Preparing a Firm Seedbed for Alfalfa Planting

Preparing a Firm Seedbed for Alfalfa Planting

March 27, 2009

Before planting alfalfa or grass this spring, check your seedbed to make sure it's firm.

An easy test is to walk into your field then look back at your footprints. Do you sink in more deeply than the soles of your shoes or boots? If so, your seedbed may be too soft.

Another method is to use a seedbed testing kit, also known as a basketball. This tests seedbeds better than any other tool I know. Try to dribble the basketball in your field. It should be easy to bounce the basketball on a firm seedbed. If you can't bounce the ball easily, don't plant yet. Firm the seedbed with a flat harrow, a roller, or maybe even irrigate.

Why so much effort for a seedbed? When small seeds germinate, their first roots must come into immediate contact with moisture and nutrients in the soil if they are to survive and grow rapidly. Loose seedbeds can have up to 50% dead airspace in the seeding zone.

First roots that emerge into that dead airspace often do not live, and your stand will suffer. A firm seedbed reduces dead airspace, which helps you get thicker stands that develop more rapidly.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist