Alfalfa, or Lucerne as it’s known in some parts of the world, is an amazing vegetable. Packed with essential vitamins and minerals, it’s commonly used to feed livestock. But it’s also great for humans too. So, if you’re looking to grow alfalfa in your garden, when’s the best time to plant?
The best time to plant alfalfa is spring. The spring planting season runs from mid-April to May. In places where the climate is warmer, you can continue planting alfalfa until September. Choose a site that has good water retention and fewer weeds for successful planting.
With a little bit of a green thumb, you can have home-grown alfalfa sprouts on the dinner table in now time, so let’s take a closer look at alfalfa, including how to plant it, how long it takes to sprout, and how much water it needs to survive and thrive.
How Late Can You Plant Alfalfa?
The latest planting dates for alfalfa vary by region. For example, if you’re in the Upper Midwest states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, or Illinois, anytime from the middle of April until May is ideal.
In Wisconsin, you can stretch the planting date to early June. In the warmer regions, planting alfalfa until early September is common.
How Do You Plant Alfalfa?
Before you begin the process of planting alfalfa, there are some things you should know. The first is that the success of your crops depends on the soil. The best soil to plant alfalfa in is well-drained soil located on level ground.
This topography and soil help the alfalfa roots to settle in the soil and allow the stem to receive all the necessary nutrients.
The next important thing to know is that alfalfa doesn’t thrive in soil with high acidity levels. We recommend a soil with a pH range between 6.8 and 7.5. You can conduct a pH test (on Amazon) to determine if the soil you’re using is suitable. With that information, you can decide whether to add lime to the earth (quite expensive) or look for more suitable soil.
Apart from checking soil acidity, you need to determine the fertility of the soil. Potassium, boron, sulfur and phosphorus are vital to alfalfa’s development. If the soil lacks any of these nutrients, add fertilizer that has both minerals present.
In addition to the soil requirements, the planting method used determines the success of the crop. The easiest way to plant alfalfa seeds is by sprinkling the seeds evenly over the area. After spreading, cover the scattered bases with dirt.
Place the alfalfa seeds (on Amazon) about three-eighths of an inch into the soil. Alfalfa roots cover a large area, and if the seeds are not placed deep enough, they won’t germinate. The optimum number of plants is between thirty to thirty-five alfalfa plants per square foot.
If you’re planting over a large expanse of land, counting seeds becomes time consuming. However, there is a straightforward solution. Place the seeds in a seed bag and measure out a quarter pound. Note that this weight is perfect for planting over a twenty-five-square-foot land space. Finally, don’t forget to leave about eighteen to twenty-five inches of space between the rows to avoid overcrowding.
How Long Does It Take Alfalfa to Sprout?
It takes between seven and ten days for alfalfa seeds to sprout. Try to thin the stand as soon as the sprouts reach between six to twelve inches. Thinning is the process of depopulating the stand by removing excess shoots.
Alfalfas are fast-growing plants and are ideal for making hay and organic manure. If you are thinking of using the alfalfa plants for fodder, you can cut them when they get to the desired height.
However, if you are thinking of using them as green manure, let the alfalfa grow until its purple blooms appear. Or you could wait until you’re ready to plant new crops.
To turn the plants into green manure, cut them down and leave them to rot in the soil. Another option is cutting the plants down and then tilling them into the ground. Due to the high nitrogen content, using alfalfa as green manure greatly improves the soil.
Alfalfa manure doesn’t only improve soil fertility. It also enhances air movement within the soil by increasing the activities of beneficial microbes.
Does Alfalfa Need a Lot of Water?
On average, alfalfa requires between eighteen to thirty-six inches of water every planting to harvest season. However, some alfalfa plants thrive in drought conditions. Ideally, when supplied with water of better quality, they flourish.
Planting alfalfa in waterlogged soils can impair alfalfa growth. Likewise, you risk damaging alfalfa plants by overwatering them.
This is because too much water results in extra competition from grass and other weeds on the plant stand. The intense competition for scarce nutrients leads to grass outnumbering the crop. In extreme cases, you can lose the entire plant stand to weeds.
Determining the ideal amount of water required for your alfalfa means considering several factors. Those factors include the ambient temperature, the amount and intensity of sunlight, and humidity levels. In the case of high drought conditions, you might need to irrigate your alfalfa.
Before deciding to irrigate your plants, one factor you should consider is the amount of rainfall available. Another factor is the draining ability of the soil. If you plant alfalfa in soil that doesn’t retain water, you will need to irrigate yourself.
Alfalfa is perennial and hardy enough to thrive in most climatic conditions, making it a great planting option. Also, alfalfa doesn’t need a lot of water and can survive in areas with lower water content.
Always take precautions when planting to avoid underwhelming results. Thanks to the high nitrogen content in alfalfa, you can consider using it as green manure. Alfalfa is beneficial to all the other plants around it.