The cool season perennial alfalfa is typically produced for soil improvement, livestock feed, or as a cover crop. A natural supply of nitrogen, alfalfa is very nourishing. It is ideal for soil improvement and erosion control. Alfalfa’s extensive root system nourishes both the plant and the soil. Cultivated for generations, alfalfa is easy to grow in your garden.
How to Grow Alfalfa Plant
Alfalfa is easy to grow and multiply easily, adapts well to almost any garden, and tolerates a wide range of growing conditions. It also makes a drought-tolerant plant, as it does not like wet feet. In fact, excess moisture can lead to mold growth.
When planting alfalfa, choose a full sun site. Also, look for a well-draining area with a soil pH between 6.8 and 7.5.
Before planting, you should clear the area, work the soil, and remove any debris. Purified alfalfa seed can be purchased at most feed supply stores.
How to Plant Alfalfa
Those who live in cooler climates can plant alfalfa in the spring while more temperate regions should choose to plant in the fall. Because alfalfa roots quickly, it doesn’t need to be planted deeply — just ½ inch (1 cm) deep. Simply sprinkle the seeds evenly over the soil and cover them lightly with soil. Use about 1/2 pound of seeds per 25 square feet and in rows about 18 to 24 inches (46-61 cm) apart.
Within seven to ten days, you ought to start to notice sprouts. Once the plants are about 15-31 cm tall, lift them up to avoid crowding.
Unless the alfalfa is being grown for livestock feed, let it grow until it’s ready to be harvested or its purple flowers appear, at which point you can simply cut it back, and it can be put in the soil or left. Alfalfa sprouts will break off. This “green manure” will then fertilize the soil as well as stimulate microbial activity and thus aerate it.
Harvesting Alfalfa Plant
If the alfalfa is grown for livestock, it must be cut and processed before flowering (called the early flowering stage). As the plant matures, these animals become more difficult to digest. Harvesting at this early stage of flowering also ensures optimal percentages of nutrients, which are often found in the leaves of the plant.
Do not mow alfalfa if rain is imminent, as this can damage the crop. Rainy weather can lead to mold problems. A high-quality alfalfa threshing should have a good green color, pleasant-smelling leaves, and thin, flexible stems. Once the land is harvested, you will need to turn it over before planting next season.
Alfalfa has few pest problems, but the alfalfa weevil can cause serious damage. In addition, stem nematodes can infect stem buds and weaken them.