Submitted to: Equus
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/15/2004
Publication Date: 8/25/2004
Citation: Singer, J.W. 2004. Consultants column-centipedegrass pasture question. Equus. P. 84.
Technical Abstract: Centipedegrass (Eremochloa ophiuroides) is a slow-growing, coarse-textured, warm-season grass that spreads by stolons (aboveground stems that can form new plants). It has low forage quality and is more commonly used for low maintenance turf. Replacing your centipegrass pasture with either coastal bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) or bahiagrass (Paspalum notatum) can improve the quantity and quality of forage that your horse obtains from your pasture. However, proper management practices must be followed during establishment of the new grasses and in future years. Disking alone may not adequately eliminate the centipedegrass that occupies your current pasture and will not prepare a proper seedbed for the new grasses. Because centipedegrass can spread by stolons, disking may dislodge plants from the soil, but new roots can form from nodes (joints) on the stolons that may re-establish after the operation is complete. Consequently, using a non-selective herbicide to eliminate all of the plants in your current pasture should improve your success in the new seeding. Once the centipedegrass and other weeds, if present, have been chemically controlled, this would be an excellent time to soil test your pasture to correct the phosphorus, potassium, and pH requirements for the new seeding. After these amendments have been added to the soil, if necessary, the pasture is ready for proper seedbed preparation. If using seed, the ideal seedbed should be firm to enhance seed to soil contact for seed germination. If using specialized equipment to plant vegetative cuttings, seedbed preparation can differ depending on the type of equipment. Contacting local businesses that offer planting services will provide the necessary information for seedbed preparation. Most bermudagrass stands are planted between February 1 and April 10 using specialized equipment with vegetative cuttings called sprigs. Bermudagrass varieties are marketed as either a grazing or hay-type. Consider the different traits each variety possesses before selecting one, because once a bermudagrass stand is established it can be extremely difficult to eradicate. Bermudagrass is deep rooted and more drought tolerant than many other warm-season forages. It prefers an acidic soil pH (5.0 to 5.5). Bahiagrass tolerates frequent defoliation and is often used for permanent pastures. Bahiagrass prefers a soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and is established using seed rather than vegetative cuttings. Bahiagrass is usually seeded in the spring after the chances for a killing frost are below average. Planting bahiagrass during summer can present challenges in terms of weed control. Young bahiagrass seedlings are slow to establish and are vulnerable to competition from weeds and trampling by horses. To ensure successful establishment, it may be necessary to keep animals off of the pasture until the plants are established (the second year following establishment) and herbicides may be necessary to control weeds. Regardless of which species you select to replace the centipedegrass, the most important factor affecting establishment will be providing enough time for the plants to establish before allowing your animals access to the pasture. Consequently, it may be best to renovate sections of your pasture rather than the entire area at one time. If proper guidelines are followed for establishment and maintenance of either bermudagrass or bahiagrass, the pasture should provide years of use for both forage and exercise with very desirable outcomes.