Frost Seeding Legumes Into Pastures And Hay Meadows

Frost Seeding Legumes Into Pastures And Hay Meadows

Can you afford to fertilize your pastures with expensive nitrogen? If not, legumes may offer the benefits you’re seeking. Adding clovers, alfalfa, or other legumes to grasslands and meadows can boost profits, reduce nitrogen costs, and make pastures more productive and higher quality. Here are three steps to help ensure your success.

First, fertilize for the legume. Legumes need extra phosphorus and a soil pH above 6, and sometimes higher, to establish and grow in a grass sod. Phosphorus and maybe even lime will likely need to be added.

Second, place seed into the soil. One way is by frost seeding, which involves broadcasting seed on snow-free fields during winter. Right now is an excellent time for frost seeding. The freezing and thawing of the soil as spring approaches helps work the seed into the ground. Results from frost seeding have been variable in our area, though. Red clover is the only legume that has provided good results with broadcasting. Instead of broadcasting, use a drill whenever possible, even if all it does is barely scratch your seed into the soil. You’ll get faster, more uniform stands.

Third, during spring, reduce competition from the existing sod. I think the best option is flash grazing. Whenever grass is 3 to 4 inches taller than legumes this spring, stock heavily so animals graze the grass down to the height of the legumes in just one day, then remove the livestock until the grass is tall again and repeat the flash grazing.

Once established, legumes will cut your fertilizer costs and make your grasslands better than ever.