The Break

The Break is when the rains come and as a result end the dry season or dry spell. In a basically Mediterranean climate (cool wet winter, hot dry summer) it is the Autumn Break or Fall break, when rains bring the summer dry to an end.

A LATE BREAK: When the Autumn rains come late it can be too late for legumes, which tend to be more frost sensitive and less tolerant of cold than the grasses they are grown with.

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Legumes include legumes such as If the pasture has annual rather than perennial legumes, a late break can cause a worse problem. Most legumes grow very slowly below 10 deg C (50 deg F). If the break is late, there is little or no growing time for legumes before the temperature is too low.

Most winter-active plants (grasses and other non-legumes) don't slow down to that extent until the temperature drops to around 4 Celsius (40 Fahrenheit). So between 10 and 4 deg C (50 to 40 deg F), non-legumes have a field day. They get away and outcompete (although fairly slowly) the legumes for nutrients, space and what light there is.

If the pasture has mainly winter-active annual rather than perennial grasses, the problem can be much worse again. The annuals will have been absent since they hayed off in summer, leaving gaps in the pasture. These gaps can be filled when the break comes and if the legumes don't get them first, the weeds can.

So, if the grasses or other plants that get away on the rains are weeds, then it could be a bad year for you and a good year for your favorite weeds.

You can reduce the problem by moving to perennials that keep the ground covered for longer.

A FALSE BREAK happens when the rains come, the plants get away and get to a fragile phase and then the weather dries up. False breaks usually happen early in the period when the break can normally come. They can just be the result of a late summer rain. The plants could be fragile because:
A false break can severely deplete or even exhaust the soil seed bank in a pasture dependent on annuals. For this reason, many annual pasture species are bred with some hard seededness so that they are less likely to germinate in large numbers on a false break.

There are usually some soft-seeded plants in any annual pasture mix also, because a light rain can start them germinating. This allows the pasture to take advantage of light rains that are not false breaks. Sometimes the break comes in a series of light rains or a light one followed by heavier ones. This way the pasture gets a good start early and uses the full break as follow-up rain.

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This page was updated on December 27, 2007