Fact Sheet 1997

Planting Crabgrass Seed

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Crabgrass is the common name for a large group of warm season, reseeding, high quality, annual grasses. They occur naturally, as several species of Digitaria with innumerable ecotypes, throughout the U.S. Oklahoma has 6 different species.

'Red River' crabgrass variety is a researched and properly release variety of one of the naturalized crabgrasses of the scientific name Digitaria cilaris. It is the only known developed variety of crabgrass. For more detailed information on Red River Crabrass Management, contact the developer, Noble Foundation of Ardmore, Oklahoma.

It was the most productive selection, with excellent quality characteristics, excellent reseeding ability, long green season, runners (stolons), and many other desirable traits. Red River crabgrass has produced 5 to 6 tons per acre of dry weight forage under upper level management. Yields of 2 to 3 tons per acre are usual in double cropping situations under decent growing conditions. The grass has super palatability, good protein content relative to nitrogen inputs, and relatively high digestibility. It is essentially a nontoxic forage.

The major reasons to plant Red River crabgrass are for high summer forage quality, easy double cropping, summer forage mixtures, soil conservation, turf, and environmental management. It is excellent grazing and makes top quality, leafy, fine stem hay.

The major use of Red River Crabgrass is as a planned volunteer warm season grass in a double cropping program with wheat, rye, triticale, ryegrass, oats, matua bromegrass, other cool season annual grasses, and cool season legumes. This grassland production systems is variable depending on the location and goals of the producer. Red River crabgrass can also serve as a mixture in bermudagrass, sudangrass, alfalfa, lespedeza, perennial grass plantings and other summer forages. Red River Crabgrass is also used as a single crop forage and in that mode has a green season similar to bermudagrass, if well managed. Single Crop crabgrass will usually be ready to graze 4 to 6 weeks before double cropped crabgrass and fall grazing can be allocated into midwinter or later.

In the major adaptation zones of Red River Crabgrass some variation or adaptation of the above basic uses of crabgrass for forage and conservation are successful in all 23 state of the Southeast third of the U.S. and other areas. This is from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and points to the South.

How to Plant Crabgrass Seed

Seeding rates for crabgrass range from 1 to 5 lbs. of pure live seed (pls) per acre depending on the goals. Usual pasture and meadow rates are 3 lbs. pls/acre. Rates of up to 5 lbs. pls/acre should be considered where quick development, such as dairy pasture or quick conservation cover, is needed. One lb. pls/acre will be thin and develop slow with more weedy problems. Seed must be placed in a depth range of on the soil surface up to more than 1/2 inch deep. Noble Foundation research shows about 75% of crabgrass seedlings emerge from 1/2 inch soil depth and less in perfect conditions, rather than deeper soil depths. A variable placement is preferred to reduce risk of unsatisfactory stands. Never plant when the seed will be over 1/2 inch deep after the last field operation and after the next pounding rain. Red River crabgrass seed is usually best planted on very good fine, firm, freshly finished seedbed during early spring to mid summer. This is April to June in Oklahoma, but later plantings to August have succeeded. Plant when the deciduous oak trees make a leaf and thereafter. Monitor the soil temperature. Plant after bare soil temperature in the upper 2 to 4 inches is consistently over 70 degrees Fahrenheit at midday. These guidelines are for plantings near germination times.

Red River crabgrass is also successfully overseeded into wheat and other cool season annual grasses and legumes during February to May. Tread the seed in, but do not mud it in, or tread it out after it comes up. This method works well to establish new stands, but expect early growth to be slower than on a good seedbed. These overseedings are generally best in grazeout, next best in cool season grass taken for grain and least best in cases where cool season annual grasses are hayed. Guidelines as to soil temperature, etc., of the above paragraph are ignored in this method. The major reason to use this planting procedure is to control erosion on erosion prone areas and to limit time and expense at planting time. Patience to get full cover and useful production is often necessary.

Crabgrass seed does not flow well by itself due to a rough textured husk around the seed and some "peach fuzz" on the seed. Planting is often done by mixing the seed with a fertilizer the land needs. Then plant the seed through a drill box with fluted seed feeds, or any fertilizer spreader. Be sure to check the spread on the seed to get swath overlap. Most rotary spreaders only throw seed in about a 25 feet swath or about 1/2 as far as the fertilizer. Some operators use a dry sawdust, cracked grain, dry sand, etc. to provide bulk, weight and flowability. Grass seed planters with a good agitator in the hopper bottom can plant the pure seed. It takes 5 to 6 crabgrass seeds to equal 1 ryegrass (not rye) seed in size.

Production inputs and techniques must be adequate for good yield success. "Off season" tillage makes Red River Crabgrass yield more than no tillage. Over 20 years of research shows yields to be about double with a proper tillage. Red River Crabgrass single crop or in a cereal rye of early maturity wheat pasture can be tilled in the fall or the spring before seedling emergence. The crabgrass tillage must be done in the fall when late spring use of winter crops is usual, i.e., small grains for late grazing or grain, annual ryegrass and winter legumes, etc. Tillage can be by field cultivator, sweep plows, etc. Work as shallow as feasible to get the job done (2 to 4 inches usual). Use phosphorus, potassium and lime similar to the needs of bermudagrass or winter pasture. 50 to over 100 lbs. of actual nitrogen per acre plus phosphorus and potassium needs are usual. Spray for weeds with 2, 4-D or other proper post emergence herbicides. Some fertilization can be preemergence and with split applications. Research and experience shows proper pre-emergence (before crabgrass comes up) nitrogen (with or without phosphorus and potassium) will produce earlier grazing and more total forage without any detrimental effects or stand damage risk. Make this type of application at planting time or just before volunteer stand emergence. Do each of these things properly to avoid damage to the grass.

Crabgrass Planting Reminders and Cautions: Most manmade stand failures, although few, are due to: 1) Too loose and open a seedbed at planting, 2) No packing (rolling) before and/or after planting, 3) Too deep seed covering, 4) Too early panting which allows other grasses and weeds to get ahead and 5) Livestock stomping out young stands. When Red River Crabgrass is managed for volunteer, light proper tillage is needed for best results: 1) Till after rye (and other winter pastures if possible) and before crabgrass emergence. IF spring tillage is not feasible, sot he tillage before rye, etc, planting in the fall. Post emergence fertilizing and spraying must be done after Red River Crabgrass is tillering (stooling) or is up to 2 to 4 inches tall. Too soon can cause stand damage. 1) Never use liquid nitrogen on young crabgrass, 2) Never top dress or spray weeds at too young a stage, especially on wet soil, 3) Never put broiler litter on just before planting or volunteer emergence or when crabgrass plants are too small and 4) Never tread on crabgrass as it emerges. Refer to Production above.

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