Frost Seeding Easy, Inexpensive Way to Improve Pastures


WOOSTER, Ohio – Producers looking for an easy, inexpensive way to improve their pastures and hay fields can consider taking advantage of the still-frozen grounds and try frost seeding now for green pastures later, according to a forage expert from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. 

Frost seeding, which is a method of broadcasting seed over frozen pastures to allow the seed to be incorporated into the soil as the ground freezes and thaws, can offer producers a less expensive way to renovate their pastures, said Rory Lewandowski, agriculture and natural resources educator for the college's outreach arm, Ohio State University Extension.

This method is well suited to the transition between winter and spring because the natural freeze and thaw cycle occurring now helps to move the seed into good contact with the soil, he said. It also saves producers money on fuel and equipment cost compared with using either a no-till or conventional drill, Lewandowski said.

“The advantage to frost seeding a legume such as red or white clover is that legumes fix nitrogen typically in excess of their own needs, allowing the existing grass to use the excess nitrogen and improving their quality as a feedstuff,” he said. “Once legumes become uniformly established and make up 30 percent of the stand, there is no need to apply supplemental nitrogen, saving producers money on fertilizer.”

Frost seeding can also help producers increase their long-term profits by adding these legumes to their pastures, which provide better quality forage for livestock, Lewandowski said.

“It’ll offer livestock higher protein content and higher energy content, which results in better animal performance,” he said. “Frost seeding is a smart practice to improve pasture quality, particularly for those who have forages as an important part of their operations.

“It’s all about letting the natural weather cycle of freeze and thaw do some of the work for you.”

Legumes work better than grasses to frost seed, Lewandowski said. Some of the most widely used legumes in Ohio for frost seeding include red clover and white clover.

“Red clover is a popular choice for frost seeding because it has high seedling vigor, is tolerant of a wide range of soil pH and fertility conditions, and tolerates drought,” he said.

Producers need to keep in mind the following seeding rates:

  • Red clover: 6 to 8 pounds per acre
  • Ladino or white clover: 2 to 3 pounds per acre
  • Alsike clover: 2 to 4 pounds per acre
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil: 4 to 6 pounds per acre

When frost seeding a legume species that has not been grown in the pasture for a number of years, producers should be aware of the need to include the proper bacterial inoculum to ensure that the bacteria responsible for fixing nitrogen become associated with the plant roots, Lewandowski said.

“The success of any new seeding depends upon soil fertility conditions, good seed/soil contact and the grazing management that will be used once that plant is up and growing,” he said.  

Tracy Turner
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Rory Lewandowski