Managing Some Pasture Weeds Found in Marginal Pastures

By Ben Hepler, Community Educator

As I was looking out at my pasture behind the barn I thought to myself, “boy it would be nice to do a better job of controlling buttercup, swamp grass, and yellow nutsedge”. The pasture lays nice but in my area, often the flat field at the base of the hill slope is also the somewhat poorly drained field.  The vegetation that I call swamp grass is actually slender rush here in the northeast. In this article we will cover how these plants spread, their habitat preference, how to identify them, and how to control them.

I am an aspiring grazier and I have been going to grazing conferences since I was in 8th grade. Believe me, the teachers had a field day when I would tell them I was going to a grass conference. So I try to maximize the pasture’s ability to produce quality forage the best I can with the time and funds I have at my disposal. However, even the best laid plans fall short sometimes and I find buttercup, slender rush and yellow nutsedge sneaking their way in. They creep in over the years with their spreading rhizomes and seed. They call home in seasonally wet areas, high traffic spots, and areas that have been selectively grazed from time to time without action taken to keep the grasses and legumes competitive against unpalatable forbs. To identify, they say sedges have edges, rushes are round, but grasses have knees. The take away here is that rushes have continuous round stems with a hollow pith or center, sedge stems are angular and almost triangular on the flowering stem, and grasses have knees because their stems are round or flat but have joints along them.  I have always found that the slender rush looks like a spiked bunch grass and yellow nutsedge has a lighter pale green hue to it than grasses and the plant feels different in terms of texture. Buttercup on the other hand has a distinct leaf and once blooming is very easy to identify.

To control the spread of these sneaky weeds start with making sure your pasture fertility is where it should be to produce high quality grasses and legumes. Once fertility is where it should be move onto eradication. Mowing before flowers form will stop the spread of the plants via seed and slow the spread of the rhizomes because frequent mowing will drain the energy reserves in the root system. You could try increased animal pressure in a rotational grazing system. I have seen my cows eat these three weeds when very young. Mechanical tillage and replanting might work in areas that can take machinery later in the year when things dry up. Artificially lowing the water table with drainage tile could also help improve the competitiveness of your grasses and legumes compared to these sneaky weeds. Finally, you could use herbicides to combat these weeds. One of the options would be to spray-kill the pasture and no-till in your new pasture mix. The other option could be to use a herbicide such as Permit or Yukon. These herbicides kill broadleaf weeds which includes buttercup, sedges and rushes. Permit and Yukon have also had hay and pasture applications added to their labels with no risk to lactating or non-lactating cattle. However, be sure to read the labels on the herbicide to properly apply it if you have a license or have a professional do it. Though these weeds aren’t as obnoxious as thistle or multifloral rose, once established they have the potential to limit the productivity of your pastures and can be hard to eradicate because of their growth habit and preferred habitat. Happy Grazing! and remember to concentrate on pastures that are vital to your operation first then branch out.

Oh! one last fun fact for the craft person in your life, if you want to try and make a few extra dollars from slender rush you could try making and selling rush candle sets to homesteaders, off the grid folks, or living history museums.



Related image

Yellow Nutsedge

Image result for common rush in a pasture

Slender Rush in a Pasture

Image result for meadow buttercup leaves

Meadow Buttercup


Rush Candle with iron stand


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Picture citations:

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  2. Nutsedge. Bucks Country Gardens. [accessed 2018 Jun 20].
  3. Ranunculus acris. Wikipedia. 2018 Jun 19 [accessed 2018 Jun 20].
  4. What is Rushlight? Rushlight Events. [accessed 2018 Jun 20].
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