The King’s AgriSeeds Agronomy Team
The main function of spring nurse crops is for weed control. Fall nurse crops, on the other hand, also serve as a buffer against frost and the cold, but in the spring, this is not a threat. Oats or a spring barley are typically used because they jump out of the ground quicker than the perennial species. Nurse crops are recommended for seedings going in the fields especially after winter annuals and even lawns have begun to green up. From this point forward, it is highly suggested. Nurse crops in grazing pastures can add the benefit of more forage for the first grazing as well but be sure to only graze lightly so as not to damage the perennial grasses still developing. Be sure to keep an eye on your nurse crops though. If you feel that the seeding rate turned out a bit heavier than you had hoped and the nurse crop is creating too much competition, clip the oats to the height of the perennial stand coming through to reduce the competition.
Keep in mind that your drill set-up also plays into the need for a nurse crops. 7.5 inch rows leave a large section of unseeded soil vulnerable to weeds. Nurse crops help shade over this area until the perennial stand thickens. 5.5 inch rows are more ideal for perennial grasses since it leaves less space between rows for weeds to germinate. Some farmers will even plant their field in a crisscross pattern to reduce the space between rows even further. If you use this method, make sure to cut the seeding rate in half since you will be making two passes. A mat of burned down rye, wheat, or triticale can also work to control weeds for your new seeding.
In any case, you should be implementing one of these strategies to battle weeds at this point in the season. If you decide to use oats as a nurse crop, here are some popular varieties to use:
EVERLEAF: A true, high quality forage oat with delayed heading. This is an excellent choice to pair with a new alfalfa stand. Seed at 20-25 lbs per acre.
CDC HAYMAKER: A very leafy, high quality oat. CDC Haymaker is a great fit for producers looking for a bit of extra high-quality forage to graze during the first grazing. Seed at 20-25 lbs per acre.
NIAGARA: A tall, western oat with improved rust resistance. A good choice for a standard nurse crop. Seed at 30-40 lbs to the acre.
PROLEAF 234: A medium maturing variety, also a good choice for a standard nurse crop. Seed at 30-40 lbs to the acre.