If you've sent a pasture or hay soil test through your local extension center, you've been asked what kind of forage you have.
"Next time, before you answer, think about whether you have a legume in there and how much of it there is, or if you want to add a legume," says Pat Miller, regional extension agronomy specialist based in Vernon County. "These things make quite a difference in the fertilizer and lime recommendation."
Legumes, such as clover and lespedeza, add quality to the forage and provide most of the nitrogen that the field needs. They also dilute the effect of the fescue endophyte fungus. So Miller suggests that unless you're going for a fescue seed crop (yet a different soil test code and recommendation), or you are in the process of cleaning up your fields with some broadleaf herbicides, you probably want legumes in your field.
"If your pH and fertility are in good shape, the legume should provide the needed nitrogen," she says. "Lespedeza can handle a lower pH than red or white clover." So if your pH is below 5.0, lespedeza may be a better choice than clover until your lime application has had time to work.
If you want a legume, don't apply more than 20-30 pounds of nitrogen or the grass may crowd out the legumes. It is also best to have it closely clipped or grazed so the legume seedlings have enough sunlight.
If you get a soil test recommendation for a legume-grass mix, it assumes that you have at least a 25 percent legume stand. If you have less, your nitrogen recommendation may not be enough for good grass growth. If you are going from straight grass to a legume-grass mix, you will have to cut your nitrogen application and sacrifice some grass yield that first year to get your legume established. In this case, use the overseeding recommendation on your test. This will recommend a little nitrogen and a potash amount that won't hurt the seedlings.
"If someone tells me they have trouble getting legumes to grow, my first two thoughts are that the soil pH and fertility are inadequate, or they are applying too much nitrogen and the grass is crowding out the legume," Miller says. "A good soil test with the correct soil test codes should lead them in the right direction to correct the problem."
For more information, see MU Extension guide G4650, "Establishing Forages" (extension.missouri.edu/p/G4650), and G4646, "Tall Fescue" (extension.missouri.edu/p/G4646). They are available online and at your local MU Extension center.