At this stage of the growing season the main maintenance discipline to be carried out is ensuring that any undesirable plants are not allowed to go to seed. Many of the popular weeds found within grass paddocks grow quite tall in order for their flowers to be pollinated and their seeds to be spread further away from the parent plant. In order to prevent the plants reproducing you should cut them before they go to seed. To minimise the number of cuts required the plant can be left until it is at the flowering stage before cutting; however the priority is to avoid seeds being produced which will then germinate in the future.
The process of cutting at this stage is often referred to as topping. It is advantageous to use a grass cutter designed for this purpose as the machine can be set to cut the grass to approx 100-150mm high. The blade arrangement on the topper will tend to mulch the cut vegetation so that the livestock don’t need to be removed from the paddock after cutting. Also, the cut grass doesn’t lie on the surface causing the grass below to be shaded out and stunted. The mulched grass will actually provide some nutrient for the future grass growth.
The topping process helps in another important way as livestock will generally prefer a younger grass sward. As the longer, dryer grass is cut this process encourages the grass to create fresh young shoots from the base of the stem. This growth is known as tillering, which will also encourage growth across the ground covering areas which have become bare from poaching or weed growth.
The action of topping also improves root growth and soil structure. As the plant is cut back, the extremities of the roots also die. This can be visualised by assuming that there would be as much root mass in the soil as there is grass leaf mass above the ground. As the plants are cut the roots die back to match the volume above ground. Then, as the plant grows, so the roots grow back. The original root fibres decompose providing important air pockets within the soil structure and also a supply of nutrients for the growing root system.
For more advice on paddock maintenance, please contact Jon at Posh Paddocks on 01822 835920 or 07850 226141.