It will not be long till spring and grazing season are here. A good mix of clover in the grass yields higher quality pasture, which means better animal performance. The absence of a legume results in poor growth and vigor of the grass stand unless regular applications of nitrogen are applied. Forage quality also suffers. It is certainly not desirable to kill the grass simply to add clover to the mixture since the goal is to have clover make up only 30%-40% of the stand. The most practical way to get clover back into such grass sods is to broadcast the clover seed over the sod in late winter. In order for broadcast seeding to be successful, the existing sod must be grazed or mowed short (so you can see your shoe soles when standing on it). Apply lime and fertilizer based on current soil test recommendations. Apply the seed from late February to early March (depending on your location) when the sod is not actively growing and when the soil still has a tendency to freeze. Seeding at this time is called “frost seeding” because overnight frosts followed by daytime thaws will bury the seed at a shallow seeding depth. It is essential that seeding occur early enough that you still have several weeks of freezing and thawing to “plant” the seed. Leaving livestock on the area to tread in the seed may also help. This technique works, and it is quick, easy, inexpensive, and can be done on steep, rocky areas where tillage equipment cannot be used.

As the existing sod begins to break dormancy and grow, it is important to graze or mow it periodically to prevent it from crowding out the new clover seedlings. Monitoring of grazing height is essential. When allowing livestock to graze, it is vital to prevent overgrazing and damage to new seedlings. Grazing too short will set back new seedlings and have a more detrimental effect than the competition of the existing sod. Seed at the rate of 4 to 5 pounds of red clover and 1 to 2 pounds of Ladino clover per acre. While clover can usually be established by broadcasting seed on the soil surface in the winter, drilling provides even greater assurance of establishment success. A no till drill works best, but conventional grain drills will work as long as they penetrate the soil surface and adequately cover the seed. For more information, contact your local extension office.

Phil Blevins is an agricultural extension agent in Washington County, Virginia.

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