As Summer Fades, It's Time to Plant Alfalfa

Seed bed prep

When the county fairs are done and the state fair is around the corner, thoughts turn toward late-season essentials - such as planting alfalfa. Craig Loen, Federated agronomist at the Osceola location, offered these tips and reminders to help ensure a good stand of alfalfa.

  • Use a current soil sample as a starting point.
    • The pH should be 6.8 - neutral. "Remember," said Loen, "it takes up to two years for the ag lime to fully react in the soil." Don't rely on old soil test sample results.
    • Ensure that phosphorous and potassium levels are high enough to support the anticipated/projected yield.
  • Prepare a good seed bed - one that is firm enough "tobounce a basketball on," said Loen. He added,  "The firmer the soil, the better chance you have to establish an excellent stand." Alfalfa is a high-value crop, and while a stand may last three to five years, there's only one planting. Aim to do it right!
  • Choose the right seed. See article below.
  • Plant at the right time; this "can be critical," said Loen. Alfalfa needs at least six weeks of growth after germination before a hard frost. "The alfalfa plant has a better chance to survive if it develops a crown before a killing frost," said Loen, noting that the crown allows the plants to store root reserves for winter survival and spring regrowth.
    • In Federated's geography, alfalfa and grasses should be planted between August 1st and 15th (in other words: now!).
  • Use the seeding equipment that fits the crop.
    • Grain drills are good for seeding grasses or a companion crop (though Loen cautioned that grain drills don't always place the seed consistently).
    • Cultipacker seeders are more consistent [than grain drills] in soil-to-seed contact and seed depth.
    • Brillion seeders are another good option, but in the end "you have to use the equipment you have in your shed," said Loen.

Put together your best combination of seed, nutrients, soil preparation, and planting methods to set the stage for a healthy stand of alfalfa next spring. Contact your Federated Agronomist with any questions.