Alfalfa, scientifically known as Medicago sativa, is a versatile and nutritious plant that can be easily grown and cared for in your garden.

Whether you’re looking to provide feed for your livestock, improve soil quality, or enjoy the benefits of a cover crop, alfalfa is an excellent choice.

This cool-season perennial boasts an extensive root system that nourishes both plants and soil, making it ideal for enhancing your garden’s overall health.

With its adaptability to a wide range of growing conditions and resistance to drought, alfalfa is a reliable and low-maintenance option for gardeners of all levels of experience.

By following some simple guidelines for planting, watering, and maintenance, you can successfully cultivate this valuable legume and reap the rewards of its nutritional and environmental benefits.

Annual Vegetative Calendar for Alfalfa

Alfalfa requires a strategic approach throughout the year, balancing between growth, harvest, and rest periods. Here’s how you can support your Alfalfa through the seasons:

Spring

MonthTasksDescription
MarchSoil PreparationTest soil fertility and pH. Amend soil as needed to ensure a pH between 6.8 and 7.5.
SeedingBegin seeding as soon as the soil is workable and the risk of frost has passed.
AprilWeed ControlMonitor for and control any emerging weeds. Early control is crucial for establishing stands.
MayIrrigationStart irrigation if rainfall is insufficient. Keep soil moist to support germination and early growth.

Summer

MonthTasksDescription
JuneFirst HarvestPerform the first cutting when Alfalfa reaches 10% bloom for optimal nutrient balance.
JulyPest ManagementMonitor and manage for pests and diseases. Apply control measures as necessary.
AugustSubsequent HarvestsContinue with subsequent cuttings, typically 30-40 days apart, depending on growth and weather conditions.

Fall

MonthTasksDescription
SeptemberLast HarvestPlan the last harvest to allow plants 4-6 weeks of growth before the first frost to ensure winter hardiness.
OctoberSoil MaintenanceApply lime or gypsum as needed based on soil test results to prepare for the next growing season.
NovemberPlant Health CheckEvaluate plant stands for density and health. Consider overseeding thin areas if necessary.

Winter

MonthTasksDescription
DecemberRest PeriodAllow plants to rest. Minimize traffic on fields to prevent soil compaction and plant damage.
JanuaryPlanningPlan for the upcoming season. Order seeds, and review pest management strategies.
FebruaryEquipment MaintenancePrepare for spring by servicing and repairing farm equipment. Review field records for crop rotation plans.

Caring for Alfalfa is a year-round commitment that pays off in its high-quality forage and soil-improving capabilities. By following this vegetative calendar, you’re setting the stage for a successful Alfalfa crop that will sustain not just through the current season, but for years to come. Remember, the key to a bountiful Alfalfa field lies in the care and foresight you invest throughout the year.

How to Grow Alfalfa Plants

Growing alfalfa plants is relatively easy and can be a rewarding addition to your garden.

Here are the steps to grow alfalfa:

  1. Choose the right location: Select an area in your garden that receives plenty of full sun. Alfalfa thrives in sunny locations. Ensure that the soil has good drainage and a pH level between 6.8 and 7.5.
  2. Prepare the soil: Before planting alfalfa, clean the area and remove any debris. Work the soil to loosen it and improve its texture. This will help with root development and nutrient uptake.
  3. Purchase alfalfa seeds: You can find pure alfalfa seeds at most feed supply stores. Make sure to buy high-quality seeds to ensure successful germination and healthy plant growth.
  4. Decide on planting time: In cooler climates, it’s best to plant alfalfa in spring, while milder regions can opt for fall planting.
  5. Planting method: Alfalfa seeds do not need to be planted deep in the soil. Sprinkle the seeds evenly on the prepared soil surface, covering them lightly with a thin layer of dirt. Use approximately ¼ pound of seeds per 25 square feet of area. Space rows about 18 to 24 inches apart.
  6. Watering: After planting, water the seeds gently to keep the soil moist. Avoid overwatering, as alfalfa prefers well-draining soil and can be sensitive to excessive moisture.
  7. Germination and thinning: Within seven to ten days, you should start to see sprouts emerging from the soil. Once the seedlings reach a height of 6 to 12 inches, thin them as needed to prevent overcrowding. This will ensure that each plant has enough space to grow and access adequate sunlight and nutrients.
  8. Maintenance: As the alfalfa plants grow, they will require regular watering, especially during dry periods. However, be cautious not to overwater, as it can lead to mold growth. Monitor the plants for pests or diseases and take appropriate measures if necessary.
  9. Harvesting: Alfalfa can be harvested when it reaches a height of about 18 to 24 inches. Cut the plants near the ground, leaving a stubble of about 2 to 3 inches. Harvesting can be done multiple times during the growing season, typically every four to six weeks.

Where to Grow Alfalfa

Alfalfa can be grown in various locations, provided the growing conditions are suitable. It is a cool-season perennial plant that adapts well to different climates and soil types.

Here are a few considerations for where to grow alfalfa:

  • Climate: Alfalfa grows best in cool-season regions with moderate temperatures. It can tolerate cold winters and hot summers, making it suitable for a wide range of climates.
  • Soil: Alfalfa prefers well-draining soil with a pH level between 6.8 and 7.5. It can grow in different soil types, including sandy loam, silt loam, and clay loam.
  • Sunlight: Alfalfa requires full sun exposure to thrive. Choose a location in your garden that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Space: Alfalfa plants need enough space to grow and spread their roots. Consider the available area in your garden and provide adequate spacing between rows and plants to allow for healthy growth.
  • Elevation: Alfalfa can be grown at various elevations, from lowlands to higher altitudes. However, specific considerations may apply depending on the local climate and growing conditions in your region.

By following these guidelines and providing the necessary care, you can successfully grow alfalfa in your garden or as a cover crop, providing valuable benefits such as soil improvement, erosion control, and a nutrient-rich forage source.

How to Plant and Care for Alfalfa

Alfalfa, also known as lucerne, is a perennial forage crop that’s highly valued for its high yield and nutritional content.

It’s a popular choice for livestock feed and is also used as a cover crop to improve soil health.

However, successful cultivation of alfalfa requires careful planning, proper planting, and diligent care.

This section provides a comprehensive guide on how to plant and care for alfalfa.

How to Plant Alfalfa

Planting alfalfa is a critical step that can significantly influence the success of your crop.

Proper planting techniques can ensure a good stand and promote healthy growth.

Here are some key steps to follow when planting alfalfa:

  1. Soil Preparation: Alfalfa prefers well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5. Test your soil and amend it as necessary before planting. Till the soil to a depth of about 6-8 inches to allow for good root development.
  2. Seed Selection: Choose a variety of alfalfa that’s suitable for your climate and soil conditions. Consider factors like disease resistance and yield potential.
  3. Planting Time: The best time to plant alfalfa is in the spring or fall when soil temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This allows the alfalfa to establish before extreme weather conditions.
  4. Seeding Rate: The recommended seeding rate for alfalfa is 15-20 pounds per acre. This can vary depending on the seed variety and planting method.
  5. Planting Depth: Alfalfa seeds should be planted at a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Planting too deep can hinder germination.
  6. Irrigation: After planting, water the field thoroughly. Alfalfa needs consistent moisture for germination and early growth.

How to Care for Alfalfa

Once your alfalfa is planted, proper care is essential to ensure a healthy stand and high yield.

Here are some key care tips for alfalfa:

  • Irrigation: Alfalfa needs consistent moisture, especially during dry periods. However, avoid overwatering as this can lead to root rot.
  • Weed Control: Control weeds in the early stages of growth. Weeds can compete with alfalfa for nutrients and water. Consider using a pre-emergent herbicide if necessary.
  • Pest and Disease Management: Monitor your alfalfa regularly for signs of pests and diseases. Use appropriate control measures as needed.
  • Fertilization: Alfalfa can fix its own nitrogen, but it may need additional phosphorus and potassium. Test your soil and fertilize as needed.
  • Harvesting: Harvest alfalfa when it reaches about 10% bloom for the highest yield and nutritional content. Be sure to leave a stubble height of about 2-3 inches to promote regrowth.
  • Rotation: Consider rotating alfalfa with other crops to break disease cycles and improve soil health.

Remember, the key to successful alfalfa cultivation is regular monitoring and timely management practices.

With proper care, alfalfa can provide a high-quality, nutritious forage for livestock or improve soil health as a cover crop.

Alfalfa Pruning and Propagation

Alfalfa, a perennial forage crop, requires specific care and management practices to ensure its optimal growth and yield.

Among these practices, pruning (or cutting) and propagation play a crucial role in the successful cultivation of alfalfa.

Pruning helps maintain the health and productivity of the crop, while propagation allows for the expansion of the crop or the establishment of new fields.

This section provides detailed information on how to prune and propagate alfalfa.

How to Prune Alfalfa

Pruning, or more accurately, cutting alfalfa is an essential part of its management.

Proper cutting practices can significantly influence the yield and longevity of your alfalfa stand.

Here are some key points to consider when cutting alfalfa:

  • Cutting Height: Maintain a cutting height of about 2-3 inches. This allows the plant to recover quickly and promotes regrowth.
  • Cutting Frequency: The frequency of cutting depends on the growth stage of the alfalfa and the quality of forage desired. Generally, alfalfa is cut when it reaches about 10% bloom for the highest yield and nutritional content.
  • Rest Period: Allow a rest period of about 6 weeks between cuttings. This gives the alfalfa time to recover and accumulate energy reserves.
  • Last Cutting: The last cutting of the season should be done about 4-6 weeks before the first frost. This allows the alfalfa to accumulate energy reserves for winter survival.
  • Equipment: Use sharp, well-maintained equipment for cutting. Dull blades can damage the plants and slow down recovery.

How to Propagate Alfalfa

Alfalfa is typically propagated by seed.

Proper seeding techniques can ensure a good stand and promote healthy growth.

Here are some key steps to follow when propagating alfalfa:

  • Seed Selection: Choose a variety of alfalfa that’s suitable for your climate and soil conditions. Consider factors like disease resistance and yield potential.
  • Seeding Rate: The recommended seeding rate for alfalfa is 15-20 pounds per acre. This can vary depending on the seed variety and planting method.
  • Planting Depth: Alfalfa seeds should be planted at a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch. Planting too deep can hinder germination.
  • Irrigation: After planting, water the field thoroughly. Alfalfa needs consistent moisture for germination and early growth.
  • Weed Control: Control weeds in the early stages of growth. Weeds can compete with alfalfa for nutrients and water.

Remember, the key to successful alfalfa cultivation is regular monitoring and timely management practices.

With proper pruning and propagation, alfalfa can provide a high-quality, nutritious forage for livestock or improve soil health as a cover crop.

Alfalfa Pests and Diseases

Alfalfa, a perennial forage crop known for its high yield and nutritional content, is unfortunately not immune to the myriad of pests and diseases that can significantly impact its growth and yield.

These biological threats can drastically affect the health of the crop, leading to reduced productivity and economic losses.

The key to mitigating these threats lies in understanding the nature of these pests and diseases, their life cycles, the damage they cause, and the most effective management and prevention strategies.

This section delves into the common pests and diseases that plague alfalfa, providing a comprehensive understanding of their identification, impact, and control.

Common Pests and Diseases

Alfalfa crops worldwide are susceptible to a wide array of pests and diseases.

These adversaries range from tiny insects and nematodes that directly damage the plant to microscopic fungi, bacteria, and viruses that cause disease.

Each pest and disease has unique characteristics, modes of action, and effects on the crop.

The following list provides a detailed overview of these threats, aiming to equip farmers and agricultural professionals with the knowledge to protect their alfalfa crops effectively.

Pests

  • Alfalfa Weevil: The alfalfa weevil is a significant pest of alfalfa. The larvae of this beetle feed extensively on alfalfa leaves, causing a characteristic ‘shot-hole’ appearance. Severe infestations can lead to significant defoliation, reducing yield and quality. Management strategies include regular monitoring, use of resistant varieties, and targeted pesticide applications.
  • Pea Aphid: Pea aphids are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of alfalfa plants. They extract the plant’s nutrients, leading to symptoms such as wilting, yellowing, and reduced growth. In addition to the direct damage, pea aphids can also transmit diseases like the alfalfa mosaic virus. Effective management involves regular monitoring, use of resistant varieties, and biological control methods.
  • Nematodes: Several species of nematodes, including the root-knot nematode and the stem nematode, can affect alfalfa. These microscopic worms damage the roots of the alfalfa plants, leading to stunted growth, yellowing, and reduced yield. Management of nematodes involves crop rotation, use of resistant varieties, and soil treatments.

Diseases

  • Anthracnose: Anthracnose is a fungal disease that can cause wilting, yellowing, and death of alfalfa plants. The disease is more common in wet, warm conditions and can spread rapidly in a field. Management strategies include crop rotation, use of resistant varieties, and fungicide applications.
  • Common Leaf Spot: Common leaf spot is a fungal disease that causes small, dark spots on alfalfa leaves. Severe infections can lead to leaf drop and reduced yield. Management involves using resistant varieties, crop rotation, and fungicide treatments.
  • Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (AMV): Transmitted by aphids, AMV is a viral disease that causes yellowing and stunting of alfalfa plants. Infected plants may also show leaf discoloration and stunted growth, leading to significant yield loss. Management involves controlling aphid populations, using resistant varieties, and planting at times that avoid peak aphid activity.

A comprehensive understanding of these pests and diseases is crucial for effective management and prevention.

Buying Alfalfa Seeds

Purchasing alfalfa seeds is a critical step in the process of cultivating this valuable forage crop.

The quality of the seeds you buy directly influences the health and yield of your crop.

Therefore, it’s essential to make informed decisions when buying alfalfa seeds.

This section provides comprehensive advice on purchasing alfalfa seeds and suggests reliable online sources.

Advice On Buying Alfalfa Seeds

When it comes to buying alfalfa seeds, there are several factors to consider.

The choice of seeds can significantly impact the success of your alfalfa cultivation.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when purchasing alfalfa seeds:

  • Seed Quality: Always opt for high-quality seeds. Look for seeds that are clean, well-formed, and free from any signs of disease or damage.
  • Variety: Choose a variety that is suitable for your local climate and soil conditions. Different varieties of alfalfa have different growth habits, disease resistance, and yield potential.
  • Disease Resistance: Opt for varieties that have good resistance to common alfalfa diseases. This can help reduce the need for chemical treatments and increase the overall health and yield of your crop.
  • Germination Rate: Check the germination rate of the seeds. A high germination rate ensures that a good proportion of the seeds will sprout and grow into healthy plants.
  • Certified Seed: Whenever possible, buy certified seed. This guarantees that the seed has been tested for germination rate, purity, and disease, and meets the standards set by the certifying agency.

Where to Buy Alfalfa Seeds Online

In today’s digital age, buying alfalfa seeds online is a convenient option.

Many reputable seed companies have online stores that offer a wide range of alfalfa varieties.

Here are some reliable online sources where you can buy alfalfa seeds:

  • Amazon: Amazon offers a wide variety of alfalfa seeds from different sellers. Be sure to check the reviews and ratings before making a purchase.
  • True Leaf Market: True Leaf Market is a reputable online store that offers a wide range of seeds, including several varieties of alfalfa.
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds: Johnny’s is a well-known company that offers high-quality seeds, including alfalfa. They provide detailed information about each variety, including its growth habits and disease resistance.
  • Seed Savers Exchange: Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seed varieties. They offer a selection of alfalfa seeds, including some rare and heirloom varieties.
  • eBay: eBay is another platform where you can find alfalfa seeds from various sellers. As with Amazon, be sure to check the seller’s ratings and reviews before purchasing.

Remember to compare prices, check shipping policies, and read reviews before making your final decision.

Buying from a reputable source ensures you get high-quality seeds that will give you a successful alfalfa crop.

Alfalfa Varieties

Alfalfa, a perennial forage crop known for its high yield and nutritional content, comes in a variety of types, each with its unique characteristics and uses.

These varieties differ in their growth habits, disease resistance, yield potential, and the quality of forage they produce.

The choice of alfalfa variety to grow can significantly impact the success of your cultivation efforts, influencing everything from the health of the crop to its resistance to pests and diseases.

This section provides an overview of some popular alfalfa varieties that you might consider growing, offering insights into their unique traits and suitability for different growing conditions.

Alfalfa Varieties to Grow

When it comes to growing alfalfa, the choice of variety is crucial. Different varieties are suited to different climates, soil types, and intended uses.

Each variety has been bred to emphasize certain traits, such as disease resistance, yield, or forage quality.

Here are some popular alfalfa varieties that are known for their excellent performance and quality:

  • ‘Vernal’: ‘Vernal’ is a widely adapted variety known for its winter hardiness and disease resistance. It’s a good choice for cooler climates where winter survival can be a challenge. Despite its moderate yield potential, ‘Vernal’ is favored for its robustness and ability to thrive in less-than-ideal conditions.
  • ‘Ranger’: ‘Ranger’ is a high-yielding variety that’s well-suited for hay production. It has good resistance to common alfalfa diseases, making it a reliable choice for areas where these diseases are prevalent. ‘Ranger’ is known for its excellent forage quality, making it a favorite among livestock farmers.
  • ‘Cuf 101’: ‘Cuf 101’ is a variety that’s highly resistant to several common alfalfa diseases, including Fusarium wilt, anthracnose, and Phytophthora root rot. It’s a high-yielding variety that’s well-suited for hay production, offering both quantity and quality in its harvests.
  • ‘WL 363HQ’: ‘WL 363HQ’ is a high-yielding variety that’s known for its excellent forage quality. It has good disease resistance, making it a robust choice for various growing conditions. ‘WL 363HQ’ is well-suited for hay production and grazing, offering flexibility in its use.
  • ‘Amerigraze 401+’: ‘Amerigraze 401+’ is a variety that’s highly resistant to several common alfalfa diseases. It’s a high-yielding variety that’s well-suited for hay production and grazing. Its disease resistance and adaptability make it a reliable choice for a range of growing conditions.
  • ‘Alfagraze’: ‘Alfagraze’ is a variety specifically bred for grazing. It has excellent grazing tolerance, meaning it can withstand repeated grazing without significant damage. It also has good disease resistance, making it a robust and resilient choice for pastures.

Remember, the best alfalfa variety for you will depend on your local climate and soil conditions, as well as your intended use for the alfalfa.

Always choose a variety that’s well-suited to your specific circumstances to ensure a successful harvest.

With the right variety, you can maximize your alfalfa’s yield and quality, contributing to a successful and productive cultivation effort.

FAQs

What type of soil is best for Alfalfa?

Alfalfa prefers well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. It grows best in deep soils that are free from hardpans, high water tables, or bedrock that restrict root growth. The ideal pH range for alfalfa is between 6.5 and 7.5. If the soil pH is too low, liming may be required to raise it to the optimum level. Alfalfa is a heavy feeder and requires a soil that is rich in organic matter and nutrients.

When should I plant Alfalfa?

Alfalfa can be planted in the spring or fall, depending on the climate and growing conditions. Spring planting is typically done in March or April, while fall planting is done in September or October. Choose a location that receives full sun exposure for optimal growth. Alfalfa requires a cool and moist climate to grow properly.

How often should I water my Alfalfa?

Alfalfa requires regular watering to maintain moist soil. Water the plant deeply once or twice a week, especially during dry periods. However, be careful not to overwater, as alfalfa can be sensitive to waterlogged conditions. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings to prevent root rot. Adjust the watering frequency based on the weather and soil moisture levels.

Do Alfalfa plants require fertilization?

Alfalfa requires regular fertilization to promote healthy growth and yield. A balanced fertilizer with a ratio of 10-20-10 or 16-16-16 is suitable for alfalfa. Apply the fertilizer at the time of planting and again during the growing season. Organic fertilizers, such as compost or aged manure, can also be used to provide additional nutrients. Alfalfa is a legume and can fix nitrogen from the air, reducing the need for nitrogen fertilization.

How do I plant Alfalfa?

When planting Alfalfa, choose a location that receives full sun exposure. Sow the seeds to a depth of 1/4 to 1/2 inch, depending on the soil type. Space the seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart in rows that are 6-12 inches apart. Water the seeds immediately after planting to provide moisture to the soil. Mulching around the plants can help retain moisture and suppress weeds.

How much sunlight does Alfalfa need?

Alfalfa requires full sun exposure to grow and develop properly. It requires at least six hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. Planting it in a location with full sun exposure will ensure optimal growth and yield.

Are there different varieties of Alfalfa?

Yes, there are many different varieties of Alfalfa available, each with its own unique characteristics, growth habits, and uses. Some popular varieties include Vernal, Ranger, and CUF 101. Choose a variety that suits your preferences and growing conditions.

Are there any pests or diseases that affect Alfalfa?

Alfalfa is susceptible to a range of pests and diseases, including aphids, mites, and fungal diseases. Regularly inspect the plant for any signs of infestation or disease, and take appropriate measures, such as using organic insecticides or fungicides, if necessary. Good air circulation and proper watering practices can help prevent fungal diseases.

How do I care for Alfalfa after harvesting?

After harvesting, you can prune the Alfalfa to maintain its shape and encourage new growth. Cut back the stem to about 2-3 inches above the ground. This will help rejuvenate the plant and promote vigorous growth and abundant yield in the following season. Regular deadheading of spent flowers can also encourage continuous yield.

Can Alfalfa be grown as a cover crop?

Yes, Alfalfa can be grown as a cover crop, a crop grown specifically to maintain cropland soil quality, fertility, and prevent soil erosion. Alfalfa is an excellent cover crop because it grows quickly and produces a lot of biomass. It can be grown in the fall or spring and is typically tilled into the soil before planting the next crop. Alfalfa cover crops can improve soil structure, increase soil organic matter, and reduce soil erosion.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources to help you grow and care for alfalfa:

Please refer to these resources for detailed information on growing and caring for alfalfa.