Typically the period between mid to late February and the end of March can work well to renovate and improve pastures by frost seeding clover with a broadcast spreader and then letting the freeze/thaw cycles that occur work that seed into the soil to get good seed to soil contact and a good stand established. However this winter’s weather to this point has been anything but typical and we may not be able to count on those freeze/thaw cycles. Wayne Shriver, OSU Eastern Agricultural Research Station Manager in Belle Valley offers the following modification of traditional frost seeding.
Here at the Eastern Agricultural Research Station at Caldwell we manage our pastures in an effort to keep them sustainable by including legumes. Sometimes, producers can get too wrapped up in choosing the right legume, when the real issue is just getting something that will thrive. Here, we have some ladino clover, red clover, bird’s-foot trefoil, and a little alfalfa. I like all of them and want between 25% and 40% legume plants in our pastures.
We very seldom renovate a pasture from scratch. Rather, we interseed into pastures and hayfields to get new legume growth. If we completely tear up a field to renovate and then have a very wet spring, we could end up with not much growing there. If we interseed, we will at least still maintain the old growth.
A favorite technique is to frost-seed with a no-till drill when the ground is still frozen. Some might think the drill wouldn’t go into the soil, but all we care about is scratching the surface and putting the seed in soil contact. When the ground thaws, it will close over and give seeds a chance to germinate. We think the drill gets 25% to 50% better germination than broadcast seeding. Of course, the drill takes more time and is more of an investment in equipment. That’s the trade-off.
As for fertility, we like to soil-test and to apply nutrients to pastures in the fall. When we interseed in the spring, the fertility is in place to help the new growth get going.