Fall grass seeding: a great time to plant for next year

By Shaan Bliss
Special to The PREVIEW

Seeding in the fall may seem like a foreign concept to some, but in this area it actually is a great way to capture that winter moisture that we hope we get this year.

Planting after Oct. 15 for dryland pasture is a great way to prepare for the growing season next year. Seed planted after Oct. 15 will remain dormant until soil temperatures are warm enough for the plants to start germinating the following spring.

The other benefit to a dormant winter planting is that you’ll have a full growing season for that seed to build roots and become well established. Your other options are a planting in the spring or just prior to monsoons, which usually come around late June early July.

Spring may be a difficult time to plant given that you will have to wait until the area is dry enough to plant, losing that valuable winter moisture. Also, May and June, lately, have been drier months. Seeding during the monsoon season is a good window if the moisture flow is stable.

The other major question you’ll probably be thinking about for dryland grass seed is whether to plant native grass species or introduced species. The pros of the native species are that you’ll mimic the natural surrounding landscape if that is what you are looking to do. The pros of introduced species are that they tend to green up quickly, tolerate soil and site deficiencies, and tend to cost less than native species. The cons of native species are that it can take them longer to establish, may not produce as much forage as introduced species in the short term, and cost more per pound. The cons for introduced species are that introduced plants will appear visually contrasting to the natural landscape, some species can invade into other areas, and they may not persist as long as native species.

So, what grass species, native or introduced, should you be looking for? Well, it depends. Obviously, you should spend some time finding the right combination that will fit your situation and environment.

In general, the Natural Resources Conservation Service would recommend intermediate wheatgrass, smooth brome, Timothy and orchard grass as your introduced species for a quick ground cover and establishment.

Just be aware that smooth brome can be aggressive and spread into other areas. Smooth brome can do well on sites with poorer soils or sites that struggle to get other species established. Timothy is a species that establishes well in wetter soils and may not persist in your drier sites.

Native species that we recommend in the ponderosa pine ecosystem would be prairie junegrass, western wheatgrass, mountain brome, mutton grass, Arizona fescue, slender wheatgrass and Sandburg bluegrass.

If you are in a pinon pine/Utah juniper ecosystem, we would recommend Indian ricegrass, western wheatgrass, muttongrass, bottlebrush squirreltail and galleta.

If you live at a higher or lower elevation, we recommend you call us so that we can help you find a mix that will suite your environment and specific needs.

The next major decision is to determine how you plan to get that seed established. It is critical to make sure that the seed gets around one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of soil cover over that seed on average across the landscape.

The low-cost, high-labor method is to use a seed spreader and hand rake that into the ground. The pro of that method is that it works well on the small-scale seeding. The con is that much of that seed will not have adequate soil cover for germination and thus is vulnerable to birds and other animals, so the seed rate is doubled.

The other end of the spectrum is to rent a notill drill seeder or similar equipment to drill that seed into the soil at a specified depth spaced uniformly across the landscape. The pro is that you are more likely to have a successful seeding. The con is that you could be spending a lot more money for the seeding operation. Whichever method you use, be aware that dryland seeding has a 50-percent success rate in this county.

One other thing to keep in mind is that reseeding an area that has the presence of noxious, invasive plants can complicate the reseeding. In general, we recommend you control those weeds prior to doing any seeding. Seeding into a bed of noxious weeds can only exacerbate the weed populations.

In general, you can continue your weed control after the seeding, as long as you wait till those young grass plants are in the three- to four-leaf phase prior to the herbicide treatment. Follow the herbicide manufacturer’s label for more detailed instructions.

The last bit of advice is to give the seeded area some rest from grazing to allow the seeding to become well established. You don’t want all your investment to be ripped up after all the work put into it. Those young plants will likely appear desirable to grazing animals and will uproot easily if grazed. We typically recommend a two-growing season deferment after seeding, but even one growing season can help those plants get established.

Call or email Shaan Bliss, NRCS rangeland management specialist, if you would help developing a seeding recommendation or grazing plan for your property.

Bliss can be reached at 731-3615 or shaan.bliss@co.usda.gov.

There is no charge for these services and the NRCS may have financial assistance to help with applicable environmental improvements. There is also a grass display board in the local office, located at 505A County Road 600 (Piedra Road), if you would like help identifying what grasses may be on your property or what grasses you plan to seed.

This story was posted on November 13, 2014.