Frost seeding pastures with certain legumes and/or grasses in late winter or early spring is a ritual on many grazing farms. Though next spring seems a long way off, planning for a frost seeding needs to begin in the fall.
“If planning and preparation is not started until seeding time, the odds of success are diminished,” says Jerry Lindquist, Michigan State extension grazing educator. He notes that frost seeding clovers, birdsfoot trefoil, and some grasses such as annual and perennial ryegrass can be a very economical means of bolstering both production and forage quality.
“To give frost-seeded plants a better chance of establishing in the spring, overgrazing targeted pastures or paddocks in the fall is advisable,” says Lindquist. “It’s the one time we advise to actually weaken the pasture stand. This does two things. It reduces the root reserves of the existing stand and slows growth in the spring. Additionally, it exposes more soil, which leads to better seed-to-soil contact.”
The Michigan specialist notes that frost seeding is usually done 40 to 50 days before grass growth begins in the spring. Success is highest on clay and loam soils that experience soil movement with freeze and thaw cycles. Frost seeding is popular because of its low cost, effectiveness, and the fact that pastures don't need to be tilled or taken out of production. Says Lindquist, “The end result can be almost as good as a new seeding.”