By this time of year, any seeding of forages would be considered a dormant seeding. Seeds planted now will lay there until the right conditions present themselves closer to spring. Most producers with pasture or hay ground understand the concept of “frost-seeding.” Frost-seeding is taking advantage of the freeze-thaw process of the soil during winter months. When water in the soil freezes, it moves upward, pushing some soil with it. This creates little pockets for seed to fall into, especially slick smooth seeds like clover. This process provides a good environment for seed-to-soil contact and good conditions for that seed to grow later. Soils that have been disturbed and that have more soil visible are subject to more heaving due to a lack of enough vegetative buffers. Soils that are bare or that have thin cover will freeze quicker and deeper. Soils with heavy cover sometimes don’t freeze much at all.
If you already have some clover planted and are just enhancing what you have, then utilize improved varieties for the best results. If not, then you should inoculate the seed with the appropriate rhizobium. The seed may germinate and thrive without it, but it will do so much better if it is present, especially if one of the goals for planting the legume is as a nitrogen source for the grass component of the stand. The clover fills in the gaps or voids in a grass stand, especially disturbed ones. Adding clover to help fix these sites makes sense. Clover adds diversity, boosts yields, provides pollinator loving plants to the pasture, and there are some benefits, especially with red clover, in reducing or diluting endophyte-infected tall fescue issues.
If there is a lot of disturbance, then the situation gets more challenging. You certainly don’t want to fill in all those voids with legumes. High amounts of some legumes, especially white clover, can increase the risk for bloat. What you really want is something to fill in those voids until the perennial forages can take hold again and compete successfully with opportunist weeds in the spring. By early spring, anything growing in those spaces that can be consumed as forage and not a weed, even temporarily, is a good thing.
Planting grasses into existing grasses is almost always risky at best. Those new little seedlings can’t compete with established plants; it’s just too much competition. Typical tall cool-season forage seeded, such as orchardgrass and tall fescues, don’t come up fast enough in the early spring and by the time they are really starting to grow, the established plants are already outgrowing and outcompeting them. One grass that potentially can fit this bill is perennial rye grass, especially in the southern part of Indiana. In normal weather conditions, it will come on early enough to get a foothold and at least provide enough cover to help reduce weeds and some quality forage too. This rescue method with perennial ryegrass does have some risk, and often does not remain long-term.
If you’re looking for information on what will grow best in your area, check in with someone at your local Natural Resources Conservation Service Office. They’ll have a good idea what works, and may have assistance available to help you get the job done.
Keep On Grazing!
Reminders and Opportunities
Northern Indiana Grazing Conference (NIGC) – February 1-2, 2019, Michiana Event Center (new location) 4405 E Farver St., Shipshewana, IN. For more information about the NIGC or to get a registration form, please call the LaGrange County Soil & Water Conservation District office at 260-463-3471 extension 3.
Southern Indiana Grazing Conference (SIGC) – March 6, 2019, Crane, IN – Speakers include Greg Judy, Darby Simpson, and Peter Allen. For more information contact the Daviess County Soil and Water Conservation office at 812-254-4780, Ext 3, email Toni Allison firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.daviesscoswcd.org/index.php/sigc or https://www.facebook.com/SouthernIndianaGrazingConference
More pasture information and past issues of Grazing Bites are available at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/in/technical/landuse/pasture/