Fall Pasture Management: Plant, Root Growth, & Soil Fertility

Author: Melissa Fery

Publish Date: Fall 2007

Proper pasture management is a year round effort. Fall is one of the most critical periods for western Oregon pastures, as well as central and eastern irrigated pastures. Management during the fall affects the ability of pasture plants to over winter, determines when new growth begins in the spring, and how much forage will be produced over the entire season. Overgrazing or excessive forage harvesting in the fall inhibits pasture plants from rebuilding their root system and forming new shoots for spring growth.

Two major plant activities occur during the fall: root regeneration and the formation of new shoots. Typically, plants go through a cycle of root shedding during the summer. The fall is a time when root systems are rebuilding. Shoots or growing points for next season’s forage growth are also developing in the fall. The shoots need a steady supply of nutrients and protection from stress. Allowing plants to store carbohydrates is essential for these activities. The lower stems or crown are the major storage area for carbohydrates in pasture grasses and provide protection for new shoots. In most pasture grasses the crown is the bottom 3-4 inches of the plant. If pastures are grazed or mowed lower than 3-4 inches stubble height in the fall the carbohydrate reserves are reduced and the new shoots are starved. The following spring these shoots will grow slower and will have fewer roots to support them.

The management practices outlined above are from Pasture Management: Understanding Plant and Root Growth in the Fall by forage management veterans Gene Pirelli and Steve Fransen.

Fall is also a good time of year to take soil samples to test the fertility of your pasture’s soil. Early fall is a time to apply nutrients to correct any deficiencies the soil test revealed. Learn more by visiting the Soil section of the Oregon Small Farms website.

For additional information on managing pastures, check out the other pasture management segments of the Oregon Small Farms website or immerse yourself in Oregon State University’s Forage Information System.