March is frost seeding month in Michigan

Frost seeding pastures with improved legume and grass varieties is a very economical way of improving pasture yield and quality.

March is the month across much of Michigan to improve pastures by frost seeding legumes like clovers or some grasses into them. Frost seedings are most successful when the seed is broadcast approximately 45 days before grass growth begins in your area.

Frost seeding is the practice of broadcasting seeds of improved varieties of red clovers, white clovers, birdsfoot trefoils, or some grasses in late winter across pasture lands. The freezing and thawing action of the soil surface over the following weeks helps to incorporate the seed into the top soil layer providing good soil-to-seed contact and stimulating early germination. It is one of the most economical, environmentally friendly ways to improve pastures.

Research conducted at the MSU BioAgResearch Station in Lake City, Michigan, over a ten-year trial experiencing a wide range of weather conditions revealed that frost seeding on predominately orchard grass pastures every third year yielded as much forage as applying 163 lbs. of actual nitrogen fertilizer per acre annually (354 lbs./acre of 46-0-0). It yielded an extra 2.08 ton/acre of forage on average over the control plot where no seed nor fertilizer was applied. When the cost of the seed and the broadcasting are factored in, and it is assumed a frost seeding of clover will last three years, the cost of this extra forage produced is calculated to be less than $7 per ton. Compare that to the cost of applying 100 lbs./acre of actual nitrogen fertilizer at a current fertilizer price of $600/ton for 46-0-0, and the extra forage yield would cost over $45/ton just for the nitrogen fertilizer and the spreading cost. Frost seeding is so much more economical than applying nitrogen fertilizer that even if one year’s frost seeding fails because of weather conditions, you can afford to do it again next year and it will still be cheaper than applying nitrogen every year.

But frost seeding is not foolproof. It must be done properly to have a high degree of success. Below are guidelines to make frost seeding successful:

For more information, contact MSU Extension grazing educator Jerry Lindquist toll-free at 888-678-3464, ext. 6723, or at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).