Planting Timeline: Establishing Diverse Natives For Grazing


There are three establishment plans commonly used when establishing a diverse native grassland for grazing. The Traditional Establishment Plan is a good choice when converting from existing pasture to a very diverse mixture of warm season and cool season grasses and forbs. The Panoramic Establishment Plan is useful when converting from existing pasture to a diverse mix that is dominated by warm season grasses; this method usually produces forage quicker than the Traditional Establishment Plan. Lastly, the Savanna Establishment Plan is a great option for planting diverse native grasslands following the removal or thinning of trees.

Traditional Establishment Plan

This is an ideal method to use when converting a fescue/clover pasture to a planting with a lot of diversity. It is especially applicable when a good component of cool season grasses and grass-like species are desired. These are guidelines; of course, weather and individual pasture situations can change the process. These guidelines are for fescue/clover pastures; if the pasture contains Johnson Grass, Sericea Lespedeza, Caucasian Bluestem, Crown Vetch or other problematic species, the guidelines may need to be adjusted.
  • Graze pasture short & even (~August) - before fall rains, graze the pasture so that it will be actively growing and herbicide can make good contact with the regrowth of all plants.
  • Spray with glyphosate (~October) - fescue should be actively growing. Follow up on any misses and pay special attention to fence lines, field borders, areas under trees, creek banks, and other hard to get to areas.
  • Spray with glyphosate (~May) - once seedlings have had time to germinate and grow in spring, spray.
  • Plant cover crop (immediately following the spray) - pearl millet, sorghum x sudan, soybeans, buckwheat, and cowpeas all make great choices. Get seed-to-soil contact by drilling the seed or broadcasting and dragging. Keep in mind that bigger seeds need more soil coverage while it is easy to get too much coverage with smaller seeds.
  • Graze (summer) - the cover crop is acting as a smother crop; graze in such a way that leaves a smothering canopy of plants. However, the last graze of the summer before fall rains (~August) should open up the canopy to encourage germination of weed seeds and allow good penetration of herbicide with the next spray.
  • Spray with glyphosate (~September) - at least a couple weeks after a nice fall rain that has encouraged germination of seedlings, spray again. This can be done as late as October or early November, but cover crop growth will be limited by the onset of winter.
  • Plant cover crop (immediately following the spray) - spring oats, turnips, tillage radishes, and rape all work well.
  • Graze (fall, winter) - winter and grazing should kill out the above mentioned cover crops. Leave some plant material as soil cover.
  • Plant diverse natives (winter) - January is a great target but definitely before February 15th.

Alternately, a pasture may be put into glyphosate-resistant crops for 2 consecutive years. If this approach is taken, special attention needs to be given that no weed seeds fall on the ground. Also, extra focus must be put on the areas of the field that are not put into crops (e.g. field borders, fence lines, waterways, etc); the plants growing in these areas need to be removed following the procedure outlined above or the Panoramic Establishment Plan.

Always read and follow label directions of an herbicide! The labels are not only helpful in knowing how to be safe, but they also provide great information about how the herbicide is most effective and how to keep the soil and environment healthy.

Panoramic Establishment Plan

Based upon the knowledge that warm season grasses are slow to establish, we believe that there may be occasions where an alternate establishment plan involving imazapic (i.e. Panoramic, Plateau) may be a better choice. The advantage is quicker establishment of the Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Little Bluestem, and Sideoats Grama component of the mix. The disadvantage is that the planting will be dominant in the above mentioned grasses (of which the latter two are not typically used at heavy rates in grazing mixes unless it is a dry site). The establishment timeline would look like this:
  • Graze pasture short & even (~August) - before fall rains, graze the pasture so that it will be actively growing and herbicide can make good contact with the regrowth of all plants.
  • Spray with glyphosate (~October) - fescue should be actively growing. Follow up on any misses and pay special attention to fence lines, field borders, areas under trees, creek banks, and other hard to get to areas.
  • Plant & spray (~April) - plant only the imazapic-tolerant warm season grasses. Anytime within one week before or after planting, spray the field with glyphosate (which will kill green, actively growing plants) and a low rate of imazapic (which will give residual control of many annual weeds).
  • Spray (~early Nov) - after frost, but before it gets too cold, apply glyphosate one last time to the field. This is one last attempt to kill fescue and other weed seedlings.
  • Plant (winter) - the remaining seed (i.e. forbs, cool season grasses, and other warm season grass species) can be planted in winter (between November 15th and February 15th).
Always read and follow label directions of an herbicide! The labels are not only helpful in knowing how to be safe, but they also provide great information about how the herbicide is most effective and how to keep the soil and environment healthy.

Savanna Establishment Plan

When the area is being cleared or having the trees substantially thinned, there is usually not a need to apply herbicides (except as needed to control resprouts from the trees). In this case, after clearing and ensuring that seed-to-soil contact can be achieved, the seed may be planted between November 15th and February 15th without prior herbicide applications. However, when the trees are cleared from grown up old fields that show remnant undesirable plants such as fescue, sericea lespedeza, etc. then attention must be given to getting rid of these plants and one of the other establishment plans should be followed.