Frost Seeding Clover: A Recipe for Success

Legumes are an essential part of a strong and healthy grassland ecosystems.  They form a symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium bacteria in which the bacteria fix nitrogen from the air into a plant available form and share it with the legume.  Clover also increases forage quality and quantity and helps to manage tall fescue toxicosis.  In the past, the positive impact of clover on tall fescue toxicosis has always been thought to simply be a dilution effect, but new research from the USDA’s Forage Animal Production Unit in Lexington shows that compounds found in red clover can reverse vasoconstriction that is caused by the ergot alkaloids in toxic tall fescue. The primary compound found in red clover is a vasodilator called Biochanin A.   Clover stands in pastures thin overtime due to various factors and require reseeding every three to four years.  There are several techniques for reintroducing clover into pastures including no-till seeding, minimum tillage, and frost seeding.  Of these techniques, frost seeding requires the least amount of equipment and is the simplest to implement.  Frost seeding is accomplished by broadcasting clover seed onto existing pastures or hayfields mid to late winter and allowing the freezing and thawing cycles to incorporate the seed into the soil.  This method works best with red and white clover and annual lespedeza.  It is NOT recommended for seeding grasses or alfalfa.  This publication covers the important factors for successful frost seeding.   Find this and related publications at the UK Forage Website under the “establishment” tab. 

Frost Seeding at a Glance (from the new pub.)

· Legumes are an essential part of sustainable grassland ecosystems. 

· Overseeding may be required to maintain and thicken stands. 

· Frost seeding is the simplest method for reintroducing clover back into pastures. 

· Control broadleaf weeds fall prior to frost seeding. 

· Soil test and apply any needed lime or fertilizer before frost seeding. 

· Suppress the existing sod and reduce residue with hard grazing in the fall and winter. 

· Choose well adapted varieties of red and white clover using the UK forage variety testing data. 

· Calibrate seeder and check spread pattern. 

· Broadcast 6-8 lb/A of red clover and 1-2 lb/A of white clover that has been inoculated in mid-February (no later than early March).

· Control competition from existing grasses by grazing pastures in short intervals until clover seedlings become tall enough to be grazed off.

· Put pasture back into your regular rotation once seedlings reach a height of 6-8 inches.