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Differences important between summer, winter pasture burns
Aug 05, 2010 | 557 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Coastal Bend area, as well as most of South Texas, has two seasons when landowners can burn – summer and winter.

The summer burning season in the Coastal Prairie area generally runs from Aug. 1 through about Sept. 10. The summer burn season depends upon rainfall amounts and when it fell. On the average, dry weather begins in June and grasses begin to dry and go dormant. Too much rainfall and the grasses remain green and will not burn. Usually, a burn ban must be in place for conditions to be dry enough for successful summer burning.

The winter burning season begins in December and usually extends through the first week of March. A hard freeze will usually make grasses dormant enough to carry a fire. If the weather is cold enough to kill the upper grass leaves, the pastures can be burned even during wet winters. During some mild winters, especially during wet and mild winters, pastures may remain too green to burn.

If conditions allow burning in summer, there are some facts you should keep in mind:

• Summer burns are extremely hot and are very hard on burn crews. Four-wheelers and ATVs should be used to make all crew members mobile. Crews should drink plenty of liquids.

• Extremely hot weather often causes thunderstorms to pop up near a burn. These thunder-storms, if close enough, may cause a dramatic shift in wind direction for a short period of time. This may turn a back-fire into a head-fire.

• Summer burns will often kill some brush species because of the intensity and heat generated by burning in the summer. Woody plants burned in the summer will not usually grow again until late the next spring.

• Pastures burned in the summer do not have enough time to grow a grass plant thick enough to be used as nesting cover by quail. Summer burns do provide exceptional quail brood-rearing areas for quail.

• Pastures burned in the summer will grow a higher proportion of cool season grasses the following winter.

The winter burning season is usually longer and conditions more favorable for the burn crew. Some facts about winter burns:

• Winter burns should be started as early as possible, because the inversion layer starts dropping as the temperature begins to drop in the late afternoon. This keeps the smoke from rising and you can easily put a lot of smoke where you do not want it, like across highways, in towns, etc.

• Winter burns promote warm season vegetation. These are plants that start growing in the spring and stop in the fall. Most of our native grasses fit in this category.

• The winter burn season is generally longer.

• Fine fuel (grass) is usually drier in the winter than in the summer and contains less green matter.

• Winter burns seldom have enough grass cover the following spring to provide nesting cover for quail, but the high quality green roughage, early seed crops and the ease in which birds can find seeds on the ground make winter burn pastures excellent feeding and brood-rearing areas for quail.

In conclusion:

• Both summer and winter burns remove excessive, low quality vegetation.

• Both promote secondary plant succession which is the natural method for improving the quality of plants that should occur on the area.

• Both burn seasons kill unwanted brush seedlings and adversely affect larger shrubs and trees by keeping them from producing seed for two years.

• Larger trees and shrubs are often top killed which forces them to re-sprout from the roots and drastically reduces the amount of water and nutrients they remove from the soil.
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