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Dormant Seeding May Be Your Best Bet

CHRIS COULON • PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPECIALIST • SEPTEMBER 9, 2008

Traditionally in Ohio, warm and cool season grasses are seeded in early spring through May when soil temperatures and conditions allow.  Dormant seedings, on the other hand, are done from December 1 to March 14 for cool season grasses and from November 1 to March 14 for warm season species.  When the soil temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler, the seeds will remain dormant and not germinate until the soil warms up again in the spring.

There are several reasons why dormant seeding may be your best option.  Spring seedings occur during a busy time of the year for many producers.  Winter seedings, on the other hand, can be made when there is more time for field work. Dormant seeding also extends the window of opportunity by 4 months, allowing more time to wait until the soil conditions are just right for seeding, thereby, reducing the potential for soil compaction.

If you are dependent on a contractor or farmer who has the proper equipment to make the seeding for you, the winter seeding again provides more time for them to work you into their schedule.

Warm season grass seedings especially benefit from dormant seeding.  The freezing and thawing over winter can stratify “hard” seed, helping it to germinate in the spring when soil temperatures warm.  It also helps the seed to “settle in” the soil providing good seed to soil contact and better germination.  Under natural conditions, seed is produced in the fall and lies dormant over winter, ready to germinate in the spring, so a dormant seeding better mimics nature.

While a dormant seeding can be a good alternative, there are several things to consider and steps to follow to help ensure a successful planting.

Seed Selection

The type of seed chosen will vary depending on the intended use of the area.  Grasses and legumes selected for forages will be different than grasses selected for wildlife habitat as a field border.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has a seeding table that outlines the grasses and legumes suitable for different uses and provides formulas for calculating seeding rates.  This table can be found in the Ohio Field Office Technical Guide (FOTG) located on the web by visiting http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/efotg  and clicking on Ohio and selecting any county.  The table is in Appendix A of Section IV.  A caution is given when purchasing seed to make sure that the seed comes from a vendor that is registered with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.  When dormant seeding, NRCS recommends increasing the seeding rate by 25 percent.

Site Preparation

This is a critical component of a successful seeding.  Good soil contact is necessary for good germination; however, planting too deep may result in a planting failure.   How the seed bed is prepared will depend on the ground cover prior to planting, the planting method chosen, and the type of seed.  The same equipment used for planting seed during the spring can be used during the dormant season, provided there is no snow cover or the area is not frozen too hard.   The area may need to be prepared ahead of time; reducing the amount of residue.  Light tillage may need to be completed late in the fall.  Broadcast seeding warm season grasses into stubble may help reduce seed movement from wind and water erosion.  Seed can be broadcast on frozen ground and snow melt may carry the seed down into small pockets of soil.  (There needs to 50 percent bare exposed soil; seeds applied on top or in residue will not grow.)

Application Rate and Method

The application rate and methods will vary depending on the seed.  Broadcast seeding, no-till seeding, and conventional seeding are all acceptable methods of seeding depending on the conditions of the area and the seed.  The seeding table in Appendix A of the Ohio FOTG also gives recommendations for varying ground cover (clean seed bed vs. planting into corn, bean, or wheat stubble) and seeding methods depending on the intended use of the planting.  For example, the grasses planted for forages may be different than the grasses planted for wildlife cover.  Therefore, these different grasses will need to be planted at different rates as per the recommendations in the FOTG.

Landowners considering a dormant seeding should contact their local NRCS office to determine if their conservation plan needs to be modified from spring planting to dormant seeding and to receive technical assistance. 

Conservation begins with you for a better tomorrow.  

Technical input for this article provided by Bob Hendershot, State Grassland Specialist, Mark Scarpetti, State Agronomist, and Dave Burgdorf, Plant Materials Specialist (Rose Lake Plant Materials Center)