Rejuvenating Horse Pastures with Spring Overseeding

The dead of winter can lead to daydreams of horses grazing in lush, green pastures with the sun on their backs. But first, you have to prepare those pastures for those warm, sunny, summer grazing sessions. Ray Smith, PhD, forage extension specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, has tips for rejuvenating those pastures this Spring:

1. Use high-quality seed of an improved variety. Use a variety that has been proven to be a top performer under Kentucky conditions. The University of Kentucky forage testing program tests the survival of cool-season grasses under grazing by horses (see Forage Variety Trials). High-quality seed has high rates of germination and is free of contamination from weed seed. Quality seed will produce a pasture that last for years; "cheap seed" will only lead to headaches.

2. Plant enough seed at the right time. Follow the seeding chart below for ideal seeding rates for horse pastures. Higher seeding rates provide insurance for a good stand. Grasses and clover can be seeded in either spring or fall. Early fall is the preferred time for cool-season grasses, but when seeding in the spring make sure that seed is in the ground by mid-March so the seedlings have a chance to grow before warm weather. Perennial ryegrass grows rapidly and is an excellent grass for high traffic areas that are overseeded every year. Since it only lives one to two years, it should be less than 25% of seed mixtures, otherwise it will out-compete longer lived grasses.

3. Use the best seeding method available. The best method for seeding horse pastures is using a no-till seed drill. It will cut through the existing sod and then firm the soil over the top of the seed. Make sure to set the no-till drill so that seed is no deeper than ¼ to ½ inch. An alternative seeding method for clover is "frost seeding." This refers to the practice of broadcasting seed on top of the ground during mid-February and relying on the freeze/thaw cycle of late winter to work the seed into the soil. This works well with clover, but is "hit or miss" with grasses.

4. Control competition. Many seedings fail due to competition from weeds. The best weed control is a healthy grass stand that outcompetes weeds. Mowing helps but many pasture weeds can still grow below mowing height. Herbicides can be very useful to control tough weeds, but always read and follow label directions. For most herbicides grass seedlings should be at least 3-4 inches tall before spraying (see Weed Management in Grass Pastures, Hayfields, and Fencerows.)

5. Allow the immature seedlings to become established before putting the pasture back into full use, if at all possible. It can take over a year for a grass pasture to develop a strong dense sod. Overgrazing newly seeded areas is a major cause of seeding failures. When it is not possible to keep animals off the pasture, while the grass is getting established, consider splitting the field and seeding half the field at a time.

Common seeding rates and optimum seeding dates for pasture plant species
Species Endophyte free tall fescue Orchardgrass Kentucky Bluegrass E- Perennial Ryegrass White Clover
Rate lb/A
(seeded alone)
20-40 15-30 15-30 20-40 --
Rate lb/A
(in mixtures)
10-20 10-20 10+20 5-10** 1-3
Optimum Seeding Dates 8/15 - 9/15, March 1-15 8/15 - 9/15, March 1-15 8/15 - 9/15, March 1-15 8/15 - 9/15, March 1-15 Frost seed, 3/1 - 4/15, 8/15 - 9/15


Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners