Although most alfalfa is planted in the fall in Kansas, spring is also a good time for planting, said Jim Shroyer, K-State Research and Extension crop production specialist.
“Fall-seeded alfalfa will usually produce more first-year tonnage than spring-seeded alfalfa, but planting in April usually results in more reliable moisture conditions and less risk of poor stand establishment,” Shroyer said.
Before planting, producers should have the soil tested for pH, phosphorus and potassium. There is still time to get this done before a spring planting, and the results will pay off for the life of the stand—usually five to seven years, he said.
“Past research in Kansas has shown that applying and incorporating phosphate fertilizer, if recommended by a soil test analysis, results in large increases in productivity. In a no-till situation, phosphate fertilizer can be surface-applied and still have a long-term beneficial effect on yields,” he said
Lime may be needed before planting as well, Shroyer added.
“Alfalfa does best when the soil pH ranges from 6.5 to 7.5. If the soil pH is less than 6.5, production will be reduced. At very low pH levels, the stand may be thin and weedy. Applying lime, if needed, before planting alfalfa will pay big dividends,” he said.
Growers should make sure there are no weeds growing when alfalfa is planted and make sure there is no herbicide carryover from a previous crop that could injure the seedling alfalfa.
Seeding at the proper depth can help achieve good stands, Shroyer said.
“When seeding alfalfa, plant seed one-quarter to one-half inch deep. Plant about three-quarters inch deep in sandy soils, unless the field is irrigated. For dryland production, use a seeding rate of eight- to 12-pounds per acre in the west, and 12- to 16-pounds per acre in central and eastern Kansas. For irrigation production, use 15 to 20 pounds of seed per acre in all soils,” Shroyer said.
“It is also important to use certified, treated and inoculated seed,” he advised.