Early spring is the ideal time to overseed pastures, according to Laurie Cerny, editor and publisher of good-horsekeeping.com . "After the hard winter we have had with heavy snow pack there has been some winter-kill. Pastures are really going to need some TLC, including overseeding to get them back in shape," said Cerny, who's recently release Good-Horsekeeping's Guide to Pasture Management .
Here are some tips for pasture overseeding:
* Walk fields as early in spring as possible. This is the best way to see where there has been winterkill, mold, bare spots, and dirt tunnels made by field mice while underneath the snow.
* March and early April are generally a good time to overseed as long as you have several days of thawing and freezing. It also gives you a couple of weeks before spreading manure and fertilizing
* Pick the right seed for your soil. Orchard grass does well on most soils. Timothy does better in damper, heavier soils. Brome does OK on sandy soils but it's very drought tolerant. Alfalfa is very drought tolerant but is difficult to overseed because it will not grow within a certain radius of another alfalfa plant.
* Buying seed by the pound from a bona fide forage dealer is the best source for seed. When you buy it individually by the pound you get just that seed and not filler grasses.
* If you buy bagged pasture/hay seed understand the language of a seed tag. The percentage of a certain seed by the weight. Because some seeds are very small and light - 20% of the seed in a mix could actually result in more like 40% of your stand. Be wary of hay mix blends that say *VNS* * this stands for variety not stated* and could mean any type of seed is included.
* While you can use a seeder - including a hand seeder or even a fertilizer spreader, hand broadcasting tends to work best and you can control how much goes where - more in bare spots and less or none where there is a thick turf.
* Make sure if seed is treated to wear plastic gloves and to wash clothes after seeding.
* Pay attention to the wind. It can be difficult to overseed if it’s extremely windy. A little bit of wind, however, can actually help you broadcast the seed.
* Do not overseed on the snow if you have problems with wildlife like birds and deer. They will eat the seed. Watch for flocks of birds in your fields after you overseed. If they become a problem scare them off using deterrents like a scarecrow or by making a loud noise.
* Keep a pasture journal where you can make notes about when you overseeded, which pastures were seeded, and what seed you used.
* Keep horses off overseeded fields for 6-8 weeks. If they are really small pastures you may want to keep the field out of rotation for one season.
The guide, which covers pasture overseeding, also includes pasture rotation, dry lots, winter management, and more. It is available through www.good-horsekeeping.com for $3.95 for electronic copies.