Use a harrow to drag your pasture. Harrowing breaks up manure piles so that grass plants aren’t smothered and so plants can better use the nutrients and organic materials--and become healthier to out compete weeds.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

The key to avoid having weeds overtake your horse pastures is to make your pastures as competitive as possible for grass--a healthy stand of grass will go a long way toward out competing the weeds. Here are six important things you can do to avoid weeds.
 
1) Don’t allow your pastures to be stressed by overgrazing. When pastures get down to 3 to 4 inches, remove horses from the pasture. Avoid bare spots. An open area of soil is an invitation to weeds--many weed seeds can lay dormant for up to 50 years just waiting for the right conditions to happen. Not overgrazing ensures that grass will have enough reserves left after grazing to permit rapid regrowth. Put horses back on pastures when the grass has re-grown to about six to eight inches.

2) Regular mowing of your pastures will help discourage many weeds (most can’t withstand mowing) and make your grasses healthier. Once horses are done grazing an area, set your mower to six inches and mow away. Horses are selective grazers, eating some plants close to the ground and leaving others untouched. Mowing evens the playing field by cutting the tall plants down to a size where they are more tasty for the horse and encouraging grass plants to produce more leaves, called tillers, thereby making pastures thicker.

3) Harrow (or drag) the pasture to spread manure. Harrowing breaks up manure piles so that grass plants aren’t smothered and so plants can better use the nutrients and organic materials--and become healthier to out compete weeds. Pull a harrow with a tractor, riding lawn mower, ATV or a small 4WD vehicle. Or, simply take a manure fork and spread manure by hand.  A wide variety of harrows can be purchased from farm and tractor supply stores. A basic harrow can also be simply made from a discarded piece of chain-link fence with a couple of old tires tied down for weight works well. An old, metal bedspring, metal gate or similar item may also work.

4) Do a soil test. Having the healthiest soil possible will make your grass plants grow better. Healthy grass plants out compete weeds. Apply lime and fertilizer accordingly. Never apply fertilizer without a soil test, because otherwise you simply have no idea as to what your plants and soils need. By following the soil test results you reduce the chance of applying too much fertilizer and having it wash away, wasting money and polluting the environment.

5) Spread lime--if your soil test calls for it. If you have acidic soils using lime is crucial. Lime helps adjust the soil’s pH so that nutrients in the soil can be utilized by the grass plant. After you spread lime, it may look like you just fertilized because you’ve suddenly made the nitrogen and other nutrients available to your grass plants. 

6) Spread compost. In the early fall and late spring when the grasses are growing well spread compost in a 1/4" or 1/2" layer. Compost is a rich soil amendment that adds nutrients, organics and beneficial microbes. It helps plants become healthier and more disease resistant – and outcompete those nasty weeds!

Alayne