This is the time of year to renovate or sow cool season grasses to thicken hay and pasture fields, as well as cool season lawns. Cool season grasses most used locally include fescue, orchardgrass and bluegrass. However, I would not recommend the latter for lawn, hay or pasture use, there are much better options.
Renovating is a little more involved than just overseeding to try to thicken a stand.
Overseeding is just what the name sounds like. You go in with a whirlybird-type seeder, either tractor mounted for large fields or hand operated for a lawn, and broadcast seed over the top of whatever is currently growing in the field. Done, finished, go to the house and hope for the best.
Renovating is a little more involved and requires more, or different, machinery, such as a field renovating machine designed just for this purpose. This piece of equipment is designed to place the seed in the ground instead of on it, which can be a very important detail.
When renovating, you want to take the existing plant cover down as close to ground level as possible by mowing the vegetation down as low as you can right before seeding or letting livestock graze it down very low. Or you can spray it with a total kill herbicide; when it dies, mow it down close. This gives the new seedlings a better chance at making it.
When seeds are simply broadcast, or overseeded, or just thrown over the top of existing stands of plant material, it is a real challenge for those small seeds to reach the soil. Many will never make it. Some will be eaten by birds or insects. Some may germinate on a leaf, but with no soil to puts roots into, will die.
If they are successful in reaching the ground, the next challenge is germinating. Will the soil reach the right temperature on the surface in the shade of the larger plants and will enough moisture be available for them to use?
If they successfully germinate, will they be able to grow fast and tall enough to reach sunlight and develop roots fast and deep enough to get water? If they get to this point, they might grow into a mature plant and be productive for several years.
However, a relatively small percentage makes it this far. Even if 50%, made it and survived, that is a pretty expensive half stand. If good certified seed cost an even $2 a pound of seed to get a 50% stand, if you sow fescue seed at the rate of 15 pounds per acre, that would be $60 per acre for a half stand instead of $30 per acre for a full stand. Not very economical.
The better way to do it is to renovate. The best way is to use a pasture renovator (it works just fine for hay fields also). There is a shared use renovator available to rent in Boyd County if you do not have one. You must be trained to use it in order to rent it by yours truly. You can contact the Boyd County Conservation Office about the process and rate at (606) 928-8027.
This machine will open a slit, put the seed directly into the ground at the correct depth (if you set the machine up correctly) and will cover the seed and press the soil firm around it. Then all you need is for there to be a rain shower or enough moisture already in the soil. The chances are greatly improved you will have a successful young stand in a few weeks.
When I said this is the time of year to do this, I am talking about seeding grass seed, not red clover or other legumes. The best time to seed them is in mid-late February through March. With them, you do want to broadcast instead of using the renovator. This is due to several factors, including the shape of the seed. Legume seeds are round and hard and dense will bounce around like a pin ball when they are broadcast. Grass seeds are more of an elliptical shape and light weight, and tend to twirl and flutter around in the air when they are broadcast, which also makes them more vulnerable to wind than legumes. Grass seeds tend to stay where they land. This action allows many more legume seeds to make it to the ground. Plus the existing grass is usually much shorter in the winter, which means less plant material for the seeds to land on.
This time of year is also best for reseeding or renovating cool season grass lawns, mostly fescue. Instead of using a renovator, you can use a vertical mower, which has short blades that rotate into the ground, making shallow cuts and breaking up the ground and current vegetation to expose soil. They can be rented at some hardware and equipment rental stores.
An important item to know is the rate that you want to put the seeds out. In a pasture or hay field situation, you will want to sow about 10 or 12 pounds per acre if you are renovating it and there are legumes in the field, also. If it is just a straight grass field, then increase that to 15 to 25 lbs. per acre of seed.
The thicker a home yard, about 5 pounds per 1,000 square feet will cover on area of about 33 feet by 33 feet. This is about half the amount you sow on an acre of hay ground, but for a different purpose, and you want yard grass thick, thick, thick.
Few people seed clover into their lawns, as most consider it a weed in highly groomed lawns. I personally do not mind it, as I view it as a free source of nitrogen to feed my fescue.
Keep in mind these recommendations are for cool season grasses, not warm season like Bermuda or zoysia for the lawn. That is another whole different time frame.
If you have any questions, call the Boyd County Extension Office at (606) 739-5184.
LYNDALL HARNED is the Boyd County Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.