Spring is right around the corner, but it might not be too late to think about forage improvements! Frost seeding is a simple practice that can help improve pasture and hay field yield, quality, and composition over time. The general principle of frost seeding is to broadcast forage seed onto pastures or hay fields in early spring when the ground freezes at night and thaws during the day. The time is now! Below are some helpful tips to make your frost seeding a success.
Expectations- Frost seeding will not look like a new seeding. New plants will grow over time and hard seed may sit around for a while until conditions are right. The first year you may not notice a huge difference but frost seeding a little bit each year around your farm can help maintain stands and avoid the need to do costly and extensive reseeding.
Limit competition– Frost seeding will be more successful where the seed can easily reach the soil surface. Fields that have a lot of bare ground showing or where you have grazed or mowed very short, will be more successful than fields with a lot of residue covering the ground.
Be ready to go when the conditions are right– At this time of year, fluctuations can happen quickly. Be ready. Walk your fields and decide which are the best candidates for frost seeding and what you’d like to seed (more on species selection below). When the snow is gone or mostly gone and the ground is freezing at night but thawing during the day, you should frost seed. Sandy soils that don’t heave and shrink under these conditions are generally poor candidates for frost seeding.
Species selection– To be ready when the weather is ready, you must select your species and purchase seed ahead of time. Frost seeding is more successful with legumes and grasses that can germinate quickly in cool temperatures. Red and white clovers are generally the most successful legumes while perennial ryegrass and orchardgrass are relatively successful grasses. Seeding rates of recommended species can be found in the table below.
Equipment– Frost seeding is often done with seeders mounted on ATVs, or a tractor mounted or hand held broadcast seeder. When frost seeding with a broadcast seeder, make sure to first determine the effective seeding width to avoid possible overlap of seed. Although not always necessary, a disk or cattle can help incorporate the seed into the soil. A no-till drill can be used but this will increase the number of trips across the field.
More information on frost seeding can be found at https://www.uvm.edu/sites/default/files/media/frostseeding.pdf