Take Steps to Reduce Risks Involved in Planting, Sprigging
2006 was one of the driest growing seasons on record, with precipitation totals as low as 30 percent to 40 percent of the norm in many areas of the southern Great Plains. Low rainfall translated to less forage production, low hay production, overgrazing and, in some cases, total stand losses. High input prices for seed, fertilizer, diesel, etc., combined with low soil moisture should be enough to make producers think about ways to reduce the inherent risk involved in planting a seed or burying a sprig. For those who are considering planting or re-planting this spring, I urge you to consider the following points:
- If you don't have to plant everything this year, choose your best soil type to plant on this year and spread the rest of the planting over several years.
- If most of your soils are marginal, consider varieties or blends that are not "world beaters." Less productive varieties normally equate to lower input cost, but usually have germination and seedling vigor characteristics comparable to higher-producing varieties.
- Strive for as little soil disturbance as possible. Consider burn-down chemical seeding, no-till sprigging, etc., to retain soil moisture and reduce weed competition.
- Waiting to plant growing bermudagrass sprigs will put you later into the planting window (late April, at best). Planting dormant sprigs will get you early into the planting window (late February, at best) and will give you more time to accumulate the moisture and get a jump-start prior to the region's traditionally dry summers.
- Think hard before renovating overgrazed rangeland with an introduced grass. Range recovery can happen over a few years by deferment during the growing season and proper grazing during the dormant season. Many rangeland soils have not been broken out because of some limitation (e.g., shallow soils, erosion, rocky ground, etc.). Planting introduced species on many rangeland sites will result in marginal production not what you see on the variety trials or advertisements in trade magazines.
- If planting seeded bermudagrass, plan on leaving your weed sprayer in the barn this year. Short of rope-wicking weeds above the developing grass, almost any herbicide out there has very detrimental effects on seedling bermudagrass. Only use herbicides in a situation where stand loss is imminent. Use mowing and flash grazing instead.
- Consider seeded blends that include Giant bermudagrass. This variety has shown very good characteristics for early stand development.
- Plant during theoretically optimal growing conditions.
- Do not short yourself on seed or sprigs.
- Plant at the proper seeding/sprigging depth.
- Always finish with a good culti-packing.
- Soil test now and pay attention to phosphorus and potassium levels. You will not get the maximum efficiency out of nitrogen if phosphorus or potassium is limiting.
- If you were one of the lucky ones who made hay last year, remember to replace the nutrients lost due to harvesting and removing hay from a pasture.
- Monitor soil moisture before planting annuals such as crabgrass. Many annuals are quick to germinate, but stand development and production can be limited due to shallower root systems.
- Plan on using pastures with deeper soils first in the spring and deferring grazing on shallower soils until several spring rains after green-up. This practice will help increase the vigor of shallower-rooted plants such as common bermudagrass.