(Editor’s Note: The following article was submitted by UMN Extension.)
Those who feed livestock or dairy cattle, or grow alfalfa in the rotation as a cash crop, may be intending to plant alfalfa for fall establishment. Right now is the time to plant, considering there should be three to five trifoliate leaves before the first killing frost. This timing ensures that non-structural carbohydrate production and subsequent storage in the alfalfa roots and crown is sufficient for dormancy and overwintering. There is a lot of risk associated with a new seeding of alfalfa and it is important to do it right the first time. Failure of stand establishment can be minimized by following some simple guidelines.
Before extensive tillage and planting, take a simple soil test. Doing this is the best way to know if the soil pH is in range and soil fertility is in the optimal range for crop growth. Alfalfa grows best in soils that are well drained and have a pH near to 7. Because lime takes time to make sufficient calcium carbonate exchange, processes that neutralize acidity and raise pH levels, it is best to apply lime ahead of a perennial seeding when able. It is also a great time to apply nutrients like phosphorus and potassium as required per the soil test.
When selecting seed, remember that certified weed-free seed is the best and adding a rhizobium alfalfa-specific inoculant will ensure that the microbes are ready to go to work in tandem with the alfalfa seedlings. Choosing varieties that are resistant to a host of root rots, wilts, anthracnose, and insect pests will be helpful in both the short term and the long-term life of the crop. Observe the percentage of pure live seed in the seed lot and calculate the seeding rate based on this percentage. This will ensure that the amount of viable seed lives up to the seeding rate.
Proper seedbed preparation is Agronomy 101. A firm and even seedbed will help in controlling seed depth, and will hold its own under many passes of heavy haying equipment. Seed depth is very important when it comes to alfalfa; a good rule of thumb is to never plant deeper than 10 times the diameter of the seed. Typical planting depth for alfalfa is only 1/4 to 1/2 in. deep. Always plant clean into a weed free field if possible.
Attention to detail is very important. Those looking for more information on new seedings and forage and crop resources should be sure to contact their local extension educator team.