Frost Seeding Clover

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clover seedlings

Clover seedlings emerge in established fescue pasture

Hopefully everyone knows the benefits of adding clover to your pasture. A major benefit to consider now is that clovers are legumes and fix nitrogen. This biological process can potentially reduce commercial nitrogen needs in the future (you have to give the clover a chance to establish itself in order to perform this function.)  One way to do this that is fairly easy and inexpensive is frost seeding. A couple of things to keep in mind before you frost seed clover into your existing grass pasture or hay field: 1) most herbicides are going to kill the clover so if you have a serious broadleaf weed problem, get those under control before adding clover, 2) soil test and apply amendments (lime, phosphorus and potassium are very important) to encourage the clover growth.

Success of frost seeding the clover depends on the existing sod being short (mowed or grazed) so that it doesn’t shade out the clover seedlings. Additionally, make sure your site is sparse and not a thick, vigorous stand of grass. The seed should be broadcast between late January and early March because the sod is not actively growing and freezes should still occur. Overnight frosts with thawing the following day will bury the seed at a shallow depth. Timing is important because you want to make sure that there are still several weeks of freezing and thawing to “plant” the seed after it has been broadcasted. Allowing livestock to stay on the area can be beneficial as they will help tread in the seed.

Red clover, which can help mitigate fescue toxicosis to some extent, will last about two years and should be broadcast at 8-10 pounds per acre. White or ladino clover may last four years and should be broadcast at 3-5 pounds per acre.

As spring starts to arrive, graze or mow the area periodically to make sure the established sod does not crowd out the new clover seedlings. Monitor grazing heights to make sure the area is not overgrazed. Grazing too short is more detrimental than the competition from the existing sod.