Early Spring Alfalfa Evaluation

As temperatures begin to rise and spring moves closer, don’t’ forget to take a bit of time to assess alfalfa stands for winter kill and overall health going into this year’s growing season. While this winter was much milder compared to what we experienced last year, older stands or late harvested alfalfa still have a potential for winter kill. 

Even before plants begin to green up, individual plant assessments can be done.  While assessment before green-up occurs may seem a bit preemptive, a bit of pre-scouting now can focus more accurate scouting efforts to problem areas later on when time becomes precious during spring planting.

1)      Dig down 4-6 inches and loot at the taproot.  A healthy plant will be white and firm while winter damaged taproots will be yellow to brown in color and stringy.

2)      Look for alive, in-tact basal buds at the crown of the plant.  Buds formed last fall will start growth sooner and boost first cutting yields.  A lack of basal buds doesn’t mean that the plant won’t recover, but first cuttings may be smaller.

3)      Take stand counts.  Normally, alfalfa stands are assessed with stem counts.  Anything over 55 stems/ft2 is doing fine.  Doing a stem count before actual stem growth has occurred can be a bit difficult.  If you really want to do some counts before green-up, we need to look at plant numbers.  The University of Wisconsin recommends reseeding new plantings with less than 12 plants/ft2 or stands older than 1 year with less than 6 plants/ft2.  In Nebraska, 4-6 plants/ft2 with adequate moisture are traditionally adequate.