AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Though cold and dreary weather outside now might feel like perpetual winter, spring is quickly approaching. With its arrival comes many ‘spring cleaning’ tasks- including preparing pastures. Alabama Extension Forage Specialist Leanne Dillard shares how to properly prepare spring pastures to ensure success in the coming seasons.
According to Dillard, the first and most important step in preparing pastures for spring is soil testing.
“If you have not soil tested in the last year, it is time to once again,” Dillard said.
Adjusting phosphorous and potassium levels in the soil is the next crucial step when test results arrive. By liming and adding these elements as necessary, producers are preparing the soil for the coming season.
The soil test report will also include nitrogen requirements for each specific forage crop.
“Apply phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen at the time of planting, soon after or at the time of spring green up in case of perennial forages,” Dillard said.
By preparing pastures appropriately in spring, producers are able to reap the benefits of plantings in the fall. To ensure proper growth in the spring, perennial and annual cool-season forages should have been planted from September to November. If these are planted in the spring, very little forage is produced or often fails altogether.
Dillard emphasized timing fertilizer with crop green-up.
“If your plants are not growing, they cannot use the fertilizer,” she said. “For tall fescue, that would be late February-March and for cool-season annuals it is typically mid-February, depending on location.”
Though it can sometimes be a difficult job, maintaining pasture infrastructure is another crucial part of preparation.
“Spring is a good time for walking fences and mending any broken portions,” Dillard said.
Checking waterers for leaks and making sure the handling facilities work well are also checklist items for pasture preparation.
Many producers drag pastures to spread accumulated manure. Since the soils in Alabama do not freeze for weeks on end, Dillard said it is not as necessary for cattle pastures in Alabama.
“In properly managed cattle pastures, dragging is not necessary,” Dillard said. “When rotated, animals will naturally deposit manure, and this will return to the soil, increasing necessary plant nutrients.”
In horse pastures, however, dragging can sometimes be a necessity, as horses tend to deposit manure in the same location repeatedly. Dragging a horse pasture just prior to spring green-up will evenly distribute nutrients. This can become a good source of fertilizer for the pasture.
For more information on preparing pastures for spring, visit www.aces.edu.