be rejuvenated with a well-executed renovation program, say Minnesota and Wisconsin forage agronomists.
The open winter caused serious damage, but most graziers didn't lose whole pastures, says Dennis Cosgrove, University of Wisconsin-River Falls state forage extension specialist. Winterhardy species such as bromegrass, reed canarygrass and Kentucky bluegrass survived quite well.
Forages with marginal winterhardiness suffered most. These include ryegrass, festolium, tall fescue, orchardgrass, red clover and some birdsfoot trefoil, says Paul Peterson, University of Minnesota extension forage agronomist.
“When we get severe winters, those are the species that tend to be sensitive and can be injured or killed, and indeed, that was the case,” says Peterson.
It's not too late to take action to produce more forage this fall. If a damaged pasture hasn't been as productive as desired, Cosgrove recommends applying 50-60 units of nitrogen. A timely nitrogen application helps pastures stay green and growing longer into the fall, he says.
Pastures that never recovered from winter injury can be reseeded in late summer in preparation for grazing next year, Cosgrove says. They may be plowed and planted conventionally or sprayed with Roundup and no-till seeded, he notes. Seedings should be done by mid- to late August, depending on your location.
The reseeding, either conventional or no-till, can be done next spring instead. But herbicide applications that precede spring no-till seedings should be done in fall, says Cosgrove.
“If you wait until springtime, you have to wait until the grass greens up to spray, then wait for the Roundup to kill what's there,” he explains. “It sets your seeding back quite a bit, and early planting is really critical for these pasture seedlings.”
New forages also can be interseeded into live pastures with a no-till drill, or frost seeded, next spring. Prepare for either of those options by grazing the pasture closely this fall, Cosgrove recommends. Frost seed when the snow is gone but the ground still freezes in the morning and thaws in the afternoon. Using a spin seeder, either on foot or riding an ATV, is one way to spread the seed, he says.
If you're planning a spring seeding, Peterson suggests getting a soil test as soon as possible and applying any needed fertilizer or lime. Early application will give the treatments a chance to react with the soil, improving the soil condition by spring.
Regardless of your seeding strategy, choosing a mixture of species can improve success. The winterhardy smooth bromegrass and reed canarygrass are sod-forming grasses that form a good foundation in pastures.
Peterson recommends including a legume, such as kura clover, in the mix.
“It has exceptional winterhardiness, and it's one we've been doing a fair amount of no-till seeding with, introducing it into pastures,” he adds.
Many farmers have found that kura clover is difficult to establish. But newer varieties, such as Cossack and Endura, are easier to establish, says Peterson. He recommends using a suppression rate of Roundup prior to no-till interseeding.
Other legumes, such as alfalfa, red clover and birdsfoot trefoil, are viable options. Ryegrass and orchardgrass also can be included in seeding mixes because of their ability to establish well in existing pastures.