Frost Seeding: An Early Spring Food Plot Fixer

News & Tips: Frost Seeding: An Early Spring Food Plot Fixer...
Early season food plots start out like this...

Looking for a simple way to plant food plots? Want to plant food plots but don't own farming equipment? Notice some bare spots in last year's plots but not ready for a total "do over". Try "frost seeding". Smart food plotters know all the tricks of the trade and "frost seeding" is one of them.


Frost seeding refers to a spring seeding procedure whereby food plot seed is spread either on a snow cover or on bare ground and left to make it's way into (or onto) the ground with a little help from Mother Nature. No special equipment other than a hand crank seeder is required and the results can be quite satisfactory.


Food plot experts use frost seeding to "repair" an existing food plot which has developed bare spots or is a little thin in the forage department. Frost seeding is also used to introduce new plants or annuals into the food plot mix. A top dressing of fresh seed will eventually make soil contact and if all goes well, the seeds will germinate, and new plants will be off and growing with the rest of the spring greenery. Tired old plots can be given a face lift with a good frost seeding.


The best time to frost seed is when the frost is coming out of the ground in early spring. The top layer of soil is forced open by alternating freezes (usually at night) and thaws (mostly sunny days). The ground takes on a honeycomb appearance as the frost works its way out of the ground. The freeze-thaw cycle allows the seed to penetrate the uppermost layer of soil and gives your seeds a reasonable chance of germinating and surviving.


The seeds thawing and freezing cycle ensures that your seeds will make good contact with your soil. In fact, sometimes the contact is "too good" and the seed gets buried too deep in the ground to germinate and survive. That's why you need to use at least 50 percent more (assuming you need full coverage) when frost seeding than you would with normal agricultural practices. But remember a single clover plant roughly takes up the space of a pie plate so don't overcrowd the plot.


When the ground is in the process of thawing, as pictured above, it's time to put down seed.

You can also spread seed on a spring snow surface which is in the process of melting down. As the snow melts, the seed will gradually make contact with the soil and subsequent rains and/or freezes will help "seat" the seed in the soil. Spreading seed during the winter is not a good idea as it will take a long time to make it to the soil and could get eaten by mice or birds. Most food plot seeds like clover and chicory only need soil contact to germinate and grow. In fact, if they are covered by more than a 1/4 inch of soil they may not grow at all. As the old food plot axiom goes. "Buried seed is dead seed."


Most food plotters use frost seeding to "tune up" old plots. But, you can establish new plots with a little fall foresight. Identify an area you want to plant in late summer or early fall (when vegetation is still growing) and spray it with an herbicide like Roundup. If all goes right the plants will die and nothing will emerge the following spring. Spread your mix on the heaving soil and watch for the seeds to germinate when soil temps warm up to 60 degrees or higher. No tractors, no plows, no ATVs dragging cultivation implements.


Sound too good to be true? Well, "frost seeding" does have its limitations. For starters, you can only do it on well drained soils. If your plot tends to puddle from snow melt or spring rains, forget about it. The puddle will drown the seed and you will be back where you started. Your only option there is to wait for the soil to drain and dry sufficiently for some form of light tillage that will support a traditional seeding. Also, "frost seeding" typically germinates well below seeding done with normal agricultural procedures. You can count on maybe 25-30 percent of a "frost seeding" to germinate and grow. You have to spread three times as much to get the same coverage; that's why it is ideal for repairing thin spots or adding a new forage to an existing stand.


The best seeds for frost seeding are those which are typically referred to as "hard" seeds. Hard seeds are very tiny and easily can slip under a fingernail. Clover is a hard seed and one used most often in frost seeding. Hard seeds are rot resistant and stay "fresh" in the bag for a number of years and can take plenty of snow, or frost, or whatever nature has in mind. Birds and critters typically leave them alone once they are planted.


Soft seed, however, is something else indeed. Examples of soft seeds are: oats, rye and wheat. Soft seeds are significantly larger than hard seeds, deteriorate more quickly (in mud, snow or excessive wetness) and are attractive to birds and other wildlife. They are not recommended for "frost seeding". They are best used in cultivated fields.


Bass Pro Shops carries a wide selection of food plot seeds suitable for frost seeding. Sticking to your basic clovers and perhaps some chicory is always a good idea. Clover is the official workhorse of food plots and has been feeding whitetails for years. It is relatively easy to grow, is easy to digest and contains roughly 25 percent protein (depending on time of year and growing conditions).


By hunting season, this is what your food plot should look like.

Always buy fresh seed from reputable manufacturers. If you have any doubts, check the label for germination testing data and when the seeds were packaged. Store clovers are often engineered to be baled and eaten cattle. Deer do not do as well on stemmy cattle clovers as they do on clovers that are engineered specifically for deer. Deer clover are typically more tender, more graze tolerant and more easily digested than cattle clovers.


So how about fertilizing? Should you fertilize at the same time? In a word, "no". Fertilizer is water soluble and vulnerable to spring runoff. You may get your seed in the ground but chances are, any fertilizer you spread, will wind up in a stream or river somewhere. If a hard rain in summer can "wash away" a recent fertilizer application, just imagine what day after day of spring rains can bring.


If you are dealing with acidic soils you may consider spreading some pelletized lime as well (not in a hand-crank spreader). The lime will eventually leech into the soil and help to raise the pH. Had spreading lime is far from ideal, but putting lime on snow or frozen ground (preferably with a truck or mechanically driven spreader) is just fine.


Limitations aside, frost seeding has its place in the world of food plots. It's a quick and easy fixer upper and a tool used by experienced food plotters. There is nothing wrong to a simple fix to an otherwise complicated problem.


Neil and Craig Dougherty's book, Grow 'Em Right: A Guide to Creating Wildlife Habitat and Food Plots covers food plot planting and forages in depth and is available at most Bass Pro Shop stores.