Guide to Fall vs. Spring Seeding

Traditionally, seeding is thought of as a spring activity, but it can also occur during the dormant season. Fall seeding works well for restoration projects completed in the summer. While there are some noteworthy advantages to fall seeding, seeding in either spring or fall will produce good results. In drought-prone regions, seeding should be timed to take advantage of the available moisture in the area.

Benefits of Fall Seeding

FALL OR “DORMANT” SEEDING

  • Fall seeding imitates natural reseeding. Dormant seeding can occur when soils are dry enough to work.
  • Good seed-to-soil contact occurs through precipitation and the freeze-thaw cycle.
  • Natural stratification and scarification occur; natural changes within the seed or to the seed coat during the winter enhance germination in the spring.
  • Mulching is an important element of dormant seeding to protect the soil.
  • Some seed may be lost to decay and wildlife consumption during the winter.
  • Establishment may be hindered by growth of winter annuals in the fall.
Benefits of Fall Seeding

FROST

  • Frost seeding is the act of broadcasting seed onto or drilling into frozen soil.
  • Good seed-to-soil contact occurs through the freeze-thaw cycle.
  • Natural stratification and scarification occur; natural changes within the seed or to the seed coat during the winter enhance germination in the spring.
  • Mulching may be done.
  • Some seed may be lost to decay and wildlife consumption during the winter.
  • Establishment may be hindered by growth of winter annuals in the fall.
Benefits of Spring Seeding

SPRING SEEDING

  • Cool season species germinate soon after seeding.
  • Germination of warm season species generally occurs within three weeks of the soil temperature reaching 55oF (13°C).
  • Seed loss due to decay and wildlife consumption is minimized.
  • Seed-to-soil contact should be accomplished by working seed into the soil 1/4”-1/2” deep.
  • Seeding may be delayed until weed control is applied to improve establishment.
  • Irrigation during dry weather periods is necessary for proper germination.
  • Light mulching is an important element of seeding to protect both the seed and soil and retain moisture.
  • When planting native grasses for biomass, seeding generally occurs during the spring when soil temperatures at a 3” depth are near 55oF and rising.
DISCLAIMER: The information in this review of practices is the result of more than 50 years of experience in seed production. Ernst Conservation Seeds has been supplying seeds and consulting in the reseeding of tens of thousands of acres of roadsides, surfacemined lands, conservation and restoration sites in eastern North America, as well as growing and supplying seed and consulting in the planting of hundreds of thousands of acres of CRP/CREP-related areas for erosion control and wildlife habitat. All of these practices are opinion only and our best advice as a result of these experiences. These recommendations do not cover all of the conditions that will be encountered in the field. All of the information is for individual consideration. Ernst Conservation Seeds is not responsible for conditions that will be encountered in individual situations. The use of brand names does not represent our endorsement of a specific product; rather, it represents our experience only and has not necessarily been replicated in peer-reviewed research. The use of chemical pest control agents is subject to manufacturers’ instructions and labeling, as well as federal, state and local regulations.

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