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Topics : Species and Forage Variety Trials : Species Fact Sheets : Alfalfa

Species: Alfalfa

Additional alfalfa information via the Forage Information System (FIS) or Alfalfa Council


Alfalfa Establishment

Seed alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mixtures only on well-drained soils. Seeding alfalfa following old alfalfa stands is not recommended, as this practice has led to stand establishment problems, which are thought to result in part from insect and disease buildup.

Alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mixtures may be seeded using conventional seeding equipment such as a cultipacker seeder or grain drill on a firm, well- prepared seedbed; or they may be seeded directly into corn stalk or small grain stubble using a special no-till seeder. No-till establishment requires special attention to weed and insect control, but if properly done it results in excellent stands with little or no soil losses. Plant as soon as a good seedbed can be prepared in spring or, for a mid- to late-summer seeding, in early- to mid-August. Late summer seedings need at least 8 weeks of growth before the first killing frost.

Band seeding no deeper than .25 inch is an excellent method of seeding. When band seeding or when using the no-till seeder, you may reduce recommended alfalfa seeding rates by one-third. Press wheels used in conjunction with conventional band seeding provide additional stand insurance. To ensure a firm seedbed, if seedbed is dry and press wheels are not used, cultipack before and after seeding in the same direction as band seeding. If annual crops such as oats or peas and triticale are used as a nurse crop, reduce the seeding rate of the companion crop by 30%, and harvest when the small grain is in the boot or early heading stage for silage, hay, or greenchop. Do not apply additional nitrogen for the nurse crop.

Fluid seeding-distributing seed in a carrier of water or fertilizer solution- is a new technique generally limited to forage legumes. Because fluid seeding requires special equipment for good seed suspension and distribution, custom application is recommended. Fluid seeding is a broadcast method, so for best results prepare the seedbed as in conventional seeding and cultipack after seeding.

Seeding rates necessary for successful stands are related to the condition of the seedbed and method of seeding.

Use preinoculated seed or treat seed with proper inoculant. If seed is preinoculated, look for the expiration date on the tag to see if reinoculation is necessary. This may occur if seed is not used soon after purchase or stored improperly.

Seed already treated with Apron (metalaxyl) fungicide is available to give protection against Phytophthora and Pythium. These fungal diseases can cause serious establishment problems in poorly drained fields or following extended periods of heavy rainfall. Apron fungicide is also available for self-treatment of seeds. The fungicide Ridomil is also available for soil application to protect against these same diseases.