(Week of March 16-March 20, 2020)

Trees are a very important natural resource. Forests make up around 74 percent of Estill County’s acreage and a valuable industry in Kentucky. Many homeowners want to plant trees to enhance their property. With statewide Arbor Day observance on April 3rd, it is appropriate to discuss some tree and shrub transplanting techniques.

UK Horticulture specialists note that trees can be purchased in one of three forms…balled and burlapped (B&B), bare root, or container-grown. The characteristics associated with the planting hole are essential for the reestablishment of these plants. New roots of a transplanted tree or shrub must grow away from the soilball into the surrounding soil.  When this cannot occur because of hard, compacted soil, roots will grow in a circle.  This is especially common in container-grown plants. Roots in container-grown plants must be loosened and directed out into the backfill. Failure to do so results in confinement of the roots and ultimately girdling of the trunk.

Roots grow through the path of least resistance. Digging large planting holes is one of the best things that you can do for a newly transplanted tree or shrub. Two or three times the diameter of the soilball is usually large enough. While the planting hole should be dug much wider than the soilball, it should never be any deeper than the soilball is tall. The plant should be installed so that the upper most roots in the soilball are 1 to 2-inches below the soil surface. The only way to know this is to locate them in the soilball. Gently remove the upper layer of soil until you find the first large roots coming out of the trunk. These “first order” roots must be close to the soil surface.

If the hole is dug too deep for the first order roots to be near the surface, you must add enough soil to raise the first order roots to the proper grade. This soil must be firmed in the bottom of the planting hole to prevent the soilball from settling. Soilballs that settle allow surface water to collect resulting in smothering and death of roots. Planting too shallow results in roots drying out and dying. If the top of the soilball is allowed to dry, it then becomes hard to re-wet.

Adding amendments like compost or peat moss to the backfill will not make much of a difference for plants in very good soils. It is best to have the same type of soil inside and outside the planting hole. In poor and dry soils, adding some compost to the backfill can be beneficial.

After the soilball has been placed in the planting hole and you are sure that it is at the correct level, it is time to remove any remaining materials that protected the soilball in transit. This includes all twine, burlap, wire baskets, and any other materials around the soilball or trunk.

While oxygen is essential for root growth, roots do not grow through air pockets. The best way to settle the soil and remove air pockets is to use water to gently settle the soil. After the planting hole has been partially filled with soil, water it thoroughly. Fill the hole with more soil and water again to settle the soil. Repeat this until the soil in the planting hole is level with the surrounding soil.

Mulching is one of the best things that we can do for a plant but you can overdo it. Mulch should be 2 to 3-inches deep. It should be coarse and organic.  Mulch should be about 3 or 4-inches away from the trunk and extend out at least past the edge of the planting hole. 

Most bare root trees will need to be staked after planting. Most balled and burlapped and container grown trees and shrubs do NOT need to be staked. Plants should be staked only if there is a real potential for the plant to blow over.

Water, either too much or not enough is the most common reason plants die in the first one to two years after transplanting. Water once a week during the growing season when the plant does not receive at least 1-inch of rain.

It is always easier to add water than to get rid of it in a poorly drained soil. This is why a perk test is important in determining if the soil will drain sufficiently to grow plants that are not tolerant of wet feet. Site selection is important to success.

Container-grown plants are produced in soil-less mixes that are better drained than natural soil.  If these materials are not partially removed so that existing roots are surrounding by real soil, they can remain dry out even if the soil in the backfill is wet.

Be sure to keep all mowers and string trimmers away from the base of the tree and protect the trunk from sunscald the first winter after transplanting.

For more information about trees and shrubs, contact the Estill County Extension office at 723-4557. NOTE => Based on guidance from the University of Kentucky and local health officials, all Estill County Extension programs and scheduled meetings at our office will be cancelled from March 16-April 6. At this time, our office plans to remain open to assist clientele as needed. We ask if you do plan to visit our office to be mindful of safety precautions such as: wash your hands frequently or use alcohol based hand sanitizer; avoid close contact; cover coughs and sneezes; and most importantly, please stay home if you are sick. This information could change with short notice, so please interact with our social media page (search Facebook for Estill County KY Cooperative Extension) or call our office to stay up to date. We appreciate your patience and understanding. Our number one priority is the safety of our clientele and staff. Practice social distancing and good hand washing skills!

Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

Renovating High Traffic Areas

(Week of March 9-March 13, 2020)

High traffic areas in pastures, such as feeding areas, sacrifice lots, alleyways, gateways and waterers, are often bare and muddy late winter and early spring. To slow and reduce soil erosion, compaction, forage damage, and weed problems, these areas need to be renovated promptly. Reducing these muddy areas is beneficial for animal health.

The ideal recommendation to renovate such areas is to fence it off to do a permanent seeding. This would allow a producer to use traditional forages such as fescue, orchardgrass, or Kentucky bluegrass. The problem many face is having to leave this area out of normal production for at least six months for these forages to establish well enough to graze. When a producer is not able to take the area out of production to renovate, both perennial and annual (Italian) ryegrass are good options for spring ground cover and where high traffic areas are damaged every winter. Perennial ryegrass is more susceptible to summer slump than other cool-season grasses. However, with proper management (fertilization and rotational grazing) they usually survive for 2 years in KY pastures and provides high quality pasture. Annual ryegrass is a temporary fix, and usually dies out during KY summers. If using annual ryegrass for a spring cover seeding ask for Italian type varieties.

Renovating bare or muddy areas with annual or perennial ryegrass may be a good option for ground cover. These cool-season forages work well to renovate high traffic areas because they establish easier and more quickly than other common perennial forage species. They are frequently used as cover crops for row crop production. The dense, shallow root system not only reduces erosion but also improves soil aggregate stability, reduces current compaction by breaking up dense soils, and helps to prevent future compaction. Vigorous growth helps these forages to outcompete unwanted late summer and winter annuals.

Annual ryegrass is more vigorous than perennial ryegrass, but provides only short term grass cover. It will die out during the summer whether it is planted in the spring or the fall of the previous year. The advantage of late summer or fall planting, is high quality late fall and early spring grazing. Some producers mix annual and perennial ryegrass to obtain quick cover from the annual ryegrass and longer term survival from the perennial ryegrass. Spring seeding annual ryegrass is a temporary fix that usually only lasts 3-4 months. Seeding annual ryegrass in the early spring can be achieved by the same seeding methods as perennial ryegrass.

Establishment of perennial ryegrass is similar to that of other cool-season grasses. Drilling seed into a firm seed-bed is recommended for best seedling establishment. Perennial Ryegrass can be seeded in the late summer/fall (Aug 20 –Oct 1) or early spring (Feb 1– Apr 15). It is suggested that seed be drilled into the soil for maximum success. Fertilizer and lime should be applied according to soil test results. Split applications of nitrogen (40-60 lbs/acre) is beneficial for maximum pasture production. Using high quality seed of a variety suited for the intended use is important. Using a winter hardy variety is suggested as this species is not highly tolerant of extremely cold temperatures. Reduce competition from weeds and other unwanted species. If possible, keep livestock or heavy traffic off newly seeded areas for a month to allow for seedling establishment. Rotationally graze for maximum efficiency. Do not overgraze and allow for an adequate rest and regrowth period.

In conclusion, annual and perennial ryegrass both offer a short term fix to high traffic areas, but perennial ryegrass has the advantage of surviving two seasons. For long term productive pasture stands, seed improved varieties of tall fescue, orchardgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass. (Source: UK Grazing News).

For more information about managing pastures and hayfields, contact the Estill County Extension office at 723-4557.

Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expressions, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

Creep pens benefit calves

(Week of March 2-March 6, 2020)

Each winter, Kentucky farmers find themselves contending with the effects of mud. Mud can cause a multitude of problems including weak calves, wasted hay, destroyed fields and erosion. Creep pens may be a way to ensure calves get off to a good start and reduce the amount and effects of mud on your farm.

Creep pens allow you to designate a space for calves to rest and, in some cases, get supplemental feed and access to clean water without having to compete with or be in the way of adult cattle. These pens can improve calf health and reduce their risk of being trampled by adults. UK’s Eden Shale Farm in Owen County, which is operated by the Kentucky Beef Network, has had great success using creep pens for their calves.

Calves instinctively want to rest in dry spaces. Oftentimes, this means they lay in wasted hay in the feeding area, but this increases their risk of being trampled. By installing a creep pen, you are allowing only calves to have access to one area of your farm. These pens are created by using creep gates, which have smaller openings. The creep area should provide a dry, comfortable area for calves using bedding or grass. Placing a heavy traffic pad at pen entrances will cut down on erosion and mud. Within the area, a producer may want to give the calves a place to seek shelter and/or supplemental feed. By providing supplemental feed, you also can jump start your weaning program.

Find a dry, well-drained area of your farm to place a creep pen. This area should be near the calving area. You can maximize its use by positioning the pen in a location where there is access to multiple pastures. Ideally, it would be near your winter-feeding area, hay storage facility and machinery storage to help reduce fuel costs and time. Being near the feeding area can also help calves pair up with their mom after they finish eating.

To install a creep area, you will need gates, fence, geotextile fabric, gravel and possibly access to feeders and waterers. You can reduce installation expenses by using materials you have on hand and repurposing an area of your farm that fits creep pen criteria. While you still may have some upfront costs, the cost of losing one calf would pay for this project’s implementation.

Additional information, including a sample design, is in the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service publication, AEN 143, Calf Areas, Pens, or Pastures: A Case Study, which is available online at or by contacting the Estill County Extension office at 723-4557.

Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.