Frost seeding is the broadcast, surface placement of seed in late winter or early spring. Frost seeding relies on the freeze-thaw cycle and early spring showers to establish quality seed to soil contact. As we approach spring, the soil awakens and actually begins moving up (freeze) and down (thaw). That up and down movement causes tiny little cracks, which ultimately suck in the small and hardy seeds.
Frost seeding lets nature do your dirty work. It essentially works the seed into the soil, eliminating the need for disking or dragging. It’s an effective planting method, one that saves you time and money. But, before you head out to the field with your spin-seeder in hand, make sure you abide by the following criteria:
When should I frost seed my plots?
The timing can certainly vary year-to-year depending upon how long Old Man Winter hangs around, but as a general rule of thumb, the best time to frost seed is when there are approximately four to five expected remaining frosts. Clover seed is very hard so it can withstand the potential to rot much better than other larger, less hardy seeds. Thus, it’s common to spread the seed over the top of a thin layer of melting snow.
What kind of seed/forage is best for frost seeding?
There are only a select few forages that work well for frost seeding. The effectiveness depends upon the size and hardiness of the seed. Species that germinate rapidly are best for frost seeding. Medium red clover is the easiest legume to frost seed due to its good seedling vigor, shade and cold tolerance. A second option would be ladino clover. Frost seeded legumes need to be properly inoculated, the soil pH must be in the proper range, and soil drainage must fit the species.
How do I frost seed?
Cyclone-type spreaders that mount onto ATV’s or tractor three-point hitches are commonly used in frost seeding. One must determine the effective seeding width for each type of seed or mixture.
Better stands are obtained when frost seeding into a bunch grass or into thin sods of a sod-forming grass. Frost seeded pastures need to be grazed regularly in the spring and summer to allow sunlight to penetrate the plant canopy. But, livestock should not be allowed to closely graze the new seedlings until they are established.
What are the seeding rates?
Red clover can be seeded at 4-8 pounds per acre and ladino clover at 1-2 pounds per acre. If mixed, seed 3-4 pounds of red clover plus 1-2 pounds of ladino clover per acre. Ryegrass (forage type) can be seeded at 8-10 pounds per acre and orchard-grass at 3-4 pounds per acre.
Frost seeding is an economical, effective way to improve the quality and quantity of pastures and is one of the most cost effective and energy efficient seeding methods. The use of certified seed of improved varieties coupled with good grazing and fertility management will ensure good establishment and production for years to come.
For more information about frost-seeding, forage testing, and soil testing, contact your local office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service or visit our website at www.nrcs.usda.gov.