By Bruce Anderson, Extension Forage Specialist

Dormant seeding grasses and legumes in pastures this fall may add a little breathing room to your spring workload and can be nearly as successful as spring planting.

Dormant seedings succeed as long as your soil is relatively dry and soil temperature is too cold for seeds to germinate.  That's the main key — too cold to germinate. When these conditions exist, seed just lies in the soil until conditions are favorable for germination next spring. Then seeds begin to grow as if they had just been planted. 

Warm-season grasses, like those used in CRP and range plantings, are especially well-suited to dormant planting. They won't germinate until soil temperature exceeds 45 F. Since soils generally remain colder than this for most of the winter, dormant plantings of these grasses can be made anytime between late November and March. In addition, the alternate warming and cooling of the soil in spring stimulates a natural process in these seeds that improves their germination.

Cool-season grasses and legumes, however, can germinate at soil temperatures as low as 35 F. Our soils often are warmer than 35 F for several days in a row during winter, so cool-season grass seeds occasionally germinate and then die when soils freeze again. As a result, dormant seedings of cool-season species are successful a little less often than warm-season grasses.