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Buttercup in pastures: An unwanted sign of spring

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By David Harrison

One of the signs of spring is the yellow flowers that emerge from buttercup plants in pastures and unplanted grain cropland. While buttercup poses little problems to grain crop yields, it can be an issue in pastures.
Buttercups tend to thrive in low areas of fields, generally in soils that remain wet long periods of time and in fields with poor stands of desirable forages.  In fact, many pasture fields that have heavy buttercup populations are fields that are heavily grazed by livestock.
Buttercups are tufted perennials that produce shiny yellow petals. New buttercup seed are often produced at the time petals are showy. There are four different species of buttercups found locally: small flower, bulbous, creeping and tall. 
Pasture management practices that improve growth of desirable plants help to compete against emergence and growth of buttercup. Also, avoid excess overgrazing by animals. Mowing fields or clipping plants close to the ground in the early spring before buttercup plants can produce flowers may help reduce the amount of seed produced, but mowing alone will not totally eliminate seed production. 
Several broadleaf herbicides can be used to control buttercup in grass pastures. However, legumes interseeded with grass pastures can be severely injured or killed by these herbicides. Apply a herbicide in the early spring (February - March) when buttercup plants are small and actively growing, but before flowers are produced. For best herbicide activity wait until daytime air temperatures are greater than 50 degrees for two to three consecutive days. Consult the herbicide label for further information on grazing restrictions or other possible limitations.
For fields heavily infested with buttercup a variety of control tactics may be needed. Use a herbicide to help reduce the population of buttercup plants and use good pasture management techniques to thicken the stand of desirable forages.