After all the hard work of planning and seeding your native grass pasture is complete, it can be a difficult and tedious wait for the results. After seeding, you can expect to wait at least a year for a native plant community to reach its full potential, and that is only as long as you receive that “normal” rainfall. During drought conditions, you may need to allow at least three years for the plants to establish.
A successful native planting usually include species that colonize an area in three stages, early, mid, and late succession. If you planted a diverse mix of grasses and forbs, then the site could look “weedy,” especially during the initial stages of plant establishment. This is normal, and part of natural plant succession. Don’t be too quick to take action or to call your newly planted field a failure.
For fields that you plan to graze eventually, and most folks in this county do, make sure you can provide alternative pastures for one to three years. This is required, due to the length of time it takes to adequately establish these types of pastures. Once established, native fields can provide enough good quality forage for you to manage livestock grazing, IF you do not exceed the carrying capacity of the plants you have in that field. I have written articles in the past about that subject, and if interested, come by the office in Bellville to discuss a basic grazing plan. One of the main mistakes I see besides over-grazing, is grazing a newly planted area too soon after planting. Livestock prefer the new growth, and the plants will not be able to grow adequate roots to survive when being grazed too soon. Once the plant community is well established, you will need to maintain lower grazing rates than are common for introduced pastures. Set your livestock stocking rates so as to leave enough stubble, at least 50 percent of the plant, and this will enable the plants to recover easily from grazing and allow for a healthy plant community.
Those landowners who would like to incorporate prescribed fire into their management plans, should really wait at least 2 years to burn after the planting to allow the plants to become fully established. During that time period, the plants will have sufficient time to produce dormant fuel as well as develop adequate roots to regrow after the burn has occurred. Also, after the fire, give the plants enough time to regrow before turning livestock in to graze. Don’t forget to install fire lines around the native grass area, and maintain them with a disk plow even on years that you are not burning. Before deciding to burn, you should weigh the potential risks of prescribed fire in your area. Use discretion when considering the use of fire as a management tool in restoring your native pasture.
When you do get ready to plant grass in your pasture, please give me a call at the local Natural Resources Conservation field office located at 520 South Front Street in Bellville, Texas at 979-865-3139 extension 3.