Winter Weeds and Soil Compaction

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Most children are writing their Christmas lists this time of the year. I am sure if farmers are making their lists, they include sunshine and dry weather. With the tremendous amount of rain that we have had the last couple of weeks, some soybeans haven’t been harvested, farm equipment has been stuck in the field, not to mention all the MUD and the condition of crop fields, pastures, and hayfields! As we wrap up 2018 (already!), there is never a better time to start making preparation for our warm-season grasses that will break dormancy in the spring of the coming year, particularly Bermuda grass.

Bermuda grass is the most commonly grown grass in Robeson County and, by this time of year, has turned a light brown color. It is in a period of dormancy during the winter months and does not actively grow. However, as I travel through the county, I notice bright green winter weeds poking their heads out to make their appearance. Weeds are any grass or broadleaf plant that grows in unwanted areas. They can cause unwanted competition for the desired forage, have a negative effect on animal performance, and some can be poisonous to livestock species.

Some of the most common winter weeds are Buttercup, Common Chickweed, Curly Dock, Henbit, Wild Garlic or Onion, White Clover, Wild Radish, Wild Mustard, and Common Dandelion. Proper weed identification is the first step in controlling winter weeds. It is important that we identify weeds early for several reasons:

  1. Gain control of the weeds before the desired forage becomes thinned out.
  2. Younger plants require less herbicide application — in turn, saving money.
  3. Some herbicides won’t kill the mature weed and the seed.

There are a number of herbicides that can be used to control winter weeds, but you should ALWAYS read the label and follow the directions, taking special notice of grazing and haying restrictions for livestock. Selecting the correct herbicide for the weed is important because not all herbicides perform the same. An Agricultural Chemicals Manual is a useful tool in choosing the best herbicide.

The best times to apply herbicides to control winter weeds are October through December and February through April. October through December, winter weeds are usually young and actively growing. February through April, winter weeds are beginning their final growth spurt. It is important that the weeds aren’t allowed to seed. December through February is normally not the best time to control weeds, but treatment can be applied to dormant Bermuda grass. Hog waste should not be pumped on dormant Bermuda grass, because nitrogen will not be utilized and there is potential for runoff in ditches and streams. Hog waste can be applied to cover crops, such as cereal grains and winter grasses that are actively growing.

It is also important to consider soil compaction. Tractors and other equipment used to make fertilizer and lime applications on saturated ground can result in soil compaction. Hoof pressure from animals in pastures can also cause soil compaction. Soil compaction can destroy roots and root growth and lead to reduced plant growth. Limiting pasture exposure and tractor and equipment movement on saturated ground will help alleviate soil compaction.

Remember, even though Bermuda grass is dormant and not actively growing, allowing winter weeds to accumulate will result in a poor stand of Bermuda grass. It is important that we remove winter weeds in a timely fashion to keep hayfields and pastures healthy.

I hope that everyone has a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

For more information, please contact Taylor Chavis, Extension Livestock Agent, at 910-671-3276, by E-mail at Taylor_Chavis@ncsu.edu, or visit our website.

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