Five Steps to Successful Forage and Alfalfa Establishment - March 1, 2012

Five Steps to Successful Forage and Alfalfa Establishment - March 1, 2012

March 1, 2012

Field preparation and attention to planting details can help ensure the success of your new forage or alfalfa stand, and avoid costly losses associated with a failed stand. The cost of reseeding a stand and the lost production from high-valued land can add up quickly.

Before planting alfalfa, grass, or other forages this spring, make sure you take the steps needed to give you the best chance for a successful establishment.

Step 1.  Begin by making sure the field is suitable for whatever you intend to plant. Seeding alfalfa in an area that frequently gets flooded or has standing water is not likely to produce long-term success.

Step 2. Soil test and add recommended fertilizer and lime before planting.

Step 3. Prepare a firm seedbed. When walking across the field before planting, you shouldn't sink any deeper than the soles of your shoes or boots. You can also try bouncing a basketball on your seedbed. If the ball won’t bounce back up, your seedbed is too soft. Firm it some more with a flat harrow, a roller, or maybe even irrigate.

Step 4.  Most forage seeds are very small and should be planted no more than one-fourth to one-half inch deep on heavy or fine textured soils or one-half to one inch deep on sands or coarse-textured soils. One of the most common causes of poor forage stands is planting too deep.

Step 5. Control weeds. Options include tillage during seedbed preparation, burn-down herbicides before planting, pre-plant incorporated herbicides, post-emergence herbicides, and even mowing.

It’s tempting to take shortcuts with any one of these steps, but careful attention to each of them will provide the greatest opportunity for achieving a successful stand and help you avoid costly failures.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist