Frost Seeding Season is Here

Christine Gelley, OSU Extension Educator ANR, Noble County

Last weekend I had the opportunity to go out to a farm site where a family is looking to put in a fruit tree orchard and help them do some soil testing. It was a beautiful day for February. The ground was not frozen, so it was easy to collect the soil cores needed for a composite sample.

As we walked and talked, they mentioned that they had seen some soil disturbance that seemed a little odd. They weren’t sure if it was caused by an animal and if it were, which one was the culprit. We walked a little more and found an example. There was a little mound of soil that looked like it had been dug from underneath, leaving a cone of soil on the surface.

After investigating, we determined that the cause was not an animal. The cause was the weather. As temperatures fluctuate this time of year, the soil expands and contracts. This leads to soil heaving, which pushes loose soil up through the surface crust, leaving the little soil mounds we found. Soil heaving is a sign that Maple Syrup and Frost Seeding Season are upon us.

Frost seeding is an effective and low input method for thickening up pasture and hay field stands (or even lawns) with a broadcast application of seed. The ideal time for frost seeding tends to be mid-February. The freezing, thawing, and soil heaving help work the seed into the soil so that seedlings get a jump start on the growing season without people disturbing wet soils in the early spring. It is a method that is most successful with red clover and white clover, but some grasses can successfully be frost seeded as well.

Frost seeding can be implemented in both fields with and without livestock present. If livestock are in the field, hoof traffic can assist with seed to soil contact in combination with soil heaving. You can broadcast the seed by hand, with a hand crank, or with a seed broadcaster on an ATV. Frost seeding rates vary depending on the type of forage seed you choose. For best success, start with high quality seed and broadcast the seed during weather patterns where nighttime temperatures drop below freezing and daytime temperatures rise above freezing.

Species suitable for frost seeding and seeding rate recommendations are available from University of Wisconsin-Madison in the chart below (

If you have questions about frost seeding or other pasture renovation techniques, reach out to me at or 740-732-5681.