Frost Seed Legumes Into Pastures And Hay Meadows

Frost Seed Legumes Into Pastures And Hay Meadows

March 6, 2009

Adding clovers, alfalfa, or other legumes to grasslands can boost profits and red clover and alfalfa can reduce nitrogen costs and help make pastures more productive and higher quality. To add legumes to your grass pasture, you must accomplish three tasks correctly.
  1. Fertilize for the legume. Legumes need phosphorus and a soil pH above 6, and sometimes higher, to establish and grow in a grass sod. Get a soil test of just the top 2 inches of soil before planting. If needed, add phosphorus and maybe even lime.


  2. Place seed into the soil — try frost seeding. This method 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 often succeeds with frost seeding in our area. 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 that way.


  3. During spring, reduce competition from the existing sod. You can do this by spraying Gramoxone before legume seedlings emerge. Another option is flash grazing. Whenever grass get 3 to 4 inches taller than legumes this spring, stock heavily so animals graze grass down to the height of the legumes in just one day. Then remove livestock until grass gets tall again and repeat the flash grazing. Once established, legumes will cut your fertilizer costs and make your grasslands better than ever

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist