Frost Seeding Clover – Your Chance to Utilize Nature

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Adding clover to pastures is perhaps one of the most cost-effective ways to improve a stand of forage. Clover is also a cheap source of nitrogen and therefore can help cut fertilization costs in the future. Legumes such as clovers play an integral part in a healthy and strong nitrogen cycle in pastures and grasslands. Many times, they come all on their own when we start to manage for them, in favor of them, but there are times when we may need to introduce them back into a pasture. One positive thing about having to introduce legumes back into pastures is that we can choose more improved, more persistent varieties, but in order to provide these varieties with the best chance they can have to survive and persist there are several steps that we should take.field of clover

  • Soil health and fertility: Proper soil health and fertility is essential for any successful pasture renovation. Soil health starts with liming (if possible, apply six months prior to renovation) and fertilization according to soil test results. Control any broadleaf weeds the season before you plan to renovate, this is necessary due to the fact that any herbicides designed to control broadleaf weeds will also kill broadleaf legumes.
  • Decrease residue and ensure good seed-to-soil contact: Existing plant residue must be suppressed by either grazing or mowing before seeding, helping ensure good seed-to-soil contact, which is needed for germination and emergence.
  • Proper timing of seeding with quality seed: Frost seeding of legumes is typically best accomplished in late winter-early spring, by broadcasting quality seed of an adapted species onto a pasture and allowing the natural freezing and thawing cycle to incorporate the seed into the soil. In order to attain high germination and low noxious weed content be sure to use either certified or proprietary seed. Cheap seed costs more money in the long run due to lower production and thin stands.
  • Use the correct seeding rate and inoculate legume seed: Be sure to calibrate seeding equipment, check your spreading pattern, and check with your local N.C. Cooperative Extension office for the appropriate seeing rates. Rates that are too high will be needlessly expensive and rates that are too low will result in weak stands and low production. Always use inoculated legume seed or inoculate properly yourself. This is an inexpensive way to make sure that roots will be well-equipped to fix nitrogen.

Once you have taken the steps above and done your best to ensure a good stand of forage the only thing left to do is continue to manage properly. This includes controlling competition from other forages until seedlings are appropriate size or weeds. Producers who have questions or would like to discuss any aspect of this article may do so by contacting Kendra Fortner at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Jackson County Center at 828-586-4009 or the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Swain County Center at 828-488-3848 or by email at

Written and submitted by Kendra Fortner- Livestock Agent- Jackson and Swain County