Winter is a time for rest and dormancy for many forage crops. Farmers are preparing for the approaching growing season. Frost seeding is a practice that can enhance pasture forage production. It allows seeds to be distributed onto undisturbed soils by broadcasting the seed on top of the ground. The natural freezing and thawing actions of the soil work the seeds into the ground where they can germinate as temperatures warm. It tends to be a less expensive way of establishing a stand compared to traditional establishment practices. Germination of seed may not be uniform; therefore, frost seeding is designed for pastures and not for establishing hay fields.
Legumes have the highest chance for successful frost seeding. Red and white clover have proven to offer the most desirable results. Birdsfoot trefoil is another legume that can be established using this method but takes a little longer. The first year plants will be sparse, but by the second a well-populated stand should be present. The stand will often persist for 10 or more years with proper management. Most grass species are not a good choice for frost seeding. Perennial ryegrass and annual ryegrass are the only grasses that offer a reasonable amount of success.
The most important aspect to this method is seed to soil contact. If an area is designated for frost seeding, it is often recommended to graze or mow it extremely close to the ground during the late fall or early winter to expose the soil surface.
Frost seeding legumes can be a great benefit to a pasture and animal. It can provide higher nutrition for livestock and a nitrogen source for existing grasses. This reduces the need for commercial fertilizers. For more information about frost seeding please contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Anson County office.