Our Best Advice To Start Your Native Horse Pastures
Nervous about growing native pastures? We get it, it’s a lot of money to put down on something you have never done before. That’s why we are here to help and work with you to get the best results possible.
BEFORE YOU BUY YOUR SEEDS
If you think about it, native grasses evolved to grow here so, generally speaking, they thrive in poor quality and slightly acidic soils.
Therefore, many species don’t like phosphorus and using pre-treatments such as super phosphate can be harmful. Fertilisers that have mobile nutrients like nitrogen are counterproductive, unless there are existing roots to take them up from the soil. If it is just a bare paddock, these fertilisers will be washed away… with the money that you spent on them.
Everyone is going to tell you to put down lime. Don’t put lime down! Get a pH test done or do your own (you can get a soil test kit from Bunnings for roughly $15). This is super important to know. Seed sowing differs greatly for alkaline and acidic soils.
If your soil is heavy clay and is prone to compaction, think about putting some gypsum down. Not gypsum and lime. Just gypsum.
Think about the upcoming weather. Native grasses do not require the same amount of water that introduced grasses do, significantly less in fact (remembering they still need some water because they are plants, not magic beans). This is especially true at the beginning. The key to germination is soil moisture and warmth – so make sure you have access to water whether it be by channel or sky.
One last really good thing to do before you buy your seed is find out what is growing locally. Chances are if wallaby grass grows up the road, it will grow on your farm as well.
BUYING YOUR SEED
If this is your first time enquiring about native grasses, then yes, holy hell they are expensive. This is where your expectations need to be realistic. Growing native grasses is not only about having pastures that are safe for your horses and ponies but is about increasing the wellbeing of your property. This means having pastures that won’t take more from the soil than the soil has to give. So, to do this right, you may have to break it down into a few steps (and we can help with that).
It is a good idea to start with 2-3kg of a pasture blend that suits your area. Trial the area first then in 2-3 weeks you can let us know which grasses have gone well, which haven’t. With all this information, a specific mix of native grasses can be tailored to your farm.
When you buy your seed for a trial area, inform us of your plans and we can include all the necessary information. Things like seedling identification sheets and specific information about the grasses in your mix.
Some grass types are better evolved to particular environmental conditions than others and we can work to find something fitting to problem areas on your land. For example, if you have heavily shaded areas you should think about getting 1kg of the weeping grass for the shaded areas specifically and then 1kg of the pasture mix for the rest of the paddock.
The recommended sow rate is 6-8 kg per acre for pastures. However, if you are looking for something more economical you can sow at a rate of 3-5 kg per acre, it is just more of a long term plan. Keep in mind that native grasses will self-seed and naturally thicken over time if you let them seed every season.
SOWING YOUR SEED
During establishment native grasses struggle to compete with exotic weeds. Before you sow your natives, ensure complete clearing of the existing introduced vegetation in the paddocks. Physical removal or herbicides are appropriate, however ensure you read the instructions on the back of the herbicide container. Chemicals like this have been thoroughly researched and the guidelines to use them within are important and correct. If possible, allow any weed seed that remains in the soil to germinate and repeat the removal techniques before sowing.
If your soil is compacted, it is a good idea to aerate and loosen the soil to ensure adequate soil to seed contact. Use a rake or harrows to break up the surface soil before sowing. Do keep in mind that no-tillage has been shown to decrease soil erosion, increase soil organic matter and improve water retention – simply put, if you don’t need to, don’t.
There are a few methods for putting down seed. The recommended method is to broadcasting/scatter the seed. You can direct drill if so inclined, but it is important to sow the seed no deeper than 15mm. This can be achieved by simply raking the seed in. Seed on the surface may dry out and seed any deeper may not germinate.
Most importantly, keep the seeds moist, but not waterlogged for at least 3 weeks after sowing. Soil moisture + warmth = germination.
*Maintain good weed control after sowing. A broad leaf herbicide can be used once the seedlings have reached the 5-leaf stage.
**Do not fertilise within the first three months, if at all. Weeds will respond better to fertiliser than native grasses.