UNL CropWatch: March 8, 2011: Three Steps to Improving Pastures with Legumes

UNL CropWatch: March 8, 2011: Three Steps to Improving Pastures with Legumes

March 8, 2011

Adding clovers, alfalfa, or other legumes to grasslands can boost profits by providing a nutritional boost to your soils.

Legumes like red clover and alfalfa reduce nitrogen costs on pastures and make the pastures more productive and higher quality. But, to add legumes to your grass, you must do three things correctly.

First, fertilize for the legume. Legumes need extra phosphorus and a soil pH above 6, and sometimes higher, to establish and grow in a grass sod. Add phosphorus and maybe even lime, if needed.

Second, place the legume seed into the soil. One way is by frost seeding, which involves broadcasting seed on snow-free fields during winter. Right now is an excellent time for frost seeding. The freezing and thawing of the soil as spring approaches helps work the seed into the ground. Results from frost seeding have been variable in our area, so I suggest using a drill whenever possible, even if all it does is barely scratch your seed into the soil. You’ll get faster, more uniform stands that way.

Finally, during spring, reduce competition from the existing sod. You can do this by spraying Gramoxone® before legume seedlings emerge.

Another option is flash grazing. This spring whenever grass gets to be 3 to 4 inches taller than legumes, stock heavily so animals will graze the grass down to the height of the legumes in just one day. Then remove livestock until grass gets tall again and repeat the flash grazing.

Once established, legumes will cut your fertilizer costs and make your grasslands better than ever.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist