Influence of cutting regime and fertilizer application on the botanical composition, yield and nutritive value of herbage of wet grasslands in Central Europe
The changes in dry matter (DM) yield, botanical composition and nutritive value of herbage to ruminants of two wet grasslands, Arrhenatherum elatius grassland (Experiment 1) and a Molinia caerulea fen meadow (Experiment 2), in which a range of cutting and fertilizer treatments were imposed in 1999, were assessed after 4–7 years of treatment imposition. Both experiments had a split-plot design with four replicates. In Experiment 1 the three main-plot cutting treatments were two cuts with a delayed first cut, three cuts and four cuts during the growing season of each year. In Experiment 2 the cutting treatments were two cuts with a traditional harvest time, two cuts with a delayed first cut and three cuts. The four sub-plot fertilizer treatments were an unfertilized control, application of a phosphorus and potassium (PK) fertilizer, application of a nitrogen (N) and PK fertilizer to the first cut only (N1PK) and application of PK plus N applied to each of two, three or four cuts (NcPK). Application of fertilizer influenced yield and botanical composition of herbage more than the cutting treatments while the opposite occurred for nutritive value of the herbage. Application of fertilizer increased the proportion of tall grasses in Experiment 1 and forbs in Experiment 2. The proportion of Equisetum palustre, present only in Experiment 1, was reduced from 0·33 to less than 0·01 by increased cutting frequency together with the NPK fertilizer treatments. In Experiment 1 diversity of vascular plants was negatively affected only by the four-cuts treatment while on both wet grasslands other cutting and fertilizer application treatments had no effect. Changes in DM yield of herbage caused by the cutting and fertilizer application treatments were similar for both vegetation types with DM yield increased significantly by fertilizer application but only slightly or not reduced by increasing the cutting frequency. Nutritive value of herbage was positively correlated with cutting frequency and was most influenced at the first cut.