Help Renovating Grass Pasture
I manage a small boarding facility (10 horses) which is situated on 5 acres. Space is fairly limited due to terrain and buildings, so the horses spend the majority of their time in mud-free gravel paddocks and runs. We do have a small grassy paddock where owners can allow their horse to graze while supervised.
This grassy paddock has been largely neglected (I have only recently started managing the facility). As a result, it is more moss than it is grass. I would appreciate any help or advice that you can offer in trying to renovate this grassy paddock so that it becomes as high-yield as possible, since the horses spend only a limited amount of time on it.
I need to try to get rid of the moss that is choking out our grass. How should I do this? Should I use a moss-killing product like this: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Lilly-Mil...110/100138813#. I would of course plan to keep the horses off of the treated area for at least 2 months, probably longer given that whatever new grass I plant will need a fair amount of time to establish itself.
This is what I'm thinking of doing:
1: Apply moss-killing product
2: Spread lime (I spoke to a county conservation professional and she told me that she hasn't ever seen a property in our area that didn't need annual liming to create more ideal soil conditions for grass.)
3: Spread grass seed, covered by a thin layer of fully composted horse manure.
4: Continuing care: regular liming and thin layers of compost.
I'm not at all familiar with your geography and plants, Eolith so I have more questions than suggestions. I assume moss is there because of high humidity, rain, moisture retention capability of soil? Would not the act of putting lime on the ground kill off the moss? What type of grass were you thinking of using - would some of the rye grasses do well in your climate (I always think they don't look as pretty as some grass but they do seem tougher)? In addition to the program you have planned (which looks fine btw), would a yearly sprinkling of grass seed be beneficial as well?
Moss is the result of many problems with your pasture. Your plan is a band-aid approach and isn't going to fix the problems long term. You have a moss infestation from poor draining, compact soil. It has heavy clay that need amendments added. the soil is acidic and you probably have a majority of the land in shade. You might even have pooling water problems.
I wouldn't spray any herbicide because if you fix even some of the issues, the moss should go away. For the winter, I would start by discing or harrowing the pasture if it is not frozen. Moss has very shallow roots and just discing should kill most of it. Add every last bit of compost and poop you have to the pasture. Let it sit there for the winter and break down on it's own. At the start of spring, get back in there and work the dirt so you have a nice fine surface. Sample the soil. Wait for the results. You will get recommendations back on how much lime (# per acre) you need to apply to get the soil to were grass should take off plus recommendations for any other product or mineral that is lacking in your soil. Next is get a seed recommendation from your county extension office. You will be looking for a grass that does well in heavy, acidic soils, holds up to close grazing, does well in your area (temps and rainfall) and recovers fairly quickly. Now the bad part is it truly takes a year for a new pasture to get established. At a minimum, it should be at least 8". You could probably lightly graze it late fall. You also don't want to tramp the soil down and compact it while the roots are getting established. If the ground is wet and heavy from a rain, keep them off of it.
If you have a problem with standing water, than before you do anything, figure out where the water is coming from. If you understand where the problem starts, you can work at fixing that while you do the rest.
Year 2 you can get away with just a light application of compost, the lime and any appropriate fertilizer. Horse poop only has 20# N per ton of product. For my pastures, I need about 60# N per year. My pastures would choke if I applied 3T per acre. (you need N to make the tops grow)
FIRST, go to, or call, your county extension service. They will send you soil samle kits, and instructions for those. Follow their fertilizing, soil amendment instructions.
Then you will know exactly what you need, and will not waste the BD's money on something not needed.
When I spoke to my county rep, she essentially told me that I could certainly do soil tests... but she hasn't ever seen a pasture in our area that doesn't need liming. Given this and that it hasn't been fertilized likely for years, she said that it seemed like a very reasonable place to start.
To answer some of the questions about my area, it is a very rainy area that consists mostly of forest. The temperatures are very moderate overall, usually falling somewhere between 35-80 degrees. Fortunately we don't have any standing water issues.
Being from the West Side, I can visualize what you're probably looking at. To some extent, I agree with LHP. If you can, disking, breaking up the clods and turning the moss under should kill most of it and give the grass a better start. If you can't do that, I would go with some heavy aeration at least. If you're disking, you may as well toss in as much manure (composted or not) as you've got in the process and let it get rained on and compost in place until you seed it in the spring when it's going to start growing right away rather than get washed away by all of the winter rain.
Even if you don't till it up, new grass takes months to really establish for grazing (though it should be kept mowed as needed). Graze it too soon and you're undoing all you time, money and work... :( Any way you could "temporarily" divide the area in two and do half at a time? Granted, that would be two years of "temporary" to get it done, but I'm not sure what the owners and boarders want and what rules/priorities they have. One common problem is trying to keep people from turning their horses out on it when it's wet and hooves and teeth cause the most damage to the roots and destroys the grass....
Yep, I know that this is likely to be a long term project in order to achieve the ideal results. I probably will end up dividing the area and only work on one section initially. Although I will probably still lime and fertilize the rest of the pasture -- it's just the area where I'm literally trying to establish thicker, healthier grass that I'll keep sectioned off.
Lime it, broadcast the manure, till it and lime it again. Then reseed.
When I lime a section here clover comes in like crazy. It's there but kinda small and you don't notice it much but it better than doubles in size when I drop lime.
Like lime, wood ashes will also kill moss.
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