Fall Alfalfa Seeding
Now, don't let the name deceive you; alfalfa cannot be seeded the same day as trick-or-treating in the Midwest. However, late summer into the beginning of fall can be a great time to establish next year’s alfalfa fields.
One benefit is having this time available. Generally, this seeding window will land after spring and mid-summer seeding work is done and before harvest of other cash crops gets into full swing. It is important to finish planting at least six weeks before a hard freeze when there is moisture available (this will be important later). Another positive is there is usually less weed pressure for this new seedings in the fall. With summer annual weeds dying out as temperatures lower slightly, the new seeding will have less competition than spring seedings where those aggressive weeds can be your worst enemy. This helps establish a strong stand and takes away the requirement for a nurse crop, saving a little cash to spend on Halloween candy!
Remember that point about moisture early? Sometimes August to September can be dry unlike the ample rain available in the spring. If your alfalfa seeding happens to miss some of our fall showers, there can be trouble getting the seeds to germinate and plants to establish. However, if you pay attention to the forecast for seeding times, and Mother Nature works with us, the gentle fall rains can be perfect. The colder side of Mother Nature can be your other battle for fall seedings. If your hard freeze arrives sooner than expected, you could have some winter kill in areas where the alfalfa seedlings were not able to establish a hardy root system.
To summarize, general guidelines would be as follows:
- Timing is key – seed alfalfa early enough to get established enough to survive the winter.
- Pay attention to the forecast – moisture can be a critical factor in the fall for new seedings.
- Skip the nurse crop in low weed pressure areas.
- Utilize a window of precious time available to establish these seedings in the fall.