Soil Preparation for Planting Pasture Grass Seed

Apart from seed selection, soil preparation is probably the next most important aspect of establishing a pasture. The quality and condition of the soil plays a crucial role in determining germination rates, forage yields, water uptake, and the overall success of the pasture. It will also correlate how much fertilizer will need to be applied over the life of the pasture. Ideally, any potential problems or nutrient deficiencies should be corrected before seeding ever takes place.

Soil and pasture preparation should begin months before any actual planting has begun. It takes time for soils to begin interacting with any amendments, such as a lime application. Sometimes in cases of severe soil acidity, years are required to adjust and correct the problem. For most situations, soil preparation should begin six months to one year before seeding.

The first step of soil preparation is to analyze the existing area and decide what the best course of action would be. Is the area an existing pasture that has been overrun by invasive weeds? Has the area been left fallow for many years? Has it undergone heavy livestock grazing? In some situations, spraying the area to eliminate invasive weeds is often necessary to prevent future infestations. For areas that have not been worked on for many years or have been heavily grazed in the past, the soil may need additional chisel plowing after the initial tilling. This will help oxygenate the soil as well as loosen it after years of inactivity or compaction.

During this phase of tilling and plowing, it’s extremely important to get the soil tested. In addition to providing your pasture grass with the best possible growing conditions, knowing the state of the soil prior to planting enables you to add exactly what your soil needs instead of what you think it needs. Knowing this can save thousands of dollars throughout the years by eliminating unnecessary fertilizer applications and possible plant failure. A high quality soil structure will also save on irrigation costs as water is moved and stored more efficiently beneath the surface. Your local Cooperative Extension Service is a great resource for assisting with soil tests. Once you have attained the results of your soil test, follow the recommended guidelines and apply any needed soil amendments. For best results, work the amendments into the soil to a depth of six and eight inches.

Once you have cleared the area of all existing vegetation, sprayed all noxious weeds, tilled, plowed, and worked in all soil amendments, you can begin preparing the seedbed. In order to achieve the highest germination rate possible, pasture grass seeds require good seed-to-soil contact. This contact ensures the seed gets proper moisture during germination. When preparing the seedbed using conventional tillage methods, disk the area to provide a uniform soil surface and to break up large soil clods. Seedbeds need to be firm, so follow the disking by rolling the field with a cultipacker. The cultipacker will crush any remaining dirt clods while removing air pockets. The seedbed should be firm, but not compact. To avoid damaging your soil, be sure not to work the ground while the soil is still wet.

After the smoothing and firming process, let the area sit for two or three weeks. This will allow time for any remaining weed seeds to germinate. Give the area a final harrowing to remove these weed seedlings from the soil surface. You are now ready to plant your pasture grass seed.