Adjusting for Late Planted Alfalfa

Adjusting for Late Planted Alfalfa

May 2, 2008

For some Nebraska growers, the wet spring weather may be delaying alfalfa planting until after corn is planted. Normally, we would recommend planting alfalfa by mid-May on dryland sites and by the end of May on irrigated sites. Planting later greatly increases the risk of hot, dry, windy weather killing new seedlings before they have enough root system to support the plant's moisture needs.

This spring planting by the deadline may be difficult. One way to plant more quickly is to no-till. Crop residues of corn, milo, beans, and small grains are not a problem for most drills, but ridges along the rows can make the field too rough for comfortable hay-making in some places. Light tillage to smoothen the field surface before planting may be desirable.

Weeds can be controlled postemergence using herbicides like Poast Plus or Select for grasses and Buctril, Pursuit, Raptor, or Butyrac for broadleaves. Mowing weeds also helps. A burndown spray using Roundup or Gramoxone before planting may be needed if weeds already are present.

If you can't plant by the deadline, it's often best to wait until August rather than seed just before hot weather.

If you can't plant alfalfa, consider sorghum-sudan hybrids and foxtail millet. Foxtail millet won't regrow after an early August hay, so it may work best. Alfalfa can be drilled directly into the stubble without risk of millet regrowth shading out new seedlings.

Sorghum-sudans regrowth will need to be sprayed or tilled before an August alfalfa planting. Berseem clover, any of the summer annual grasses like cane, pearl millet, and sorghum-sudan, or even soybeans for hay could be used if you wait until next spring to plant again.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist