Winter annual planting dates and differences in land preparation
John McLemore, County Extension Agent
Although many of the cool-season forages can be planted now, and most locations have received enough rain for planting. Additionally, October is one of the driest months of the year, so rainfall totals over the next few weeks might remain low. Good soil moisture is key to good germination and early establishment. We typically lose about 3/4 acre-inches of water each week from a combination of plant transpiration and field evaporation (combined processes = evapotranspiration) at this time of year. Our area likely requires at least one acre-inch per week over the next several weeks to meet normal water loss and to begin recharging the subsoil (below one foot) with moisture.
It is important to continue planting dryland when we have adequate moisture to get the cool season winter annual grass up to a stand, we realize that getting the cool season annual grazing planted in October early November is important to get enough growth to get the needed to produce grazing this winter.
Planting can also continue through December, but note that cool-season full cover will likely be delayed into February and may not adequately shade out early establishing winter weeds. For forage or grain production, use recommended seeding rates. If you mix cover crop species, then reduce the seeding rate of each.
Prepare your pastures for winter planting:
Closely grazing or mowing down the existing summer stand.
This results in less water, nutrient, and light competition with the emerging cool-season forages.
You can also till an area for cool-season forage production.
This might be even more beneficial this year, because of the previously low rainfall.
A prepared seedbed minimizes competition for nutrients and water, resulting in faster establishment and often greater yields.
Target your soil pH to a range from 6.0 to 6.5. If you find that your soil is near the low (acidic) end of the scale, consider applying lime. Cool-season cover crops may include a combination of grasses (small grains, annual ryegrass), legumes (clovers, vetch, and winter pea). The legumes and brassicas tend to take up more potassium, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and micronutrients than grasses, so make sure your pasture is adequately fertilized to support these forages. The recommended method for determining this is by sampling the soil and having it analyzed by a reputable lab. The soil report will provide liming and fertilizer recommendations based upon the cover crop you specify. In mixed plantings, you might request your recommendations based upon the legume component, and then include around 30 to 50 pounds N/acre to ensure the grass component receives adequate nitrogen (N). If the cover crop is being used to minimize soil erosion from a field following row crop harvest (such as following peanuts) you can reduce nitrogen application by 30 pounds per acre.