Your frost seeding opportunity almost here

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Regardless of what those groundhogs had to say, spring arrives March 20. Whether or not spring weather gets here by that date, late February or early March usually affords an opportunity to improve the production from grazing lands, in our area.

The practice we call “frost seeding” can improve the yields and quality of pastures by introducing better plant species.

Winter window

Your frost seeding window usually comes late February through March. If we get the snow and ice off the pastures, we can make frost seedings any time now. We need a period of night-time freezes followed by daytime thaws. This freeze-thaw action is effective in working those new seeds into the soil, where they can germinate and grow.

Be ready

If you want to do a frost seeding, you need to get ready … quickly. If you wait until we get ideal weather to get ready, you’ll probably miss the optimal window for seeding. Keep in mind, this is Ohio, ideal conditions for seeding don’t come with early forecasts, and ideal conditions usually don’t last long.

Step in right direction

If your pastures are not performing to your expectations, it is unlikely that a frost seeding will correct all the problems, but it’s a step. If there are low fertility or pH problems, you should have soil tested and applied corrective fertilizer applications before the frost seeding is made. If fertility corrections are needed, get the soil tested and make fertility corrections as soon as possible, but don’t delay the frost seeding for that.

Management a key

More likely, poorly managed grazing is a key factor in poor pastures. Contact your soil and water conservation district office or your Ohio State University Extension office to get information on improving your grazing management efforts, but don’t delay the frost seeding for that.

A properly executed frost seeding can bring significant improvements in your pasture performance, but it is unlikely to bring perfect stands of ideal forage plants. Ideal pastures are the result of proper grazing management, proper soil fertility, productive plant species, and several other factors.

What to seed?

Successful frost seedings typically use a clover species, and perhaps a grass. There are several different clovers. Choose the one that best fits your forage needs. Of the grasses, perennial ryegrass is the most likely to become established by frost seeding. Talk to your seed supplier to select the seeds (and seeding rates) that are likely to be successful in your situation.

Broadcasting is probably the best frost seeding option for most farms. Whether you use an old fashioned “belly grinder seeder” or a seeder mounted on an tractor, ATV, UTV, or horse-drawn forecart, the seeder must be calibrated and adjusted for optimal performance.

And finally, if you want to seed a grass-legume mixture, best results are expected when you apply the different seed species in separate applications. Grass seeds don’t fly as far as clover seeds, and uniform broadcast seeding of mixtures is not possible.

If you want better pastures, frost seeding is a good start, but get ready, Ohio’s window for the practice is usually short and it is almost here.

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Dean Slates joined the Holmes SWCD staff in May 2006 as a part-time program assistant, having devoted more than 50 years to the Ohio State University Extension. Born and raised on a Carroll County, Ohio, dairy farm, he holds both bachelor and master of science degrees in ag education from the Ohio State University Contact Dean at 330-674-2811.

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