One of the most valuable crops in the US, alfalfa is grown in many regions of the country, such as in California, Nevada, Wyoming, and in Missouri.
The reasons for this popularity are numerous, as alfalfa reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizers and contains many minerals, making it an effective soil amendment and animal feed at the same time.
If you wonder when to plant alfalfa, do so in the fall or spring for optimal growth. Read below for more details.
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Best Time to Plant Alfalfa
1. In fall or late summer
Autumn is the best season for growing alfalfa, especially if you live in a warm climate. The reasons are:
- Fall seeding alfalfa allows the plant to develop without interference from weeds. Plus, the cool weather during this season meets alfalfa’s temperature requirements (which we will discuss below).
- Moreover, fall or late summer planting produces higher yields, even when compared to spring planting.
Now that you know the advantages of seeding alfalfa in autumn, narrow down your gardening schedule by following the tips below:
- Sow seeds six to eight weeks before the first frost. Otherwise, your plant won’t have enough time to develop its crown and survive freezing temperatures.
For instance, Chickasha in Oklahoma has its first ice on October 27. Therefore, residents in this area can plant alfalfa on September 1 or 15.
- When growing alfalfa from cuttings, root them five weeks before the first frost.
If we use Chickasha as an example again, the time for rooting would be September 22.
2. In the spring
Aside from the fall, another excellent time for alfalfa planting is spring. If you pick this season, wait until the last frost has passed to start sowing seeds.
For example, because Michigan has its final frost on April 15, gardeners who grow tomatoes for spring can do so on April 16. Click here to learn more details about the best time, suitable temperature and other factors.
3. When the soil has the right pH
Aside from the planting dates for alfalfa, it’s vital to take note of the soil condition for ideal plant development. Specifically, your garden bed should have a pH of 6.6 to 7 —the best range for alfalfa.
Because soil additives take around three weeks to work, it’s best to measure the pH of your garden bed around one month before your seeding day.
If the ground is too alkaline or acidic and you don’t amend it early enough, your planting season may be cut short, or worse, you may miss out on it altogether.
4. When the temperature’s right
It’s essential that your gardening space has the right alfalfa growing temperature. Otherwise, the plant won’t thrive at all.
In detail, the air should measure 34℉ at the minimum. As for the soil, a range of 65 to 85 degrees is ideal for germination, while 69 to 76℉ is best for initial root development.
If your garden bed meets the above requirement (measuring 65 degrees), sprouting will occur within two days. Otherwise, the standard alfalfa germination time is seven to ten days.
What Are the Hardiness Zones for Growing Alfalfa?
Alfalfa can grow in many places across the United States, from hardiness zone 2 to 9. To determine whether your city or county suits this plant, visit planthardiness.ars.usda.gov and look up the map for your locality.
For example, residents in Virginia can plant alfalfa, since the entire state falls within zone 5 to zone 8. Similarly, people living in Georgia can grow this crop as well, given that the region has zone 6 to zone 9.
Tips for Growing Alfalfa
- Planting alfalfa seed on top the ground is nonoptimal. It would be best to bury the seeds at a depth of 0.5 inch
Also, they should receive six to eight hours of full sun per day and sit in well-draining loamy soil.
- Potassium and phosphorus are essential for high alfalfa yields, so test your soil for these nutrients and add them if necessary.
- Distributing alfalfa seeds with grain drill is a must, unless you’re well-versed in the no till method. Drill planters push fertilizers deep into the ground, thereby promoting plant development.
- If you put alfalfa in pots, make sure the containers have drainage holes.
- Growing alfalfa with grass can reduce weed problems and increase forage yield. The latter benefit is something to keep in mind if you plant alfalfa for deer and other cattle.
In KY, for example, alfalfa will thrive when sown with orchardgrass, tall fescue, and Kentucky bluegrass. In NC, this legume will pair well with orchardgrass.
- Although alfalfa can tolerate drought, insufficient irrigation will reduce production. In general, the plant will need about an inch of water per week.
- Select alfalfa varieties that suit your region. For example, the Bulldog 805 cultivar will grow well in Texas, Arkansas, and many other southern states. Meanwhile, northern states will suit fall-dormant varieties like the Plumas and Archer II.
What is the latest date to plant alfalfa?
If you follow the guidelines above on frost dates, you’ll have no trouble growing alfalfa in a timely manner. That said, if you want more tips, here are the latest planting times for different regions:
- April to May or July to August for the Upper Midwest
- Early June or July for northern places
- September to November for warm regions
Does alfalfa grow back every year?
Yes, alfalfa will regrow every year because it is a perennial. That said, if you cut the plant to control weeds, make sure to leave at least one set of leaves. Otherwise, alfalfa’s development will be halted.
How long does it take alfalfa hay to grow?
From the moment of sprouting to the first harvest, alfalfa hay will need 60 days to finish maturing.
However, between the first harvest and the second one, 25 to 30 days are all it takes. The same length of time needs to pass before the third harvest arrives.
Knowing when to plant alfalfa is necessary, whether it is used as a cover crop or as cattle feed. After all, adverse weather conditions can kill this legume if you’re not careful.
Hopefully, this guide helped you determine your alfalfa seeding dates. Do you have any tips to share in caring for this plant? We’d love to hear from you.