Alfalfa Seed Bed Suggestions

A firm seedbed is one of the main requirements for stand establishment when planting alfalfa or grasses. A loose seedbed causes nothing but problems when starting alfalfa. A firm seedbed provides soil-to-seed contact to wick moisture and nutrients to the seed. The seedbed needs to be packed with a roller. Some farmers go over their seedbed five or six times with an empty drill before seeding to provide good soil-to-seed contact.

When planting wann-season grasses you should use a grassland drill or some kind of a drill that has an agitator in the seed box, because the seeds are fluffy and difficult to move through the drill.

A Brillion seeder is good for alfalfa, because it has two sets of rollers. The seed box sits behind the front roller. This seeder also will work well for Reed Canarygrass or Switchgrass, which are free flowing seeds.

A common way of seeding alfalfa is with an oats cover crop which decreases erosion while the alfalfa is getting established. The oats can be clipped for forage and the process does suppress weeds. A disadvantage of an oats cover crop is the competition the oats presents to the alfalfa seedlings for light, moisture and nutri­ents. The cover crop may preclude harvesting alfalfa the seeding year.

These disadvantages led to a method called clear-seeding, a technique which has been used for about 15 years. When clear-seeding, two herbicides, Eptam or Balan, can be used to control weeds.

This method may produce one to two cuttings of alfalfa the seeding year. The disadvantage of clear-seeding is the erosion potential early in the season before alfalfa provides ground cover.

Alfalfa Management

Select the right field

Alfalfa should be on deep well drained and neutral soils. Check for previous herbicide carryover which could hurt new alfalfa seedlings.

Soil test

Take soil samples and have them analyzed for fertility and pH. Apply fertilizer and lime as required.

Select the right variety

Varieties differ greatly both in yield and disease resis­tance. Study this booklet and then select the varieties that will do the best job for you.

Use cover crop

Use a cover crop for spring seeded alfalfa. Select an early vari­ety of oats, harvest the oats when ready and remove the straw Clip the alfalfa later in the year to control weeds.

Innoculate the seed

Inoculate the seed at planting time or plant preinoculated seed. Most alfalfas sold by COYOTE SEEDS have been preinoculated for your convenience.

Prepare a proper seed bed

An ideal seed bed is free of large clods, smooth and firm. On plowed ground the soil should be rolled before and after seeding to provide a firmer seed bed.


Alfalfa can be seeded as early in the spring as the ground can. be worked, but keep in mind that if the seedling is at the two leaf stage, a killing frost will most likely kill the plant.

Control weeds

Mow as necessary during the seeding year to control weeds. Selective herbicides are also available to help control weeds. Follow label instructions for rates and application methods.

Time the cuttings

Make the first cutting at mid-bud stage for the highest quality hay. The last cutting of the year can be made after a killing frost without injuring the stand.

Fertilize annually

Top dress alfalfa annually. Each ton of hay removes about 12 lbs. of phosphate and 48 lbs. of potash. Fertilizer is best applied immediately after the first cutting of each year.

Alfalfa Facts

  1. Stage to cut: First flower.
  2. Last cutting: Before September 1st.
  3. For winter damaged stands, harvest first cutting at full bloom.
  4. When planting with grass: Do not fertilize the first year with nitrogen and do not over plant the grass.
  5. Plant populations:
    Seeding year: 15-25 plants per square foot
    Second year: I l plants per square foot
    Acceptable: 5 plants per square foot
  6. With adequate moisture, growing temperatures between 50-60 degrees F.
    Will produce twice as much alfalfa as temperatures between 75-90 degrees F.
  7. Composition when mowing at various bloom stages:


TDN 68%
Protein 27%
Fiber 21%


TDN 61%
Protein 23%
Fiber 28%

1-10 Bloom

TDN 56%
Protein 18%
Fiber 34%

Full Bloom

TDN 53%
Protein 16%
Fiber 35%

Alfalfa Autotoxicity

Autotoxicity is a form of allelopathy. Allelopathy is any direct or indirect harmful effect by one plant or another through the production of chemical com­pounds that escape into the environment. Alfalfa autotoxicity refers to a condition in which the old alfalfa plants produce compounds that are toxic to alfalfa seed­lings. For many years, alfalfa producers have observed that they cannot success­fully reestablish or "thicken up" an existing stand that is unproductive or dead.

While not all research is in complete agreement, most scientists believe that autotoxicity is a condition that producers need to be aware of. lt is difficult to recommend practices to producers that will "guarantee" they won't have prob­lems associated with autotoxicity. It is possible, however, to provide a ranking of reseeding options available with the risks associated with autotoxicity for each option as ranging from "minimal" to "high". These rankings are provided to aid producers in making decisions as to which reseeding option would be the best for their particular situation. In the rankings listed below, "kill" refers to either tillage of the existing stand or chemical treatment with Roundup.

a. Kill existing stand in spring, plant another crop, and plant alfalfa the follow­ing spring.
b. Kill existing stand in fall and plant alfalfa the following spring.
c. Kill existing stand in spring and plant alfalfa in late summer.
a. Kill existing stand in spring and plant alfalfa 2 to 4 weeks later.
a. Kill existing stand and plant alfalfa within 2 weeks.
b. Plant no-till alfalfa into existing stand that has been destroyed by flooding without any tillage or chemical treatment.
Although it is important to minimize risks associated with autotoxicity, producers must also consider other crucial aspects of alfalfa establishment. Correct planting date, seeding rate, and planting equipment must be used. Knowledge of alfalfa varieties and seed treatments will help to establish a long-lived stand.

What Are Hard Seeds?

Hard seeds represent live seeds which fail to absorb moisture and sprout when being laboratory tested for six or seven days under good growing conditions. The law requires that they must be reported on the seed tag when seed is offered for sale to farmers. Under actual field conditions a large percentage of the hard seeds will start to germinate in two weeks. In most cases all will sprout before the end of the growing season.

The disadvantages of an oats cover crop and clear-seeding have led to a third method of establishing alfalfa. The newest method is seeding alfalfa with oats, as before, but killing the oats off at an early growth state with the post-emergence grass herbicide, Poast. This method affords the advantages of early erosion control, but gets rid of the oats before it competes with the alfalfa, allowing an alfalfa crop to be harvested the seeding year.

Featured Crops


Rye is a cold-tolerant grain that geminates in cool soil (34-40° F), making it a major fall-planted cover crop for winter erosion control. The top growth provides soil cover and suppresses weed.

Field Peas

Field peas are used in spring plantings as a source of organic matter and nitrogen.  In late summer, peas can be interseeded with oats to provide ground cover over the winter.

Forage Turnip and Rapeseed

Turnip and rape grow quickly and are good at reducing surface compaction while providing winter cover and fall weed suppression.


Spring-planted oats are used for green manure, while fall-planted oats provide winter-killed ground cover. They are also useful as a nurse crop with legumes, such as hairy vetch and peas, for forage, erosion control and weed suppression.


Buckwheat is a short season annual with a delicate, fibrous root system. Since it establishes quickly, it is useful for weed suppression. It also mellows the soil while improving aggregate stability. It is a scavenger of phosphorus and calcium and mineralizes rock phosphate, making these nutrients available for later crops.

Sundangrass & Sorghum-Sudangrass

Sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass are midsummer grasses suitable for short, 8-10 week plantings. These crops provide abundant root biomass, which is useful for increasing soil organic matter. Mowing encourages root growth. They suppress root knot nematodes and inhibit weed germination if densely sown.

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