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Pasture Sage Management in Dry Conditions

By Kelly Cochrane, PAg, Range Management Extension Specialist, Weyburn

August 2021

Pasture sage on dry rangeland
Dry rangeland conditions located south of
Weyburn, SK (August 2020).

There are many species of sage across the province. Pasture sage (Artemisia frigida) is a native perennial forb commonly found on prairie rangelands. Pasture sage can be distinguished from other sage species by its gray-green leaves which are finely divided into hair-like leaflets. It grows low to the ground from a woody base. The leaves at the base of the plant form a mat that give rise to numerous stems. Around August, a cluster of small yellow flowers appears at the end of the stems which produce a large amount of tiny seeds.

It is important to manage pasture sage as it is opportunistic, drought tolerant and populations increase as range or pasture health condition decrease. When grasses are stressed, it can allow for pasture sage to out compete available forages which is problematic since the plant is considered unpalatable to most livestock. Pasture sage seeds require disturbed areas, exposure to sunlight and moisture to germinate and its presence often indicates overgrazing.

High pasture sage densities are considered a symptom of a problem versus the being problem itself. Increased pasture sage density is generally caused by environmental conditions or management practices.

Depending on plant densities found in the pasture, controlling pasture sage can lead to an increase in forage yields. A study looked at both grazing and chemical control options in a crested wheatgrass pasture.

When pasture sage was at 40 to 55 plants per square meter and was controlled by herbicide, it resulted in a 20 per cent to 30 per cent accumulative increase in forage yield over three years. However, there was no significant increase in yield response when herbicide was applied to densities of nine to 11 plants per square meter. When applying herbicides to control pasture sage consider spot spraying as beneficial forbs may be lost if the entire pasture is sprayed.

Densities were also compared to a grazed versus ungrazed area in a crested wheatgrass pasture. It was determined that over five years of continuous rest, the pasture sage density dropped from 61 plants per square meter to two plants per square meter. In a grazed system, the sage density was reduced to 23 plants per square meter in year five.

Resting a pasture for five years may not be a practical option, however an integrated approach of grazing management and chemical controls could be beneficial.

Grazing to promote healthy plant production is the most important tool for managing pasture health and preventing or controlling undesirable species such as pasture sage. This means adjusting stocking rates to meet current forage availability in the pasture. Try to moderately graze the pasture leaving no less than four inches of grass height, and preserve the previous year’s dead plant material cover also known as litter. This will help regulate soil moisture by holding precipitation and reduce soil temperature. Removing too much forage or litter has been shown to enhance or create drought conditions. Maintaining a healthy forage stand will enable desirable species to compete with pasture sage.

More information on pasture sage management, contact the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377 to speak with your nearest range management extension specialist.


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