NC State Extension Publications

This planting guide provides the best available information about planting dates, rates, and depths for forage crops commonly grown in North Carolina. The process of establishing a forage crop is very important because:

• It is expensive — $100 to$250 per acre
• Perennial crops can remain productive for several years without replanting, and thus poor stand establishment can result in long-term low forage productivity
• Soil and water conservation and animal feeding depend upon rapid establishment of persistently good forage stands

In addition to this publication, use this online tool to quickly access information about establishing forages, to use a pure live seed calculator, and to find estimates of frost dates in North Carolina.

## Variety Selection

Most of the information provided here applies to all varieties of the same plant species; however, variety selection can influence the productivity and persistence of a crop. Information on variety performance can be obtained from North Carolina’s Official Variety Testing Program and also from Forage Variety Trial Programs conducted in neighboring states of the transition region (e.g., Tennessee, Kentucky). Remember, however, that poor establishment can nullify the influence of even the best varieties.

## Planting Region

The climate and soils of North Carolina vary considerably across the state. These variations necessitate planting at different times in each area. The state can be divided into three major regions: mountains, piedmont, and coastal plain. The planting dates in this guide are listed for these major regions and are based on normal growing conditions.

A review of the average freezing dates in the spring and fall indicates significant differences in weather within and between the three major regions. Therefore, the suggested planting dates may be adjusted by a few days on the basis of local experience and weather records. For example, the optimum planting dates for the mountains are 15 to 30 days earlier in the fall than those for the piedmont, but a review of temperature records indicates that the best planting dates in the southern mountains may be similar to those in the piedmont.

## Planting Time

Establishing a successful forage crop depends partly on weather conditions shortly before and after planting. Years of field research and experience under North Carolina’s varied growing conditions have made it possible for researchers to recommend planting dates that will most likely lead to success or minimize risk (“best dates”). Delaying planting until the last possible dates indicated may reduce the chance of a good stand by 30 to 50% (“possible dates”) (Table 1). We have also included general recommendations in Table 2 for planting some cool-season grass-legume mixtures. Nevertheless, cool-season grass-legume mixtures can also be achieved by frost-seeding clover seed by early-to-mid-February in cool-season grasses that are already established.

The timing of planting is important because the survival rate of developing seedlings is related to the period during which stress occurs from drought, freezing, or competition for light and nutrients. If no such stress occurs, or if it occurs after seedlings are well established, survival and production losses can be minimized. It is worth noting that date ranges may vary each year, especially in light of erratic and extreme weather patterns. This guide is designed to provide generalized best management practices.

Fall Plantings. In general, cool-season forages, and especially perennial forages, can be best established by planting in the fall. Seedbeds should be prepared during favorable autumn weather when weeds are not as competitive. Furthermore, seedling root systems can become well established before the arrival of hot, dry weather the following season. However, late fall plantings can result in winter injury from freezing and heaving.

Here are some points to remember about fall planting:

• Cool-season grass seedlings are more tolerant of freezing temperatures and heaving than legumes.
• In prepared seedbeds, alfalfa and ladino clover should have five to seven true leaves present before frequent freezing weather occurs.
• In prepared seedbeds, grasses should have three to four leaves before freezing weather occurs.

Spring Plantings. Spring plantings carry additional risks (i.e., drought, heat, and weed encroachment) beyond fall plantings. Spring plantings in the piedmont and mountains may be justified (1) if land or sod is prepared in the fall or winter, and plantings can be made early enough (between mid-February and late-March) for the crop to become established before summer stress; and (2) if summer weeds can be controlled while the seedlings develop.

 Crop Seeding Rate (lb./acre; PLS: pure live seed basis) B: broadcast D: drill (4–9” row) R: row (30+ inches) Planting Depth (inches) Mountains (above 2,500 ft. elevation)1 See footnote for below 2,500 ft. Piedmont and Tidewater2 Coastal Plain2 Dates (refer to Table 1) Dates (refer to Table 1) Dates (refer to Table 1) Crimson Clover; Mixed with Ryegrass or Small Grain B: 20 D: 15 reduce small grain by 30% ¼–½ Same as crimson clover Same as crimson clover Same as crimson clover Orchardgrass + Alfalfa B: 5 + 20 D: 3 + 15 ¼ Same as alfalfa Same as alfalfa Not well adapted Orchardgrass + Ladino Clover B: 12 + 4 D: 9 + 3 ¼ Same as orchardgrass Same as orchardgrass Not well adapted Orchardgrass + Red Clover B: 12 + 4 D: 8 + 3 ¼ Same as orchardgrass Same as orchardgrass Not well adapted Small Grain Mixed with Annual Ryegrass Reduce small grain by 25% and ryegrass by 50% ½–1 See dates for small grains and ryegrass See dates for small grains and ryegrass See dates for small grains and ryegrass Small Grain Mix (2 grains) Reduce each selection by 50% ½–1 See dates for small grains See dates for small grains See dates for small grains Tall Fescue + White Clover B: 10 + 4 D: 8 + 3 ¼ Same as tall fescue Same as tall fescue Same as tall fescue Tall Fescue + Red Clover B: 10 + 8 D: 8 + 6 ¼ Same as tall fescue Same as tall fescue Same as tall fescue 1 Fall dates may be extended by 20 days where elevation is below 2,500 feet, and seed 15 days earlier in spring. 2 For the black, heavy-textured soils in the tidewater region, use dates for the Piedmont.

## Overseeding

Overseeding (also “interseeding” or “sod seeding”) is the practice of planting/introducing one type of forage into an existing stand of another already established forage. This practice is commonly used for overseeding cool-season annual forages (e.g., oats, wheat, rye, ryegrass, triticale) into existing stands of warm-season perennial grasses (e.g., bermudagrass, bahiagrass). When planting fescue or orchardgrass in existing sod, it is best to plant in the fall.

## Seeding Rates

Seeding rates vary because of seed size, coating, purity, germination percentage, and seedling vigor (all of this information should be provided on the label of the seed bag). The percentage of seeds that will germinate generally declines with age, but if seeds are stored in a cool, dry place, gemination should not decline more than 10 percent in the first year. In general, seeds that have low germination levels also produce seedlings with poor vigor. Planting rates (lbs./acre) are provided on a pure live seed (PLS) basis. To determine PLS planting rates, refer to this PLS Calculator. Under adverse conditions, only 10 to 50 percent of the seeds planted will establish successfully. Consequently, many seeds are needed to obtain a satisfactory stand.

Drilling concentrates the seeds within a furrow; therefore, seeds occupy a smaller area of the ground, and are better able to break through the soil crust. Planting rates for drilling or using a cultipacker seeder are 20 to 50 percent less than for broadcasting. Seed placement, soil-seed contact, and uniformity of stands usually fare better with drilling than with broadcasting, especially when planting conditions are not optimum.

## Planting Depth

Generally, small-seeded crops can be planted slightly deeper in sandy soils than in clay soils. Grasses can usually be planted deeper than legumes in similar soils. It is important, however, to prepare a firm seedbed before planting to conserve moisture and avoid variation in planting depth. Precision planting equipment is usually required to get proper depth control for small forage seeds, especially in minimum or no-till plantings.

## What Is a Good Stand?

Because plant characteristics change depending upon their density, age, grazing or cutting height, and other factors, it is difficult to say exactly how many plants it takes to make a good stand. In general, a good stand is one that provides 90 to 100 percent ground cover and will produce high yields when managed properly. The clover portion of mixtures should make up at least 30 percent of the stand (on a weight basis) in order for the clover to significantly contribute to the mixture. One should walk the fields several times each growing season in order to make a fair evaluation of stands.

## When Using This Guide, Remember

This guide serves as a tool to use in planning your forage system, but not all forages included will be successful in North Carolina’s climate. In fact, several crops have not performed satisfactorily in this state. Information about the varieties is included to increase the chance of success if the decision to plant them has already been made. Additional information on various forage varieties can be obtained by contacting your local county N.C. Cooperative Extension center.

## Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge the work on an earlier edition of this publication by the following individuals: J.T. Green, Professor Emeritus; J.P. Mueller, Professor Emeritus; and D.S. Chamblee, Professor Emeritus; and also acknowledge the peer-review of the current publication done by S. Ward, Dairy Extension Specialist; P. Siciliano, Professor; and J.T. Green, Professor Emeritus.

# Authors

Associate Professor and Forage Specialist
Crop & Soil Sciences
County Extension Director and Extension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock
Extension Agent, Agriculture - Livestock
Area Agent, Agriculture - Animal Science