Buttercup Pasture Control
Nature makes the world beautiful. This spring there will be pastures that will turn a brilliant yellow. The green grass and yellow buttercups make for a striking sight. These glowing yellow flowers have inspired nursery rhymes. The buttercup nursery rhyme I remember as a child is from the Middle Ages.
‘Buttercup, buttercup why do you glow?
The sun hits your petals and that’s when I know,
You make my chin yellow with buttery light,
It’s bread with your butter for supper tonight,
So come with me buttercup, come and you’ll see,
You can make butter for baby and me.’
Although these yellow flowers are pretty to look at, they must not be very good to eat. I have never seen a horse, sheep, neat, goat, or llama voluntarily consume buttercups. In fact, when animals are grazing in a pasture with buttercups, they will actually “trim” around the buttercups. Although this is not good for pasture health, it makes the yellow flowers stand out so much better.
Buttercups typically grow as winter annuals. Annuals grow from seed each year. Winter annuals sprout in the fall, grow during the winter, and flower in the spring making seed before dying in the heat of the summer.
When pastures are grazed short in the fall, it exposes the soil surface to sunlight. Exposing the soil surface to sunlight is important for the seed to germinate. If the soil surface is not exposed to sunlight the seeds will not germinate. Ideally, there should always be enough forage or plant material to keep the soil covered and shaded from the sun.
If you really like seeing the sea of yellow in the spring, that is fine. However, if you want to grow grasses and forbs that your grazing animals will eat, then take a few minutes to scout your pastures. Once you learn to recognize the unique leaf shape of bulbous buttercup and hairy buttercup it will be almost as obvious as the bright yellow flowers.
If weed control is needed so your pasture does not become a sea of yellow, it is fairly easy. The broadleaf weed killer 2,4-D Ester will do a great job controlling buttercups in January and February. Once they bloom, it is too late to spray for control. They will die soon anyway. 2,4-D Ester can be mixed with most liquid fertilizers or just applied with water. Pick a time when there will be a few warm days to make the application. Adding in a non-ionic surfactant, sometimes called soap, will improve the herbicide’s effectiveness.
If you do have problems with buttercups and other weeds in your pasture it may be time to evaluate your pasture management. This is really an exciting field. Managing pastures is the art of balancing animals needs and plant needs.
If pasture and forage management are of interest, consider attending the NC Forage and Grasslands Mid-Winter Meeting. It will be held in Iredell County on Wednesday, January 29.