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The Best Time of the Year to Seed Alfalfa

 

   Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist:
America’s Alfalfa

 

For most of the country, spring is a preferred season over fall for seeding alfalfa. Most of the folks in the Midwest will agree but farmers in the south do not agree. I am going to let YOU decide which is the best time for you.  
 
What determines the 'right time' for seeding?
1. Water and soil moisture.
2. Weather temperatures and sufficient time for establishment before normal weather impairment.
3. Seed depth.
4. Weed control.
5. The cropping rotation.

 

Over 70% of the alfalfa acres are planted in the spring following row crops. Those farmers who are as serious about alfalfa as farmers in other areas are about their main crops and use all of their skills and the best equipment available to get the best establishment possible every time. They know that if they bungle the thick, uniform, vigorous initial stand, they have blown it and stand failures and low yields will follow. Most dairy farmers and many commercial hay producers like to jump in on residue row crop fields early and do everything possible to dilute carry over long-duration herbicide used in grain production by disking, chisel plowing, or whatever is necessary to remove this sure hazard. Better still they plan for years in advance to not use long residual herbicides if they plan to make alfalfa seedings in the ‘no-seeding time zone’ on proposed/planned new alfalfa seeding areas.

 

If the seeding is early, just after the frost is out of the ground, moisture for early-smooth emergence is nearly always assured. Yet, ever so often, some farmers get behind and get in a hurry and bury the seed and spotted or bad stands result. So take it easy and get the right depth of ¼ to ½ inch and never over ¾ inch in sandy soils. Early seeding places the alfalfa in a great position to take advantage of moisture and compete with weeds. So get with the seeding as soon as the weather and soil will let you.

 

Fall planting, while not the most popular system used nationwide anymore, still rules supreme in most of the southern states and much of the irrigated West.

 

Why? It is a matter of land preparation time to make the garden-like seedbeds. Then, when water is removed as a limiting factor, stand failure is seldom experienced especially when the seedbed is firmed prior to planting. Six to eight weeks is the recommended time frame necessary from planting to the first killing frost or just plain cold weather that slows or stops aggressive alfalfa plant growth