Here are three key culprits
There are three main reasons alfalfa seeding fails—particularly in the Midwest, says Dan Undersander, an Extension forage specialist with the University of Wisconsin.
- Low soil pH. Alfalfa needs a pH of 6.8 to fully thrive. "In Wisconsin, we put on half the lime recommended by soil tests," Undersander says.
- Loose seedbed. All seed needs good seed-to-soil contact in order to germinate. With alfalfa seed, which is extremely little compared to corn and even small grains, it’s doubly important. "Once you have prepared the seedbed, your shoe should sink in less than one-quarter inch," Undersander says.
If it sinks in more than that, you’ll need to follow the planter with a corrugated roller. "If you’re seeing better stands in wheel tracks or on headlands, you’re not packing good enough," Undersander says.
- Planting too deep. After planting, you should see 5% to 10% of the seed lying on the surface. If you’re not seeing any seed on the surface, you’re seeding too deep.
So how do you know if you have a good stand? "If you have 30 to 35 alfalfa plants per square foot in the fall, you’ve done a good job," Undersander says.