Native Grass Horse Pasture courtesy of Horses and People magazine. This is Queensland bluegrass (Dicanthium sericeum) and Curly Windmill (Enteropogon acicularis).
Horse pasture establishment using native grasses
This brief note explains how to establish our grasses by horse owners. The majority of horse owners that purchase seed from us have small paddocks, lots of animals and no farm equipment. These pose a few issues, but with a bit of resourcefulness, they can be overcome.
There are several ingredients to getting a good result with seeding of these grasses.
1. Have the weeds under control
All seedlings, but especially the slower-growing native grass seeds need to have a competition-free environment to allow them to establish at their pace. Start early to get the weeds under control by whatever means you desire – cultivation, herbicides or combinations of those two. Simply overgrazing is not sufficient to control weeds as this only removes the green leaf and usually does not kill the plant.
It is often best to allow a flush of weeds to germinate and then to kill this off prior to sowing the native grass seeds. It removes a fair percentage of the weed seeds from within the soil and reduces some of the competition.
2. Create a seedbed
The seeds will not germinate or establish well if you are broadcasting them onto a hard surface or existing foliage. For good germination, the seed needs to be in close contact with soil and leaving seed exposed on a hard surface will give poor germination results. Equally however, it is not essential that a full seedbed be prepared. It is sufficient for a simple roughing of the surface to provide the seeds with niches in which to get off the surface. We have successfully established grasses using the preparation of no more than dragging a set of harrows around to create little grooves.
3. Spread the seed evenly
Take care to divide your bag of seed into two or three equal parts then try to make each part cover the paddock as evenly as possible. With each separate part travel in a different direction so that you are sowing in rows. It helps to get it very even across the paddock. Don’t get too hung up about the method of sowing – just get the seed out as evenly as possible then run over it with a set of harrows or something like that.
4. Bury the seed
All of our grass seeds seem to germinate best if they are covered lightly with soil or compost. They do not need to be covered with more than 3 to 5 mm of soil, just sufficient to keep them underground. Mulching with a well-degraded compost usually works well. But don’t make it too thick – just a thin cover will do.
This is the key to success or failure. They need to be kept moist after sowing. This is why we suggest sowing with rainfall or soon after and when temperatures are not too high. If irrigation is available for the establishment period, then aim to keep the soil moist for around 3 to 4 weeks after sowing
6. Know what you are looking for
To know whether you have success or failure with the establishment, you will need to know what the seedlings look like. The best way to do this is to sow a small amount of the same seed type in a test row in the paddock. Make sure it is labelled and well marked so you can check it regularly. We always put out a generous amount of seed in a narrow row about half a metre long and marked with a stick at each end. Then, as long as the area where it is sown is typical of the rest of the paddock, it will tell you exactly what the seedlings look like in the field and how they are developing. It will also tell you which seedlings are weeds.
7. Be patient
The seedlings of the native grasses are not as fast to establish as the introduced grasses, especially ryegrass. They will test your resolve at some times, but if you are persistent and patient, you will get the desired result. It means not grazing until the plants are well established, and that means well established, not just having five leaves or so, but having a strong root system and being a robust plant. Preferably wait until the plants have shed seed onto the soil as this will thicken it up over the coming years.
8.Use good quality seed
With native grass seed as with most things, you get what you pay for. High-quality seed (high germination rate with very few weeds) will always give a better result than low-quality seed. The seed grew from purposely grown crops will always have greater vigour than those from wild collections as the seed has developed under more friendly conditions.
We hope with these few points to give some guidance as to how to get a good result from your seeding of native grasses. Naturally you can contact us to get some specific advice for your particular situation.