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Seeding Rates, Dates and Depths for Common Missouri Forages

Craig Roberts and James Gerrish
Department of Agronomy

The first step in forage management is the proper establishment of pasture and hay fields. This in turn depends on proper seeding. If the seeding rate is too low, the stand will be thin and weedy. If it is too high, establishment costs will be prohibitive. If the seeding rate is ideal, stands can still fail by planting at improper depths or times.

This guide presents rates, depths and dates for seeding common Missouri forages. The following tables contain annuals, perennials, and biennials, as well as grasses and legumes. This information is based on research and professional experience in Missouri and, when appropriate, from surrounding states.

Using the tables

The tables report broad ranges for seeding rates and planting dates for both pure stands (Table 1) and mixtures (Table 2). These broad ranges reflect the diverse environmental and managerial practices in Missouri forage operations. The dates are based on typical conditions for central Missouri. Therefore, for northern Missouri, early fall and late spring dates are advised. For southern Missouri, the opposite adjustments are suggested. The higher rates are appropriate for average to poor soils and for broadcast seeding.

Remember that these rates and dates are only guidelines; they apply to typical pasture and hay operations, not to extreme conditions. The rates do not include "shotgun mixtures," because such mixtures are based on limited experience and data. They do, however, include rates for simple mixtures common to Missouri pastures and hayfields.

Seeding rates for the native warm-season grasses do not coincide completely with rates suggested by conservation groups. The rates suggested here for native grasses apply to pure stands rather than native ranges, average soils rather than alluvial soils, and livestock production rather than wildlife habitat and ground cover.

Table 1
Pure stands

Type Seeding rate
(pounds of live seed per acre)
Seeding date* Depth
Spring Fall
Grasses
Barley Annual, cool-season grass Broadcast:110 to 140
Drilled:80 to 110
  Sept 15 to 30 1 to 2 inches
Bermudagrass Perennial, warm-season grass 20 to 30 bushels per acre sprigged
30 bushels broadcast
March to May  

1 to 2 inches

Bluegrass, Kentucky Perennial, cool-season grass Broadcast:10 to 15
Drilled:8 to 10
January and February   1/8 to 1/4 inches
Bluestem, big Perennial, warm-season grass 6 to 8 April and May   1/4 to 1/2 inches
Bluestem, Caucasian Perennial, warm-season grass 3 to 4 late April to early May   1/4 inches
Bromegrass, smooth Perennial, cool-season grass Broadcast:15 to 20 Drilled:10 to 15 February and March September 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Eastern gamagrass Perennial, warm-season grass Drilled:10 May    
Fescue, tall Perennial, cool-season grass Broadcast:15 to 20 Drilled:10 to 15 Before April 15 Before Sept. 15 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Johnsongrass Perennial, warm-season grass 10 to 20 Early spring   1/4 to 1/2 inches
Indiangrass Perennial, warm-season grass 6 to 8 April and May   1/4 to 1/2 inches
Millet, pearl Annual, cool-season grass Broadcast:20 to 30 Drilled:15 May to early June   1/2 to 1 inches
Oats Annual, cool-season grass 80 to 120 March Sept 15 to 30 1 to 2 inches
Orchardgrass Perennial, cool-season grass 10 to 15 late March to early April late August to early September 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Reed canarygrass Perennial, cool-season grass 5 to 10 Early spring August 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Rye Annual, cool-season grass 110 to 160   After Sept. 15 1 to 2 inches
Ryegrass, perennial Annual, cool-season grass Broadcast:15 to 30 Drilled:15 to 20   Late summer to early fall 1/2 inches
Switchgrass Perennial, warm-season grass 6 to 8 April and May   1/4 to 1/2 inches
Sudangrass Annual, cool-season grass Broadcast:30 to 40 Drilled:20 to 25 May 5 to 20   1 to 1/2 inches
Timothy Perennial, cool-season grass Broadcast:8 Drilled:3 to 6 February and March Aug. 20 to Oct. 1 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Triticale Annual, cool-season grass 70 to 100   October 1 to 2 inches
Wheat Annual, cool-season grass 100 to 150   Oct. 1 to 15 1 to 2 inches
Legumes
Alfalfa Perennial, warm-season legume 12 to 15 Before April 15 September 1/4 inches
Birdsfoot trefoil Perennial, cool-season legume 4 to 8 February to early Mar Fall 1/8 inches
Clover, alsike Perennial, cool-season legume 4 to 6 Early spring Fall 1/4 inches
Clover, crimson Annual, cool-season legume Broadcast:20 to 25   July to November 1/4 inches
Clover, ladino Perennial, cool-season legume Broadcast:1 to 3 February to April 15 August early September 1/4 inches
Clover, red Perennial, cool-season legume 8 to 12 February to April 15 Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Crownvetch Perennial, warm-season legume 10 to 15 March 15 to May 15 October to April 1/4 inches
Hairy vetch Bienniall, cool-season legume 25 to 30   October to Nov. 15 1 to 2 inches
Lespedeza, common Annual, warm-season legume Broadcast:15 Drilled:10 March and April   1/4 inches
Lespedeza, Korean Annual, warm-season legume Broadcast:15 Drilled:10 March and April   1/4
Lespedeza, sericea Perennial, warm-season legume 25 to 35 March 15 to April 15   1/4 inches
Seeding dates are for Columbia.
Plant later in spring and earlier in fall in northern Missouri.
Plant earlier in spring and later in fall in southern Missouri.

Table 2
Mixtures

Grass-legume mixtures Seeding rate
(pounds live seed per acre)
Orchardgrass + Alfalfa 6 + 10
Orchardgrass + Birdsfoot trefoil 3 + 5
Orchardgrass + Birdsfoot trefoil + Kentucky bluegrass 3 + 5 + 1
Orchardgrass + Ladino clover 6 + 1
Orchardgrass + Lespedeza 6 + 15
Orchardgrass + Lespedeza + Ladino clover 6 + 15 + 1/2
Orchardgrass + Red clover 6 + 8
Reed canarygrass + Alfalfa 6 + 10
Reed canarygrass + Ladino clover + Alsike clover 6 + 1 + 2
Reed canarygrass + Red clover 6 + 10 or 6 + 8
Smooth bromegrass + Alfalfa 10 + 10
Smooth bromegrass + Birdsfoot trefoil 5 to 6 + 5
Tall fescue + Alfalfa 10 + 10 or 15 + 10
Tall fescue + Alfalfa + Ladino clover 15 + 10 + 1/2
Tall fescue + Birdsfoot trefoil 5 to 8 + 5
Tall fescue + Ladino clover 15 + 1
Tall fescue + Lespedeza, annual 15 + 15
Tall fescue + Lespedeza + Ladino clover 15 + 15 + 1/2
Tall fescue + Red clover 10 + 8 or 15 + 8
Tall fescue + Red clover + Ladino clover 10 + 6 + 1
Timothy + Birdsfoot trefoil 2 + 5
Timothy + Birdsfoot trefoil + Kentucky bluegrass 1 + 5 + 2
Timothy + Red clover 2 (fall) or 4 (spring) + 8
Wheat + Hairy vetch 40 + 20 or 40 + 30
Renovation Broadcast Drilled on prepared seedbed
On undisturbed soil On tilled soil
Alfalfa 10 8 6
Birdsfoot trefoil 8 6 4
Ladino clover 1-1/2 1 1/2
Lespedeza 25 20 15
Red clover 10 8 6

Why Forage Seedings Fail

  1. Live seed does not germinate because:
    1. Impermeable seed coat: This can be overcome by scarifying seed.
    2. Not enough air: This occurs because seed were sown too deeply or in wet soils.
    3. Not enough moisture.
  2. Seedlings die immediately after germination because:
    1. Drying: seed placed in loose surface soil may germinate after a light rain, then dry out before developing sufficient roots for establishment.
    2. Freezing: Seed are sensitive to freezing as the young root breaks the seed coat; temperatures below -3 degrees Celsius are lethal. Soil coverage reduces the likelihood of injury, and once rooted, seedlings can withstand much lower temperatures.
    3. Light coverage: Soil cover or mulch protects against both drying and freezing; without it, seed establish only when soil surface remains moist for extended periods.
    4. Heavy coverage: Most wasted seed probably occurs this way.
    5. Crusted soil surface: This can prevent emergence, especially when seed are sown deeply on fine-textured soils.
    6. Toxicity: Seed in direct contact with banded fertilizer, improper use of herbicides, herbicide carryover, and autotoxicity can damage seed and young seedlings.
  3. Seedlings die after establishment because:
    1. Undesirable pH: Lime should be applied according to soil test to provide a desirable pH; calcium and magnesium should be applied as nutrients.
    2. Low fertility: A soil test should be used to ensure adequate phosphorus, potassium, or other nutrients.
    3. Inadequate legume inoculation.
    4. Poor drainage: Water accumulation on the surface or in the soil profile can limit growth.
    5. Drought: This is the reason most commonly given for stand failures.
    6. Seedling vigor: Some forages, including nurse crops, can compete with forage seedlings for water, light and nutrients.
    7. Insects and pests.
    8. Winterkill: Seeding too late in the fall or seeding poorly adapted cultivars can cause winterkill.
Adapted with permission from Vough, L. R., A. M. Decker, and T. H. Taylor. 1995. Forage establishment and renovation. P. 42 in Barnes, Miller and Nelson, editors. Forages, fifth edition, Iowa State University Press, Ames.

G4652, reviewed June 2001


G4652 Seeding Rates, Dates and Depths for Common Missouri Forages | University of Missouri Extension