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Pasture Management During a Drought

Posted: September 8, 2010

September is a good month to take a close look at your pastures. Normally we would be thinking about controlling perennial weeds and giving our pastures a shot of fertilizer to boost fall grass growth. But this is not a normal year. Bucks County and most of Southeast PA are currently suffering through a drought, and most pastures have long since dried up. So, what to do?

First, don't think about fertilizing until we have a forecast of significant rain to wash the fertilizer into the ground. Also, most weeds form a waxy coat on their leaves during a drought, and do not absorb herbicides well when under stress, so you better postpone weed control until Mother Nature throws some rain our way. Late summer is the perfect time to control those pesky perennial pasture weeds, because the plant is moving nutrients down into the roots to survive the winter. A timely herbicide application will travel right along into the roots and kill the weed. But the plant has to be actively growing, and that is not happening now.

Thinking about re-seeding your pastures? Well, early September is the ideal time, but again, unless there is a forecast of rain, keep the seed in the bag.

If you haven't had a soil test in three years, get one now. The lab will give you recommendations for lime and fertilizer. Applying lime is one task that can be done during a drought. Plus, you'll have your fertilizer recommendation in hand for when the rains do come (and they will, eventually).

Soil test kits are available at all Penn State Extension offices and many garden centers and feed stores. If you need help interpreting your soil test results, call your local Extension office. They'll be happy to help you out.