Spring is a good time to start sowing. Sowing has a number of advantages. For instance, you fill bare spots with plants you would like to have there; this inhibits the emergence of unwanted plants such as Jacob’s wort. You can also improve the composition of your meadow in this way, for instance by sowing grass varieties that are lower in sugar than ryegrass.
If you are going to sow, then of course you want the emergence of your seed mix to be as good as possible. You have spent money and time on the seed mixture and sowing. The success of emergence of a sown grass mixture is not just down to the quality of the seeds. Indeed, seeds have to meet certain quality standards and actually only get worse if you store them for a long time (more than a year). The success of the emergence of a seed mix has mainly to do with the type and conditions of your soil. Choosing a particular seed mix should suit your soil to get a good emergence.
Various soil types
Soil conditions depend on:
- Soil type: soil type depends on the location of the plot. For instance, you can have sand, clay or loam as a base, or a mixture of these. Some plants grow better on sand than on clay or vice versa.
- Rich or poor. This means that the soil contains many or few minerals or trace elements. A distinction can also be made between, for instance, rich in nitrogen and poor in other minerals and trace elements. This is due to fertilisation and to grazing or haying.
- Alkaline or acidic. This is about the PH. Soils usually tend to acidify, this can be due to fertilisation, location of the plot or rain. Some plants grow better on acidic soils others better on alkaline soils.
- Dry or wet. This is partly due to the type of soil (sand is drier than clay) by the location of the plot and by the drainage around the plot.
- Dense or not. An ideal soil consists of 50% soil and 50% air and water courses. These air and water courses are created by soil life such as worms but also by plant roots. If a lot of heavy animals or machinery are put on it, the soil compacts. You can see this because more water remains on it and the soil is more compact. Some plants grow well on compacted soil, others do not.
Determining soil type
A plant prefers a certain type of soil, you cannot change this. You can, however, change a soil by the way it is used and fertilised. This is a slow process, but in a few years you can go from a rich to a poorer soil, for example, or from a dense to a non-dense soil.
Suitable grasses for horses grow on poor, slightly alkaline, non-sealed soil. So it is a waste of money and effort to sow a good horse mix on a rich compacted soil. Almost nothing of this is likely to come up, and if it comes up, it will be quickly supplanted by species that do grow well on this type of soil.
So before you start looking for a pasture mix, it is important to first assess the condition of your soil and change your soil to the preferred good horse mix. Determining the condition of your soil can be done in several ways.
- You can have a soil sample taken. Then you will know exactly what type of soil you have, what the PH is and whether you have rich or poor soil. Following this, you will also know which minerals you need to supplement or not.
Or you can estimate this by determining some things like:
- These are the plants that grow very specifically on a particular soil such as nettles on nitrogen-rich soils, buttercup on dense soils and sheep sorrel on acidic soils.
- Determining the soil type. Soil type maps are often available through the municipality or can be found on the internet.
- Past use and fertilisation. This tells whether your soil is likely to be poor or rich. A soil that has been fertilised with fertilisers and slurry for years is likely to be deficient in certain minerals, trace elements and organic matter but rich in nitrogen and phosphate.
- How wet or dry the plot is. You can see this by checking whether a lot of water remains on your plot and whether a lot of water from surrounding land runs onto your plot. You can also determine whether certain areas are silted up, such as the places where your horses often walk.
Modify soil type
Once you have a good idea of the soil type, you can start determining what actions you need to take to adjust the soil type for a good seed mix. Actions you can take are:
- Impoverishing rich soils by mowing and grazing
- Leave out fertiliser for impoverishment
- Apply fertiliser or soil conditioners to make up for deficiencies in your soil
- Adjust usage to solve and prevent compaction
These measures must be combined properly. You risk getting an overgrowth of one particular type of plant if you don’t.
Sowing grass and herb mixture
After this, you can start sowing an appropriate seed mixture for your situation. If you have to sow a mixture earlier because you have bare spots, for example, choose a basic horse-grass mixture with little Ryegrass. Herbs are more sensitive to soil conditions and temperature than grass and will emerge even less well if you don’t have this in place. You can start sowing herbs at a later stage, when your soil is more suitable.
Tip: Download the digital product: the sowing mixtures selection guide. It describes more than 40 grass mixtures, grass and herb mixtures and herb mixtures intended for horse pastures. You will also find a lot of information on choosing a suitable mixture and sowing tips in this document.
For more information, see: Digital product: Choice guide to sowing mixtures – Horse and Habitat (horse-en-habitat.myshopify.com)