Tips for Planting Alfalfa in Late Summer

Tips for Planting Alfalfa in Late Summer August 12, 2016

Late summer can be a good time to replace alfalfa fields that have dried up or thinned out. Here are a few tips to help ensure its success.

Alfalfa planted in late summer establishes well when moisture is available. Be sure to plant early enough, though, so alfalfa has six to eight weeks between emergence and freeze back to develop good cold tolerance. In northwest Nebraska or southern South Dakota, you probably need to plant right away.  But only if you also have moisture present for seeds to germinate. Any delay is likely to cause poorer stands. In southeast Nebraska you can plant as late as Labor Day but earlier is better. In central Kansas alfalfa can be planted as late as mid-September.

Proper seedbed preparation is crucial for late summer plantings.  Good seed-to-soil contact and weed control are critical, both when seeding into tilled, prepared seedbeds or into wheat stubble. Conserve soil moisture whenever possible, and put extra effort into getting a firm, firm seedbed.

Whenever seeding alfalfa in late summer, be especially wary of grasshoppers. They sometimes seem to come from nowhere, and they love to eat new alfalfa seedlings. Spray field margins with insecticides before planting if necessary.

One important caution — never plant into dry soil. In the Great Plains, August plantings into dry soil may lie dormant for several weeks until it rains.  Too little time will remain for seedlings to develop good cold tolerance. Many failures occur because fall rains come too late or not at all.

If you have moisture, then plant.  With help from Mother Nature, good hay is just a spring away.