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Illinois Livestock Trail
From the Fields - Can Spring Forage Stands Still be Seeded?
by Jim Morrison Extension Educator, Crop Systems Rockford Extension Center, University of Illinois Phone 815-395-5710; FAX 815-395-5726 Email morrison@illinois.edu

Mother Nature did not allow many graziers to frost seed red clover in late February-­early March. Wet conditions have prompted several forage producers to ask about seeding. In the recent Iowa State University Integrated Crop Management News newsletter, Steve Barnhart, Extension forage specialist addressed the topic of "wet spring forage planting considerations". With some minor modifications for Illinois, the article follows.

Can spring forage stands still successfully be planted? The short answer is – yes, into the first ten days to two weeks of May (late-summer seedings are more successful in southern Illinois). The end of the spring forage planting season is limited by seedling development and growth into the summer months. Most forage seedlings are emerging and growing root systems

into the top one to three inches of the seedbed during the three to four weeks following germination.
The increasingly dry and hot soil surfaces in late May and June increase the risk that the small forage seedlings do not establish. So, the risk depends on rainfall and soil temperatures

from here on. If conditions turn normal or hotter and dryer than normal, the risk of late planted forage seeding failures increases. If late May and early June conditions remain cooler and wetter than normal, then later-than-desired spring forage seedings may survive very well.
Planting later than desired, adds to vulnerability to erosion and weed competition. Keep

seedings several times during the early seedling development months to allow sunlight to reach small developing legume and grass seedlings. Also scout for and manage potato leafhoppers in new alfalfa seedings.
What about skipping spring planting and planting the new hay and pasture fields in late-summer? The success of late summer planted forages is set by both the planting window that provides for a six to eight week establishment time requirement for seedlings before the first killing freeze of the fall, and the necessity of adequate existing soil moisture and likelihood of average or better fall rain.
For alfalfa and other forage legumes, the seed should be planted August 10-15 for the northern third of Illinois, August 30 to September 4 for the middle third of the state and September 5-10 for the southern third of the state. Cool-season forage grasses can be planted 10 days or so later in each of these zones.
The risk of stand failure is high if seed is planted in dry soil, and rainfall patterns for the remainder of the fall season are erratic.
Can purchased seed be carried over until fall or next spring? Seed is perishable. Germination declines over extended storage time, and declines faster if seed storage conditions are warm and in high humidity. Certainly try to store carry-over seed in a cool, dry place. Even better, try to arrange for storage in a more desirable seed storage facility. If you do have concerns about the viability of carry-over forage seed, have a germination test done before planting and adjust sowing rates to compensate for any germination percentage losses. With inoculated legume seed, observe the "plant-by-date" on the seed tag to ensure the Rhizobium bacteria is viable.

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