Early Fall Seeding 101 – The “Simple 6”

With fall just beginning, now is the perfect time to inspect pastures and hay fields to see how they held up through summer. Whether fields have recently experienced dry conditions or too much moisture, pinpointing areas for improvement must happen fast.

If stand enhancements are necessary, seeding should take place as soon as possible. Assuming one can still plant and conditions are favorable, a late summer/early fall seeding is advantageous to areas susceptible to spring flooding or parts of the field that remain wet. Seedlings with access to good moisture, whether from spring or winter snow, will be much further ahead. Below are reminders to ensure these plantings have every chance at success:

1. Keep it simple. Recognize which species help the existing stand. Depending on grazing management or weed control practices (or herbicides) earlier in the season, it may make sense to stick to single species additions. Planting single species into existing fields makes it easier to gauge seeding effectiveness. If the current stand is too thin, more species may be needed to fill in weak areas quickly. Don’t put alfalfa mixes in wet soil environments or seed a slow establishing forage grass where quick germination is needed.

2. Acknowledge that fertilizer may be needed. If fertility levels are unknown, take a soil test and send off quickly. Certain species may need additional nutrients to achieve their full benefit. For example, if legumes are needed but pH and overall fertility aren’t ideal for alfalfa production, consider alsike or red clover. For grasses, up to 150-200 lbs. of actual N are needed to maximize production.

3. Don’t skimp on seeding rates. Seed investments are minimal compared to time and equipment allotments. Due to known inevitability that some seeds will not make it through the winter, it’s always wise to bump up seeding rates at least 20-25%.

4. Use the correct seeding method. Simple broadcasting (followed by harrowing) in fall often doesn’t work well due not only to weather and/or moisture, but also mainly due to poor seed-to-soil contact. Seeding into a firm seedbed allows maximum seed-to-soil contact and results in good germination and emergence. Also, no-till seeding into existing cover or crop residue aids establishment by reducing the chance of seed being moved by water or wind. Although many forage plantings only call for 1/8”-1/4” seeding depth, seed must be in and not on the ground. If limitations still call for broadcasting, make sure a cultipacker or other equipment designed to firm up soil are used.

5. Follow guidelines for the correct seeding time. If conditions are drier, don’t wait too long and miss your seeding window altogether. One factor growers usually can’t control is the amount of moisture received (unless under irrigation). Usually it takes more than 100% of the seed’s weight in water to promote germination. Once seed germinates, keep watch. If something must be done, it may make sense to deal with it now versus later.

6. Most importantly, choose the correct variety for the region and application. Variety selection is often the difference between a persistent, viable stand and a short-lived, non-producing failure. Even if every other step is executed perfectly, stand establishment is still no guarantee if the wrong variety is planted.

Grasses that germinate quickly are always something to consider when time is running out.Forage First Jump Start Pasture Mix  is a perfect option since it’s made up of ryegrass varieties known for quick establishment. Because Jump Start germinates quickly and tolerates less-than-ideal soil conditions, it could be the right decision for summer-damaged areas or feeding areas where existing forage is torn up or overly compacted. Ryegrass, fescues and orchardgrass are all solid choices to thicken-up weak pastures and hay fields.


Another set of options to extend the grazing season are cool season annual forages. Cereal grains like oats, triticale and cereal rye have been used successfully alongside turnips and other brassica crops. Mixes like oats and cereal rye with winter peas also work well. While most forage growth takes place with annuals when planted in August or earlier, there’s still time to take advantage of the few Growing Degree Days left. Again, consider cereal grains as they offer the greatest flexibility of delayed seeding.


Consider a mix like Soil First™ 140 Multi-Purpose. 140 was created as a fall and early winter forage source. Hy-Octane Triticale is the base for 140 – triticale provides the benefits of rye’s forage production with winter wheat’s overall forage quality. Brassicas in the mix provide multiple grazing opportunities while peas offer dual flexibility of both grazing or balage/silage.