County Extension Agent

Establishment of improved pasture can mean different things to different landowners.† Some of my colleges in other agencies call them introduced grasses, some call them improved.† But to me it means planting an improved grass such as Coastal bermudagrass, Tifton 85 bermudagrass, Klein grass or one of the seeded bermudagrasses. In reality we are taking a piece of property out of a native grass setting and establishing a variety of grass bred to produce a higher quality and quantity of forage.† However, donít get me wrong, I am not saying everybody should plow up there native grasses and plant an improved grass.† Our native grasses provide good forage production when managed correctly and are very important for our wildlife.† Also, native grasses are adapted to our area, they donít need special care other than proper gazing management and the occasional fire.† And that says a lot when you look at current and projected future fertilizer prices.† Improved grasses on the other hand require an investment in both time and money to establish, in addition to yearly investments of fertilizer and weed control practices.† You also have to have the right type of soil for improved grasses to establish and grow.† So before you make any decisions on establishing any type of forage think about what your goals and plans for the future are.† And if you have any questions on whether or not a particular grass is right for you or not please feel free to give me a call so that we can sit down and discuss your options.

Establishing an improved pasture starts the year before the planting actually takes place. The start involves land preparation such as plowing. Most planting failures are a direct result of poor seed bed preparation.

There are several species of grass that will work in our area. We feel most comfortable with Coastal or Tifton 85. The Tifton 85 is the highest quality grass producing 40 percent more forage than Coastal and having 4 to 5 percent higher total digestible nutrients. Some other varieties being discussed are Jiggs and Russell. Jiggs will cover faster but is not as drought tolerant as Coastal or Tifton 85. It is also susceptible to a leaf disease known as rust. Russell does not produce as much as Coastal and the quality are not as good.† I do not recommend Jiggs or Russell.

Seeded grasses are in demand because they are usually easier to establish. And by easier I mean requires less equipment such as a sprigging machine. There are two seeded Bermudas selected out of common bermudagrass. There are Callie Giant and NK-37, both are what we call giant bermudagrasses. These two grasses generally produce less forage than the hybrids and do not spread as rapidly.† And we usually see these seeded pastures revert back to common bermudagrass.

Another seeded grass is Klein. Compared to the hybrids it does not produce as much and will not spread as rapidly. Normally the first year of establishment one will get a 70 percent cover. However, it is easier to establish and will do well on our light soils and low fertility.† In my opinion this is a grass that does not get the credit it deserves in our area in terms of forage production for beef cattle and ease of establishment in our shallow soils.† On the other hand do not use this grass for horses or goats as it causes liver damage and they will not eat it unless forced to due to an unavailability of other forages.

The most important consideration to address in establishing an improved pasture with hybrid bermudagrass is land preparation. We are planting a crop and therefore the soil must be tilled properly. This means to start plowing in August and have the site completely prepared - loose and mellow by January 1.† Then allowing the land to sit and settle conserving moisture. Before plowing destroy existing perennial grass vegetation in the field with 5 quarts/acre of glyphosate. Coastal bermudagrass should be sprigged February 15 to the end of March. Some years we can plant into April with success, provided we have adequate moisture in April, May and June. Remember with hybrid bermudagrasses, they must be vegetatively propagated by planting a sprig of the grass. Sprigs are made up of either root pieces or rooted stolons or runners. Tifton 85 prefers warm temperatures so Tifton 85 sprigs should not be dug and planted until the night temperatures reach the mid to upper 50ís, usually April 15 Ė May 15. I would not fertilize the planted area until after it becomes apparent that a stand has been obtained.† However a light application of phosphorous pre planting will help in root establishment.† A soil test will help determine the amount needed.

A relatively new product on the market in terms of establishing Tifton 85 is the use of planting live plugs.† We have seen a high success rate using this method especially in small acreage situations where it is harder to get sprigging equipment in.† The plugs are grown in a greenhouse and you actually plant a live plant with established roots directly in the soil.

With seeded grasses one must have a seed bed developed by February 1. The seeded species of grass are then planted between April 15 and May 15.

Native grass varieties that work well in our area include: Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, WW-B Dahl Old World Bluestem, Blue Grama, Sideoats Grama, Eastern Grama, Lovegrass, Buffalo grass, Yellow Indiangrass and Alamo Switchgrass to name a few. These native grasses do well with no special care other than proper grazing management and an occasional fire.† However these grasses are harder and take longer to get established.† In most cases these native grasses will reestablish themselves after a few years or rest from grazing and some normal rainfall because of the seed bank already in the soil.† The 2007 year was a prime example.† I donít know that I have ever seen as much Yellow Indiangrass or Big Bluestem in the pastures as I saw at the end of that growing season.

Following seeding or sprigging the land should be rolled and packed to preserve moisture.† The seeds or sprigs must have good contact with moist soil to establish. I would not fertilize until it became obvious that a stand was going to be obtained. Normally this would be 30 to 60 days following planting. Following this the landowner would want to follow management practices such as weed control and grazing management. On the hybrid bermudagrasses we like to cut and bale, shred or flash graze following planting as soon as possible to encourage the stand to spread and thicken.† Native grasses you would leave alone for at least the first growing season, if not longer.

A good stand of grass improves the value of a piece of property, whether itís native or improved. The stand must be managed though. This is more critical on the improved grasses such as Coastal and Tifton 85. These species must be fertilized one or two times per year. Klein will respond to fertilizer but does not require as intensive management.

As always, if you have any questions or need further information feel free to give me a call at 254-897-2809 or email at and weíll discuss what the best option in your situation is.