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

TypeSeeding rate
(pounds of live seed per acre)
Seeding date*Depth
SpringFall
Grasses
BarleyAnnual, cool-season grassBroadcast:110 to 140
Drilled:80 to 110
 Sept 15 to 301 to 2 inches
BermudagrassPerennial, warm-season grass20 to 30 bushels per acre sprigged
30 bushels broadcast
March to May 

1 to 2 inches

Bluegrass, KentuckyPerennial, cool-season grassBroadcast:10 to 15
Drilled:8 to 10
January and February 1/8 to 1/4 inches
Bluestem, bigPerennial, warm-season grass6 to 8April and May 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Bluestem, CaucasianPerennial, warm-season grass3 to 4late April to early May 1/4 inches
Bromegrass, smoothPerennial, cool-season grassBroadcast:15 to 20 Drilled:10 to 15February and MarchSeptember1/4 to 1/2 inches
Eastern gamagrassPerennial, warm-season grassDrilled:10May  
Fescue, tallPerennial, cool-season grassBroadcast:15 to 20 Drilled:10 to 15Before April 15Before Sept. 151/4 to 1/2 inches
JohnsongrassPerennial, warm-season grass10 to 20Early spring 1/4 to 1/2 inches
IndiangrassPerennial, warm-season grass6 to 8April and May 1/4 to 1/2 inches
Millet, pearlAnnual, cool-season grassBroadcast:20 to 30 Drilled:15May to early June 1/2 to 1 inches
OatsAnnual, cool-season grass80 to 120MarchSept 15 to 301 to 2 inches
OrchardgrassPerennial, cool-season grass10 to 15late March to early Aprillate August to early September1/4 to 1/2 inches
Reed canarygrassPerennial, cool-season grass5 to 10Early springAugust1/4 to 1/2 inches
RyeAnnual, cool-season grass110 to 160 After Sept. 151 to 2 inches
Ryegrass, perennialAnnual, cool-season grassBroadcast:15 to 30 Drilled:15 to 20 Late summer to early fall1/2 inches
SwitchgrassPerennial, warm-season grass6 to 8April and May 1/4 to 1/2 inches
SudangrassAnnual, cool-season grassBroadcast:30 to 40 Drilled:20 to 25May 5 to 20 1 to 1/2 inches
TimothyPerennial, cool-season grassBroadcast:8 Drilled:3 to 6February and MarchAug. 20 to Oct. 11/4 to 1/2 inches
TriticaleAnnual, cool-season grass70 to 100 October1 to 2 inches
WheatAnnual, cool-season grass100 to 150 Oct. 1 to 151 to 2 inches
Legumes
AlfalfaPerennial, warm-season legume12 to 15Before April 15September1/4 inches
Birdsfoot trefoilPerennial, cool-season legume4 to 8February to early MarFall1/8 inches
Clover, alsikePerennial, cool-season legume4 to 6Early springFall1/4 inches
Clover, crimsonAnnual, cool-season legumeBroadcast:20 to 25 July to November1/4 inches
Clover, ladinoPerennial, cool-season legumeBroadcast:1 to 3February to April 15August early September1/4 inches
Clover, redPerennial, cool-season legume8 to 12February to April 15Aug. 15 to Sept. 151/4 to 1/2 inches
CrownvetchPerennial, warm-season legume10 to 15March 15 to May 15October to April1/4 inches
Hairy vetchBienniall, cool-season legume25 to 30 October to Nov. 151 to 2 inches
Lespedeza, commonAnnual, warm-season legumeBroadcast:15 Drilled:10March and April 1/4 inches
Lespedeza, KoreanAnnual, warm-season legumeBroadcast:15 Drilled:10March and April 1/4
Lespedeza, sericeaPerennial, warm-season legume25 to 35March 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 mixturesSeeding rate
(pounds live seed per acre)
Orchardgrass + Alfalfa6 + 10
Orchardgrass + Birdsfoot trefoil3 + 5
Orchardgrass + Birdsfoot trefoil + Kentucky bluegrass3 + 5 + 1
Orchardgrass + Ladino clover6 + 1
Orchardgrass + Lespedeza6 + 15
Orchardgrass + Lespedeza + Ladino clover6 + 15 + 1/2
Orchardgrass + Red clover6 + 8
Reed canarygrass + Alfalfa6 + 10
Reed canarygrass + Ladino clover + Alsike clover6 + 1 + 2
Reed canarygrass + Red clover6 + 10 or 6 + 8
Smooth bromegrass + Alfalfa10 + 10
Smooth bromegrass + Birdsfoot trefoil5 to 6 + 5
Tall fescue + Alfalfa10 + 10 or 15 + 10
Tall fescue + Alfalfa + Ladino clover15 + 10 + 1/2
Tall fescue + Birdsfoot trefoil5 to 8 + 5
Tall fescue + Ladino clover15 + 1
Tall fescue + Lespedeza, annual15 + 15
Tall fescue + Lespedeza + Ladino clover15 + 15 + 1/2
Tall fescue + Red clover10 + 8 or 15 + 8
Tall fescue + Red clover + Ladino clover10 + 6 + 1
Timothy + Birdsfoot trefoil2 + 5
Timothy + Birdsfoot trefoil + Kentucky bluegrass1 + 5 + 2
Timothy + Red clover2 (fall) or 4 (spring) + 8
Wheat + Hairy vetch40 + 20 or 40 + 30
RenovationBroadcastDrilled on prepared seedbed
On undisturbed soilOn tilled soil
Alfalfa1086
Birdsfoot trefoil864
Ladino clover1-1/211/2
Lespedeza252015
Red clover1086

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.