Select a good variety for your site
A good variety of alfalfa is one that is well suited to the environmental conditions where it will be grown. Even the best varieties of alfalfa can fail if they are not well-managed. Alfalfa is a crop that prefers to be on adequately drained soils. Producers should consider stand life of the crop. Most dairy producers prefer a three- to five-year stand life of alfalfa versus a longer stand of over five years, where winter-hardiness becomes of primary importance. Producers should also consider disease resistance such as bacterial wilt, Phytophthora root rot and insect resistance to potato leaf hoppers. Seeding rates for alfalfa should be 14 to 16 pounds per acre and planted 0.25 to 0.5 inches deep.
If you plan to reseed into a thin-established alfalfa stand, resist the temptation. Alfalfa toxicity will prevent the new seedlings from establishing. Those fields rotating to another crop is the best recommendation.
For a complete listing of the MSU alfalfa variety trials, read MSU’s Forage Varieties for Michigan in 2011.
Plant on time
Successful late-summer seedings depends on soil moisture during the establishment period and having enough plant growth prior to a killing frost. Six to eight weeks of growth are needed before a killing frost. I have personally seen lush, thick, new alfalfa seedings look terrific in the fall following an early September seeding date. But because the alfalfa had less than 6 inches of growth before a killing frost, the stand was a disaster in the spring due to winterkill. Summer seedings should be planted between June 15 and August 1 in the northern regions and Upper Peninsula of Michigan and before August 15 for the southern regions. If very dry weather persists late in the summer, consider waiting until next spring.
In summary, having a plan, paying attention to detail prior to going out to the field, and following basic steps for planting will pay big dividends for your new stands of alfalfa.