Acreage Living February 2003
Vol. 9, No. 2
February 2003

ISU cooperative extension

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Improving Pasture with Frost Seeding

By Clarke McGrath, ISU Extension Field Specialist/Crops
Phone: 712-769-2600 - e-mail:

You’ve heard your neighbors talk about the "perfect" pasture stand they achieved just by throwing the seed out during the winter. ‘Course, you never heard about the times they tried and it failed. The technique is called frost seeding and it can be very effective if conditions are right.

Frost seeding, sometimes called overseeding, is a way to establish legumes in existing grass pastures. Legumes are broadcast on grass pastures in late winter or very early spring while the ground is still frozen. Freezing and thawing cycles plus early spring rains provide seed coverage. Avoid seeding on a heavy snow cover as rapid snow melt may wash away the seeds.

drawing of pastureThe most successful sites are where existing grass stands are thin or in bare, or disturbed areas in the pasture. If the pasture was grazed or clipped closely last fall, it will be easier for the added seed to get in contact with the soil. It is also important to control broadleaf weeds before adding legumes to the pasture because broadleaf weed herbicides will damage legumes. For more information on frost seeding, ask for Pm-856, Improving Pasture by Frost Seeding, at your county extension office, or at

Another important step in a frost seeding program is to soil test and apply needed lime and fertilizer. Adequate plant nutrients aid establishment and increase yields. Needed lime should be applied one year ahead of seeding if possible. Phosphorus and potassium can be applied ahead of or at the time of seeding. Nitrogen should not be applied the fall before or during the year of frost seeding because it will stimulate the growth of the grass and weeds and make them too competitive with the new seeding.

All commonly grown legumes can be frost seeded. Red, Alsike, and Ladino clover have greater seedling vigor and establish more quickly than do alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, and crownvetch. Red clover is the most widely used in frost seeding and has proven to be good in establishment. Clovers are better suited than alfalfa to soils that are not well limed and are somewhat poorly drained. Seeding rates should be equal or somewhat higher than those used for prepared seedbeds.

An Eastern European clover, Kura clover, is now being researched and demonstrated at several Iowa State University research farms and shows some promise as a pasture forage. It produces about the same as red clover but is a perennial and spreads by underground stems, called rhizomes. Right now, the seed is somewhat expensive but you might keep an eye out for it.

Managing competition from grass and weeds during the first two to three months of the growing season is critical for the establishment of frost seeded legumes. Use moderate periodic grazing after the grass starts growing, but avoid close grazing which could damage the new seedlings. Some mowing may be necessary to help control weeds and grass.


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Dry Winter Weather Effects on Landscape Plants

By Richard Jauron, ISU Extension Horticulturist Phone: 515-294-1871 - e-mail:

drawingMany parts of Iowa have received little or no precipitation over the past two months. The dry weather has raised concerns about the condition of trees, shrubs, and perennials.

Despite the recent dry weather, most healthy, well-established trees and shrubs are probably fine at this time. Most areas in Iowa received normal or above normal amounts of precipitation in October which gave plants a good opportunity to absorb water before winter.

Well-established trees and shrubs also have large, extensive root systems that allow plants to absorb moisture even when soils are fairly dry. Because deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves in the fall, they lose relatively small amounts of moisture during the winter.

The dry weather poses the biggest threat to trees and shrubs planted in the past one or two years. Because of their relatively small root systems, these plants may have difficulty absorbing adequate amounts of moisture during dry weather. Recently planted evergreens are especially vulnerable since they retain foliage (needles) during winter. These needles lose considerable amounts of moisture on mild, sunny, winter days.

If the soil is not frozen, it would be beneficial to water trees and shrubs planted in the last one or two years. The roots of recently planted trees and shrubs are mainly confined to the plant’s root-ball (balled and burlapped material) or root-mass (container-grown plants) and the soil immediately around them. Water should be applied slowly and directly to the root-ball or root-mass. A thorough soaking once every seven to ten days should be sufficient. Watering is of no benefit if the ground is frozen.

If dry conditions persist into March or April, the threat to trees and shrubs is likely to become greater. Trees and shrubs require larger amounts of moisture in late winter/early spring as they break dormancy and begin to grow. If March and April precipitation amounts are well below normal, it will be advisable to continue to water trees and shrubs planted within the past one or two years. Some well-established plants also may require watering in late winter/early spring if the dry weather persists.

Winter watering is also beneficial to perennials that were planted within the last year, and especially to those perennials that don’t die back to the ground in fall. A good soaking once every ten days should be sufficient if the dry weather persists. It should not be necessary to water well-established perennials.

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Grant Funds Available for Sustainable Agriculture in Iowa

By Jerry DeWitt, Iowa State University sustainable agriculture extension coordinator Phone: (515) 294-1923 - e-mail:

The North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has funds available to support Iowa producers and ranchers interested in exploring sustainable agriculture.

Iowa producers and ranchers have many ideas for projects that are economically profitable and environmentally sound, and SARE producer grants offer a way to apply these ideas, both locally and regionally.

Proposal topics may focus on developing new sustainable practices or on evaluating or adapting existing practices. Proposals also may create or expand on educational events such as field days and demonstrations to assist producers in maintaining sustainable and competitive operations. Details about grants can be found on SARE’s Web site at

Competitive grants for up to $6,000 are available for projects conducted by individual producers or ranchers. Grants for up to $18,000 are available for producer groups, consisting of three or more separate organizations.

The key elements of funded proposals are a good idea, a strong partnership and a willingness to share your information. Projects should provide practical answers to producers’ questions and identify specific problems and potential solutions.

Applications are currently available; the deadline for receiving producer grant applications is March 28.

For more information on SARE grants or to receive a producer grant application form, contact Jerry DeWitt, Department of Agronomy, 2104 Agronomy Hall, ISU, Ames, Iowa 50011 or call (515) 294-1923.

Ideas to Keep the Kids Busy During the Winter

From the National Network for Child Care

drawing of children playingDuring the cold winter months, children get restless and parents get frazzled. Children need to have a place and time to get messy and use a little imagination. A parent can foster or deter creative development in children by the space offered for discovery activities.

When children mess around with art materials, they develop an attitude of awareness, allowing observations to soak. "Not just their hands are at work, but their eyes and minds are open to what is happening."

Making room for art and leisure activities will give a child’s imagination a place to grow. Here’s a list of possibilities for an activity space:

An open, free space is much better than one in which an adult continually reminds the child to be careful of spills or nicks in the furniture. However, clean-up, care of tools, and care of work space should be expected and become a positive part of each work session.

Here’s a list of other ways to ward off cabin fever:

For more information, contact: Lesia Oesterreich, Family Life Specialist, Iowa State University Extension, 1105 Elm Hall, Iowa State University Ames, IA 50011, (515) 294-0363.

Lingo Lexicon

Riparian Zone - Commonly known as the floodplain, the riparian zone stretches along a river or stream and is as wide as where annual or periodic flooding occurs. The riparian zone is the waterway’s buffer. Under normal conditions, this land and the "natural" vegetation growing on it traps sediments from upslope erosion, and filters out fertilizers and pesticides used on adjacent farmland. This area may thrive as a very wet area that supports trees, shrubs, grasses, cattails, and other species, or be occasionally wet and support species that can grow under changeable conditions. In the Midwest, riparian zones support well-known trees such as willow, silver maple, cottonwood, green ash, black walnut, and river birch; shrubs such as serviceberry and dogwoods; and grasses such as prairie cordgrass and reed canarygrass. For more information on riparian zones, ask for ISU Extension bulletin series PM-1626, or check out the web version at:

Acreage Living is published monthly. For more information, contact your local county ISU Extension Office.
Editor: Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension FS/Ag Engineering, SW Area Extension, 53020 Hitchcock Avenue, Lewis, Iowa, 51544, Ph: 712/769-2600
Layout & Design: Paulette Cambridge, Office Assistant, SW Area Extension, 53020 Hitchcock Avenue, Lewis, Iowa 51544, Ph: 712/769-2600

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