In the Ohio Agronomy Guide, I recommend that forages be planted by the first of May. But isn’t this year different, because of the cold, late spring weather? After all, planting by early May has been a difficult task in much of Ohio this year, although we have had a few windows of opportunity. It is unlikely any planting will be feasible in much of Ohio this week because of the wet soil conditions.
While all of the above arguments ring true, the fact remains that we are now well into May. Tell me it won’t turn hot and dry in early June, that weeds won’t emerge and grow like gangbusters with all the moisture we've had, then I’ll tell you that forage plantings can still be successful. Unfortunately, the law of averages is working against all of that.
Planting forages later than now may work, but the probabilities of success are declining with every passing day and the difficulties for the new seedlings are increasing. The young seedlings will be at risk of being exposed to summer moisture and heat stress before they have a strong root system established. In addition, summer annual weeds will now be emerging with the forage seedlings and we know that weeds are very competitive and destructive when they emerge with the new forage seedlings before they have had a chance to establish. In pure alfalfa stands, we have herbicide options that can help fight weeds, but in grass stands and mixtures we have few if any herbicides labeled for weed control.
So consider your options carefully before attempting to plant perennial forages yet this spring. Planting later than this week may work – and I’ve been fortunate with it a few times in the past – but the law of averages is really working against us now. An alternative to consider is to plant a short-season annual forage crop now that can be harvested in late June and July, then plant the perennial forage stand in early to mid-August when the law of averages is in favor of the forage seedlings once more.