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Frost Seeding Clover: JUST DO IT!


By: Chris D. Teutsch

Everyone is familiar with Nike’s ad campaign that encourages people to “JUST DO IT”. I am officially adopting this slogan for my 2016 Frost Seeding Campaign. Legumes are an essential part of a strong and healthy nitrogen cycle in grasslands. In many cases they come by themselves when we start to manage for them, but in some instances, we need to introduce them back into our pastures. Listed below are a few steps that we can take that will help to ensure that our frost seedings are successful:

Frost covered tilled earth with a farm in the background
  • Control Broadleaf Weeds. Broadleaf weeds must be controlled prior to seeding legumes. This is best accomplished by controlling weeds the season prior to renovation.
  • Soil Test and Adjust Fertility. In order for pasture renovation to be successful proper soil fertility is required. Lime and fertilize pastures according to soil test results. Lime should be applied six months prior to renovation if possible.
  • Suppress Sod and Decrease Residue. The existing sod must be suppressed and plant residue reduced prior to seeding. The reduction in plat residue facilitates good soil-seed contact. This can be accomplished by hard grazing in late fall and early winter.
  • Ensure Good Soil-Seed Contact. Regardless of what seeding method is chosen, good soil-seed contact is required for seed germination and emergence.
  • Seed on Proper Date. Frost seeding or drilling legumes back into pastures is usually best accomplished in late winter or early spring (February and early March). Frost seeding is accomplished by simply broadcasting the seed on the soil surface and allowing the freezing and thawing cycles to incorporate the seed into the soil. Success with frost seeding can be enhanced by dragging your pasture after or as you broadcast the seed. This simply gets the seed in better contact with the soil. Prior planning and preparation are important so that seeding can be done in a timely manner.
  • Use High-Quality Seed of an Adapted Species. Choose forage species that are adapted to the area and end use. Use either certified or proprietary seed to ensure high germination, seed genetics, and low noxious weed content. Cheap, low quality seed often cost more in the end due to lower production and thin stands. In Virginia, a good mixture for renovating pastures with is 4-6 lb red clover, 1-2 lbs of ladino or grazing white clover, and 10-15 lb of annual lespedeza per acre.
  • Use correct seeding rate. Calibrate your seeder prior to planting (see box on calibrating forage seeding equipment). Seeding at too high of a rate needlessly results in higher seed costs. On the other hand seeding at too low a rate results in weak stands and lower productivity.
  • Inoculate Legume Seed. Always use inoculated legume seed or inoculate it with the proper strain of nitrogen fixing bacteria prior to seeding. This is relatively inexpensive insurance that legume roots will be well nodualted and efficient nitrogen fixation will take place.
  • Control Seeding Depth. Small seeded forages should never be placed deeper than ½ inch. When using a drill always check seeding depth since it will vary with seedbed condition and soil moisture status. Placing small seeded forages too deep will results in stand failures.
  • Check seed distribution pattern. When using a spinner type spreader/seeder make sure and check you spreading pattern. In many cases small seeded forages are not thrown as far as fertilizer. This can result is strips of clover in your pastures rather than a uniform stand. Also check your seed distribution pattern. Single disk spinners often throw more seed to one side if not correctly adjusted.
  • Control Post-Seeding Competition. Failure to control post-seeding competition is one of the most common causes of stand failures. Clip or graze the existing vegetation to a height just above the developing seedlings. This must be done in a timely manner to ensure that the competing vegetation does not get ahead of the seedlings.
  • Pray for rain. Lastly and most importantly pray for rain. We can do everything just right, but if it doesn’t rain success will be unlikely.

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