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Easy Pasture Improvement

Easily improve the quality of your hay fields or pasturage by frost seeding or dormant over-seeding.


This pasture receives 10 Pounds / Acre of Potomac Orchard Grass to replenish this pasture.


Frost seeding is a very low cost, higher risk way to establish new forages in existing fields by spreading seed over the field and letting the freezing and thawing action of the soil allow the seed to make “seed to soil” contact allowing it to successfully germinate.

When you see soils “honeycombed” in the morning from a hard frost, or heaved up from a frost, seed that was spread on that soil has a great chance to make a seed to soil contact when the soil thaws.

I believe the two biggest reasons why frost seeding fails is people wait too late to frost seed, and the seed never makes good contact with the soil. I have heard some say that they like to “overseed” or just spread seed over an established stand.

Let’s face it; if the seed does not land on the soil but on existing living or dead vegetation, it does not have a chance to successfully germinate: you need exposed soil.

Now is the time to be assessing potential fields to frost seed. I am especially fond of frost seeding endophyte infected fescue fields where producers have issues with livestock grazing them during the summer. If you can get livestock or horses to graze these fields in the winter, the quality and palatability is actually good, and in many cases, better than hay you may be feeding. The endophyte levels are very low now and the quality is maintained better than other forages.

It is better to start sooner than later. Ideal conditions to frost seed are between early January and before the first week of March. My opinion is that once we get into March, the chance of success starts to drop depending on the weather.

What to plant

The age old question is what to plant. The seed that has the best chance to germinate and become established is red clover. Advancement in genetics is amazing. Numerous studies confirm that those varieties will last several years longer in most conditions. Forage trials at Ohio State University show there a several red clover varieties that have high yields and stand percentages 60% or greater after four years.

Red clover is a heavy round seed that has a better chance of making soil contact then a light flatter seed. Dr. Garry Lacefield, retired extension forage specialist from University of Kentucky says that clovers, seeded in the right conditions will germinate most years.

Grasses are more “hit or miss,” germinating about half of the time. With alfalfa, the odds are even less. Frost seeding alfalfa into an alfalfa stand rarely works as existing alfalfa is toxic to new plants. If an alfalfa field is starting to thin out, an option to extend the life of the stand would be to frost seed red clover.

Another reason to plant clover, especially red clover, is the high seedling vigor. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil pH and fertility conditions and is more drought tolerant than white clover. The advantage of frost seeding a legume like red clover is that legumes “fix” nitrogen typically in excess of their own needs, providing added fertility to other plants, improving an improved stand. Once legumes become established in a stand of grass and compose 25-30 % of the stand, there is no need to provide additional nitrogen, reducing fertility costs.

If you choose to frost seed grass, which will do best? Studies by Dan Undersander, forage specialist from University of Wisconsin indicate that perennial ryegrass will do best, followed by orchardgrass, then timothy. Other studies note that annual ryegrass will work good compared to other grasses.


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