Winter Weather Woes: Assessing Whether or Not to Frost Seed

February 20, 2024 1:21 PM
Blog Post

This winter's erratic weather, swinging from -30°F wind chills to unseasonably warm highs in the 50s, has left many pondering whether to frost-seed or not to frost-seed. As the calendar inches towards mid-February, the dilemma intensifies, with some already contemplating drilling spring oats or alfalfa. Let's not get too hasty. The weather may seem nice and suitable for planting, but we are still in mid-February and could easily face some future hard frosts and cold temperatures. Spring cereals and alfalfa are cold tolerant, but low temperatures can lead to uneven germination and significant damage due to a hard frost as well. Waiting a couple of weeks can be beneficial to ensure we don't have more winter-like temperatures heading our way. It seems spring has started, but it is only February.

Another opportunity many are considering now is frost seeding. Frost seeding involves strategically broadcasting or overseeding legumes into a tired pasture or within a small grain stand. It is a potentially cost-effective solution to revitalize a diminishing stand or introduction of new legumes. However, success hinges upon proper timing and assessing the condition of the existing stand. A thick thatch can pose a challenge, hindering optimal seed-to-soil contact and fostering competition for the seedlings. To mitigate this, it is recommended to closely hay or over-graze in the fall or winter to open the canopy in preparation for frost seeding. Ideally, visible bare spots are a good indicator of a pasture stand that frost-seeding is more likely to be successful.

Additionally, timing and soil conditions are critical to the success of frost seeding. Typically, frost seeding falls between mid-February and early March, coinciding with the freeze-thaw cycle. Recent weeks have exhibited glimpses of this natural phenomenon, indicating the opportunity for implementation. However, checking future forecasts is crucial, as many parts of the state are experiencing warmer temperatures. We need to check the lows and highs for the freeze-thaw interaction. The rhythmic expansion and contraction of soil during freezing and thawing create a honeycombing effect, facilitating seed incorporation into the soil profile and ensuring good seed-to-soil contact. However, attention is required to avoid soil compaction, which necessitates early morning operations while the soil remains frozen to prevent soil compaction when the soil is wet. Under some conditions, the use of animals can help incorporate the seed, ensuring good seed-to-soil contact through their hoof action, but doing this when the field is too wet can lead to the pugging up of the pasture.

Moreover, the fate of the seeded stand hinges significantly on spring moisture levels. Adequate moisture is vital for establishing a healthy stand. Thus, while the potential benefits of frost seeding are high, timing, soil condition, and moisture play important roles in success. Evaluation of your stand and future forecast can help determine the correct timing for frost seeding.