Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dos and Don'ts of Frost Seeding

By Jason Tyrell, District Technician

Well it’s here everyone!!! It’s time to decide when you are going to Frost Seed. The window is not very large, being February 1st through March 15th. But watch closely, as you do not want weather to fool you and miss your opportunity.
So I’m guessing a lot of you are asking the question: What exactly is this frost seeding? Frost Seeding is a cost efficient and cost effective way to introduce new forage or improve your current stand. Frost seeding is the act of broadcasting seed over pastures or meadows during the time where there is a freeze-thaw action. This action opens and closes the ground and allows the seed to penetrate the soil so that it may germinate.
There are several steps to help assure that you get positive results. These steps include Site Selection, Soil Fertility, Seed Selection, Seeding Rates, Seeding Time, Seeding Method, Seed Treatments and Post-Seeding Management.
Site Selection: Any location where you can maximize seed-to-soil contact is a good site to frost seed. Having good seed-to-soil contact is essential for positive results to be achieved. The best option for fields to frost seed are fields with bunch-type grasses such as orchard grass rather than a sod-forming species such as bluegrass. Soil type matters as well. Soils such as loam and clay, that have natural moisture, work the best as opposed to sandy soils, which should be avoided. When you do choose your field, make sure that you either clip pastures or closely graze in the late fall or winter to open up the stand and expose the soil.
Soil Fertility: Make sure you get your Soil Tests!! Growing, establishing and maintaining productive forage is greatly dependent upon fertility. Try to have soil tests done at least every 4 years to keep track of your soil quality and at least 6 months prior to frost seeding. This allows time to make any adjustments that may be needed. Corrective applications of phosphorus and potassium should be applied prior to seeding. Any lime needed should be applied a year in advance. If you are frost seeding a legume, nitrogen applications should NOT be made the year of seeding due to the potential for increased competition from grasses and weeds.
Seed Selection: If you choose to seed a legume, the best options would be Alfalfa, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Clover (there are several species of clover that make very different impacts). Alfalfa should be seeded on well drained soils. Birdsfoot Trefoil takes 2-3 years to establish a solid stand. Red Clover establishes quickly but only produces for around 2 years. White Clover will establish quickly and last 3 or more years. Alsike Clover takes 2-3 years to establish a solid stand.
If you choose to frost seed grasses, the best options are Perennial Ryegrass and Orchardgrass, when moisture is adequate for growth. Grasses such as Timothy, Reed Canarygrass, Tall Fescue, Smooth Bromegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass are NOT recommended when frost seeding due to light weight and cold weather tolerability when attempting germination.
If you decide that you would like a seed mixture, you must decide what type of mixture. With a legume mixture, such mixes as red clover and birdsfoot trefoil or alsike clover, the red clover establishes early and then when it is ready to die off, the birdsfoot or the alsike clover will then establish creating a long term legume presence. Grass mixtures are not recommended, as they are more difficult to establish than legumes are. If you decide to do a legume and grass seed mixture, it is recommended to separate the two seed types and spread them in two passes. Legume seed, which is heavier than grass seeds, tend to “throw” farther when broadcasting.
Seeding Rates: Make sure you know your seeding rates, so you may broadcast the proper amount to avoid under or over seeding your fields. Seeding rates can be found by either calling your local Extension office (OSU extension), or looking at their website online at ohioline.osu.edu for Ohio seeding rates. Remember that depending on your location and seed type, seeding rates may vary.
Seeding Time: Frost seeding must take place at the correct time proper results. In Ohio, frost seeding should occur from February 1st through March 15th. The exact seeding date you choose should depend on the weather that year and the location in Ohio. Southern Ohio areas will need to seed earlier than Northern Ohio areas.
Seeding Method: There are several options when deciding to broadcast your seed. Depending on how large of an area that will be seeded, you can choose to use a hand broadcasting seeder, an ATV broadcasting seeder or a tractor broadcasting seeder. If you are frost seeding on to snow, be cautious as rapid meltdown of snow may result in seed runoff. After broadcasting the seed, the “Trampling Effect” of high livestock densities can be an effective way to ensure Seed-to-Soil Contact.
Seed Treatments: Seed treatments containing nitrogen-fixing rhizobia bacteria are widely available for most common legumes. Rhizobia do survive in the soil, so if the legume planned to be seeded is already present, rhizobia is not required. If the legume is not present, rhizobia seed coating is recommended.
Post-Seeding Management:  Make sure you follow the fertility program based on the soil test recommendations to ensure that adequate levels of pH, phosphorus and potassium are present along with other corrective applications that took place. Make sure if you have a legume stand greater than 35%, that you do NOT apply nitrogen. After the applied seed germinates, make sure your mow or graze the pastures as needed to remove excessive grass growth and control weeds and woody vegetation. Proper grazing management in the first year is critical. Maintaining your grazing plan will ensure proper production of your forage. Avoid overgrazing by leaving a minimum of 2-3 inches of top growth at all times.
Frost seeding is a great conservation practice that can be a quality low cost method to improve an existing forage stand or introduce a new forage species. Remember to follow all the steps necessary to ensure that quality production is possible and maintained. If you have any questions concerning Frost Seeding you may contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District office or your local Extension office.   In Guernsey county, the SWCD office is  740-432-5624.

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