Winterize Pastures While The Sun Is Shining
By Les Vough, Forage Crops Extension Specialist Emeritus
Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture, College of Agriculture, University of Maryland
The next couple of days should be a good time to clip or mow pastures to clean them up before winter, particularly if pastures have tall weeds and rejected grass growth that the horses are not going to eat. Plus tall fescue is still growing on sunny days when the temperature is in the mid-30’s and above. Depending upon where you live, you could be looking at another 4-6 weeks of growth, especially on south-facing slopes. Getting rid of tall weeds and grass might get you a bit more grazing yet this fall, postpone using that expensive hay!
This is also a good time to drag your pastures to spread the dropping and allow them to decompose over the winter months. If your pastures are dry enough to drive over without leaving tracks or ruts, get out, enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures and improve the quality of your pastures.
Leave Some Height
Do not mow orchardgrass and tall fescue pastures lower than 4 inches. Bunch grasses (such as orchardgrass and tall fescue) store energy reserves in the lower stem bases and, if cut or grazed close to the ground (below about 4 inches), the plant’s energy reserve to survive the winter is reduced and the plant may not be able to survive. Just like with hibernating animals, respiration is on-going within the plant tissue all winter long and the plant has to have an energy reserve to be able to survive.
If you are in the northern part of the region and have bluegrass pastures, they can mowed to a height of about 2 inches. Bluegrass is a sod-forming or spreading-type grass with underground rhizomes. Bluegrass stores some of its energy reserves in the rhizomes and can be cut or grazed lower than orchardgrass or tall fescue.