Fertilization: Is Your Pasture Picture Perfect?

April showers bring May flowers… and hopefully great pastures, too.  March and April are the optimum times to fertilize your pastures to get the most out of your grass so here are some options that are environmentally smart, will bring strong pastures AND be good for your pocketbook.

Before you start, soil test.  Soil testing is critical and can be obtained (for free) at your local Extension office.  An annual test is recommended until a baseline of your soil’s requirements is obtained. If you have owned your property for a bit and have regularly soil tested, then testing every two to three years is perfect. For those of you that have not tested your soil at all, or not in several years, this is a good time to test.

Soil testing is an inexpensive, easy way to save money and ensure that only the needed nutrients are being applied.  Questions that soil testing answers:

  1. What is your soil’s pH?
  2. How much and what kind of lime is recommended?
  3. What are the needed nutrients to add to your soil?
  4. How much, if any, fertilizer is needed?

Fertilizers contain Nitrogen, Phosphorous (phosphoric acid) and Potash.  Nitrogen recommendations are given based on the crop (or type of pasture grass) you are trying to grow.  A test result gives you accurate amounts of these, and other, needed nutrients and lime recommendations, if the pH of the soil is too low, as repeated fertilization with nitrogen fertilizer tends to decrease the pH of soils.

Once test result numbers have been attained there are several different types of fertilizer that can be used.  Most inorganic fertilizers are termed quick-release, or water soluble. Slow-release fertilizers are preferable and highly recommended because of the time-release of the nutrients, as opposed to this instantaneous release. Although the initial cost is higher, slow-release offers “more bang for the buck”. Water-soluble, inorganic fertilizers that have been modified to allow for this controlled release of nutrients with time and the ability to release nutrients slowly, over time, is well documented.  This is ideal because it won’t release excessive amounts of nutrients into the springs and aquifer.

Vermiculture(worm farming) offers another type of fertilizer and has become very popular over the past few years.  Worm castings (worm poop!) are the result of “worm farming”.  This is an organic, slow-release fertilizer that has been shown to have very good results as a substitute for inorganic fertilizer.  Although this also has an initial cost greater than classic fertilizer, its slow release and environmentally friendly qualities also offer a great return on investment.

Vermiculture - Worm Farming - Worm Poop!
Vermiculture – Worm Farming – Worm Poop!

Regardless of the type of fertilizer that you decide you need, now is the best time to apply.  Grass is already in the early stages of growth and by giving it only the needed amounts of nutrients (if any are required) and/or liming, money will be saved, the pastures will flourish and your horses will have the lush, green grass needed to help give them proper nutrition and adequate grazing.

Happy grazing!

-Jamie Wallace

Read more on Online Equine contributor Jamie A. Wallace!


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