Multi-species turf: everything you need to know

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In this article, we will discuss multi-species mats, what they are, how to properly run a multi-species mat, and the establishment. We will also look at the pros and cons of introducing multispecies sod on your farm.

Multi-species lawns have attracted increasing interest on Irish farms in recent years.

Multi-species mats can produce a large amount of dry matter without the additional expense of chemical nitrogen.

The environmentally friendly agricultural measures have piqued the interest of farms across the country. Every farmer should consider what is involved in a successful multispecies plantation.

In 2020, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) drafted the Ag Climatise document.

One of the main goals of this plan is the reduction of chemical nitrogen on farmland across Ireland.

The aim is to ‘reduce the use of chemical nitrogen on Irish farms to a target level of 350,000 t by 2025, with a further reduction to an absolute maximum of 325,000 t by 2030, i.e. l ‘equivalent of use in 2013’.

In addition, Minister Charlie McConalogue amended the eco-program proposals as part of Ireland’s CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027.

In this plan, Mc Conalogue also confirmed a limitation on the use of chemical nitrogen. This is a potential opportunity for farmers to incorporate multispecies lawns as a measure of chemical nitrogen reduction.

What is a multi-species lawn?

The definition of a multispecies turf is a mixture of grasses made up of two or more species.

Additionally, this includes grass species such as grasses and legumes used in grazing mixes.

The variety of plants included in multi-species grasslands includes grasses, clovers, crucifers, and herbs.

Management of multi-species stands:

The management of a new seed, including a multispecies mixture, is similar to that of grasses. However, there are a few additional points to consider when grazing a multi-species turf specifically.

It is crucial to establish the grass that no post-emergence herbicides are applied.

Teagasc has conducted research which has established that multi-species mixtures have the natural ability to withstand weed pressure.

During the summer months, the application of chemical fertilizers should be reduced. The nitrogen available from the clover incorporated into the mixture should provide enough energy for the grass to grow.

In addition, the grazing rotations have some flexibility in terms of pre and post grazing cover. You can extend the pasture rotation to 25 days.

By allowing animals to graze a multi-species turf for a shorter period of time, the turf has the potential to be stored for longer persistence.

Shorter periods of access (1 to 3 days) to grass reduce selective overgrazing of more palatable grasses, which would otherwise be grazed.

Advantages of multi-species lawns:

Sowing a mix of grassland with several different species can have many benefits for the entire lawn.

In addition to improving agricultural biodiversity, there are environmental benefits. These advantages are based on the nitrogen fixing capacity of certain species. Subsequently, this natural process allows a reduction in the use of chemical fertilizers.

The nitrogen fixing capacity of a multi-species turf also maintains a stable growth rate at reduced fertilizer application.

Research by Teagasc has indicated that a multispecies turf containing 20-50% clover can reduce fertilizer application by more than 50% in the summer.

This is particularly important to consider as 2022 approaches, with soaring fertilizer prices.

Teagasc, Johnston Castle, and University College Dublin (UCD) conducted a study involving a mixture of timothy, perennial ryegrass, red clover, lanceolate plantain and chicory.

The tested mixture produced 11.6 t of dry matter. Teagasc and UCD achieved this yield without the addition of chemical fertilizers.

The yield was further increased to 13.1 t by adding 240 kg of chemical nitrogen.

Negative points of multi-species stands:

In general, the persistence of herbs tends to be poor. A lifespan of 3 to 5 years is to be expected with these lawns.

However, it should be noted that persistence is also influenced by management, fertility and the type of soil in which the multispecies mixture is established.

There are some restrictions on weed control of these low input lawns at the farm level.

Spraying against weeds, which may appear in a seedling, can adversely affect established grasses in the turf.

Establishing a successful multi-species turf:

Ideally, you should establish a multi-species turf through complete reseeding. The optimal time of year for this to take place is from April to early August.

To ensure successful establishment, different multi-species mixtures can be composed to suit a variety of soil types.

When considering soil type, a mixture of species with the ability to establish on a mixture of soil types is ideal.

As with reseeding any grassland mix, soil fertility is optimal. You need to do shallow seedlings for small seeds of clover, plantain and chicory.

In addition, you must establish a firm seedbed by rolling for good seed-to-soil contact. This is a crucial element for the successful establishment of a multi-species turf.


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