Happy foraging with these frost seeding options for February

Frost seeding uses freezing and thawing temperatures to incorporate broadcast seed into the soil surface without tillage or expensive equipment. Red Barn Farm Meats cattle graze on a summer pasture in Madison County. (File photo by Leni Schoen)

Are your pastures a little thin or abused after 2020?

Now is the time to think about tuning up the productivity, quality and carrying capacity of your pastures. Frost seeding is the low input system that uses freezing and thawing temperatures to incorporate broadcast seed into the soil surface without tillage or expensive equipment.

Thickening up thin forages can also be accomplished by adding grasses and forbs to existing stands. Grasses like endophyte-free, soft leaf tall fescue and orchardgrass (small-seeded grasses) can improve the productivity and palatability of forage grasses.

Forage chicory or plantain are forbs that can be added for grazing diversity. Forage chicory Cichorium intybus is a special plant best described as an herb. Its taproot makes it drought resistant. Chicory, which is high in protein, increases palatability and animal intake. Chicory has a high level of condensed tannins, which are bioactive to reduce parasites in small ruminants. Try some in your wildlife habitat plot.

Plantain Plantago lanceolata is another leafy herb that can add diversity and protein to pastures. Its deep, coarse root system adds persistence in dry environments. Plantain and chicory can be seeded in pasture mixes.

Legumes, such as red clover or ladino (white) clover, can greatly increase forage yields and quality. Legumes provide nitrogen to companion grasses and can reduce the need for costly nitrogen fertilizers. Leafy legumes also improve crude protein of pasture forages eliminating the need for additional supplements. Yields will increase, and the grazing season will be extended with the boost of additional legumes. Red and white clovers are easily frost seeded.

Want to thicken up a thin stand on alfalfa for one more year before renovating? Clovers, like Frosty Berseem clover, can be used to thicken up a failing alfalfa stand. It is an annual clover that grows, produces and dries down much like alfalfa. It can be frost seeded or drilled as early as possible in the spring. It is a nonbloating legume. Learn more about this great clover at {www.frostyclover.com}. Remember you cannot seed alfalfa into alfalfa due to autotoxicity.

Legumes, forbs and grasses can be successfully frost seeded in late winter. Frost seeding is accomplished by broadcasting seed onto the soil surface. This is done without herbicides, tillage, expensive seeding equipment or topsoil erosion.

Timing of frost seeding is critical for success. Temperatures must be freezing at night and thawing during the daytime. Typically, the last two weeks of February work well for frost seeding. Alternate freezing and thawing action of the soil surface is necessary to provide good seed soil contact. Frost seeding may be more difficult in sod-forming grasses like bluegrass and bromegrass. Some bare spots and/or close grazing improve success.

If you don’t get your frost seeding done this February, no-till seeding can be used to add pasture species as soon as the soil is dry enough to use the drill. Remember, these pasture seeds are very small and should not be planted deep. They need good seed-soil contact for germination, but don’t plant more than a quarter of an inch deep.

Rolling is a good option to assure seed-soil contact.

New seedlings need reduced competition from companion plants and weeds. Frost seeded pastures need to be grazed on a timely basis during the spring and early summer to allow light penetration into the forage canopy.

Don’t apply nitrogen fertilizers to frost seeded pastures because this may cause grasses to out-compete legumes and reduce chances of successful establishment. Phosphorus, potassium fertility and proper pH are necessary for legume establishment. Talk with your seed supplier about varieties. They make a difference.

Have a successful, profitable forage season this year! Happy foraging!

Dean Oswald serves as a forage and grazing specialist with Midwest Grass and Forage.