Food Plots: It's time to Frost-Seed!
Photo by Quality Deer Management Association
Many hunters tend to view planting food plots as some kind of a far-fetched dream. Something that they could only do if they won the lottery and bought a tractor with a bunch of expensive equipment.
But what if I told you that planting incredible food plots was as easy as throwing the seed and walking away?
OK, it may not be that easy, but it's close. And this practice involves no magical no-till seed or cute tricks. Just the proper timing, weather, and a bit of planning ahead.
This magical food plotting technique is known as frost seeding. A technique that is underutilized by hunters who plant food plots and by hunters who dream of doing so.
The science behind frost seeding is actually quite simple. Mother Nature takes the wheel to do most of the work, which is the beauty of the process.
If you live in the cold climates of the North or even in moderately cool climates in the mid-South, your ground will constantly freeze and thaw between February and April.
The soil will expand and contract as the freeze-thaw process continues throughout the early spring. It's a process known technically as "heaving".
As that soil expands, contracts and settles in, you simply drop your desired seed on top to allow that rising and sinking process plant your seeds for you. Dropping seeds on a light and melting blanket of snow is even more effective.
When done correctly, frost seeding is a process that can take an average clover, chicory, or alfalfa plot and turn it into the kind of plot you might see in a magazine. It can also be utilized to help you establish a new plot, but only in the right scenario.
The process is so simple and effective that it almost befuddles food plotters not to practice frost seeding. With that being said, there are some parameters to abide by for best results.
We'll hit on some intricate details below.
Proper Planting Variety
Proper seed usage in frost seeding is neck-and-neck in terms of importance with knowing your area's freeze-thaw tendencies. Weather will not matter if you try to plant the wrong seeds. Frost seeding is going to be best with your clovers, chicory, alfalfa, and maybe some oats or rye. Think small and hardy seeds.
Do not even attempt to waste your time or money by trying to frost-seed corn or soybeans. We all wish it was that easy, but you will be wasting your money in epic fashion. Stick to those small, hardy seeds for frost seeding. Clover is by far the most effective frost seeding planting that you can select.
Know Your Climate
Climate is everything in frost seeding. I may have freezing and thawing ground well into the month of April here in Ohio, but your last days of freezing ground in Georgia may be vastly different. Each food plotter must know their weather tendencies.
Timing is crucial in frost seeding. Waiting too late to drop your seeds could result in sputtering success or even failure. You want to give those seeds as much time as possible to work into the ground without washing away. A cold tolerant little seed like clover can really withstand a good bit of frost, snow, and cold temps. Get it out and get it in the ground.
Early March is about ideal for those of us in the Midwest. You may still have a very narrow window in the South, but it would be best to bump that frost seeding schedule up a month or so.
We do not want to cast false hope that frost seeding can be done on any piece of open ground in America. That is not the case. You shouldn't expect the best results if you are tossing seed onto a completely unprepared and overgrown field.
Frost seeding is most applicable in attempting to thicken an already established food plot. For example, I'll be hitting the field in early March to throw a couple of new varieties of clover into a 2-acre clover plot that has been established for two years. The seeds will be able to work in and fill in any open patches in my plot.
If I were to do that same thing in a three-foot high CRP field, the chances that those clover seeds would work all the way in and then see enough sunlight to germinate would be slim. Do yourself a favor and pick your frost seeding battles accordingly. Throw your seed on a piece of ground that has been cleared from the year before. This could even be on a ravaged brassica plot. Just make sure that you are not frost seeding into a jungle of competing weeds and vegetation.
Don't Ignore the Food Plot Basics
You've got some quality clover seed, plenty of frosty nights and mornings ahead, and you have a nice area that is clear of vegetation- maybe even an established clover plot like mine. Frost seeding may seem like the miracle worker that is going to save you tons of tractor time this spring, and it may do just that. I'd send some common sense caution out behind that, however.
Frost seeding is by no means a replacement for quality food plotting practices. Meaning that beautiful and successful plots are no guarantee just because you broadcast clover all over a nice 2-inch blanket of snow in early March. The food plot basics sill apply.
Proper PH levels are crucial, especially if you have aspirations of lush and green clover plots. Clover is a legume that needs a pretty sweet PH level, so you have to remember to apply lime to keep that soil healthy. Knowing your soil is also crucial, so get a soil sample and understand it.
Fertilizing is also huge, and I can vow for that. Clover responds incredibly to a light application of 5-14-42 fertilizer once it's actively growing. Following your frost seeding efforts up with a dose of fertilizer could yield you that incredible food plot you have dreamed of.
Limiting invasive weeds and vegetation is an ongoing battle for all food plotting. Frost seeding does not alleviate the weed and grass war. Applying a selective herbicide that will not harm clover is something you will want to consider well into the growing season. It's also a great practice to give your clover plots a little mowing every once in a while to chop any weeds down before they get too crazy.