When to Plant Alfalfa in Missouri: Tips and Guidelines

If you are planning to grow alfalfa in Missouri, it is essential to understand the specific soil and climate requirements, the right seed, appropriate planting times, and managing practices. Alfalfa is an excellent forage crop for cattle and horses, and it may also help prevent soil erosion. 

What is Alfalfa and Why is it Important?

When to Plant Alfalfa in Missouri

Alfalfa Definition

Alfalfa is a legume that has been domesticated for well over 2,000 years. It is a cool-season perennial that produces high-quality forage or hay. 

Alfalfa is often planted in a mixture with grasses or other forages, such as clover or Ladino. It is a winter-hardy crop that can thrive in a range of climates.

The Importance of Alfalfa

Alfalfa is an essential crop for livestock farmers in Missouri because of its high nutritional value and yield. 

Alfalfa hay contains more protein, energy, and minerals than other hay crops, such as fescue or oat. 

It also provides excellent forage quality for livestock, which can support their growth and reproduction.

How to Prepare for Planting Alfalfa

Before planting alfalfa in Missouri, it is essential to conduct a soil test to determine the soil pH, phosphorus, and potassium levels. 

Alfalfa requires well-drained soils that are high in pH and fertility. If the soil is too acidic, lime should be applied to bring the pH level up to at least 6.0. Fertilization should be applied based on the soil test results and the expected yield. 

Table 1 shows a recommended fertilizer rate for pure stands of alfalfa, while table 2 presents the recommended nitrogen rates for alfalfa-grass mixtures.

Factors to Consider Before Planting Alfalfa

Soil Fertility and pH Requirements for Alfalfa

As mentioned earlier, alfalfa requires fertile, well-drained soils that are high in pH to grow properly. 

A soil test can provide information on the nutrient and pH levels in the soil, which can help determine the appropriate amount of fertilizer and lime needed to grow alfalfa.

Optimal Planting Time for Alfalfa in Southern Missouri?

In Missouri, alfalfa can be planted either in early spring or late summer, depending on the location. 

Southern Missouri areas, which lie south of the Missouri River, have a longer growing season, and therefore, alfalfa can be planted in both early spring and late summer, with late August being the optimal planting time. 

On the other hand, in northern Missouri areas, which lie north of the Missouri River, the optimal planting time for alfalfa is early spring.

Alfalfa Seeding Rates for Missouri

The recommended seeding rate for alfalfa in Missouri is around eight pounds per acre. 

The seeding rate may vary depending on the soil type, drainage, and seedbed preparation. 

For example, if the soil is heavier or drier, the seeding rate may be increased to increase the chances of germination and emergence.

Tips for Planting Alfalfa in Missouri

Seedbed Preparation for Alfalfa

Preparing a good seedbed is essential for the successful establishment of alfalfa. 

The soil should be well-tilled, free of weeds and debris, and should have adequate moisture. A firm, level seedbed ensures good seed-to-soil contact and promotes good emergence.

Alfalfa Planting Time in Missouri

The best time to plant alfalfa in Missouri depends on the location and climate, as discussed earlier. 

Ideally, the planting should be done early enough in the season to allow the plants to establish before the stress of summer. 

Alfalfa should be planted when the soil temperature is between 50-85°F, with an optimal range of 60-77°F.

Alfalfa Seed Inoculation

Alfalfa seed inoculation is essential to promote the growth of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots of alfalfa. 

The bacteria help the plant to fix atmospheric nitrogen, which can contribute to the plant’s growth and yield. 

The recommended rate of seed inoculation is around 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre, which should be worked into the soil just before planting.

Managing Alfalfa Crops in Missouri

Crop Rotation with Grasses or Other Forages

Crop rotation is an essential practice for livestock farmers to improve soil fertility and prevent diseases and pests. 

Alfalfa is often rotated with grasses or other forages to reduce the risk of diseases or pests that can decrease yield or quality.

Managing Alfalfa for Forage or Hay Production

Alfalfa can be used to produce forage or hay for livestock. Forage production requires regular cutting of the plants every four to six weeks, while hay production requires cutting the plants when they are at their peak growth and drying them for storage. 

Young alfalfa seedlings may be damaged by grazing, so it’s best to wait until the plants are more mature before allowing livestock to graze in the field.

Controlling Weeds and Insects in Alfalfa Fields

Weed and insect control is essential to maintain a healthy and productive alfalfa crop. 

Herbicides can be used to control weeds in alfalfa fields, while insecticides may be necessary to manage insect pests. 

Early detection is crucial to prevent insect and weed infestations from spreading and damaging the crop.

Frequently Asked Questions About Planting Alfalfa in Missouri

What is the Best Soil Type for Alfalfa?

Alfalfa grows best in well-drained, fertile soils that are high in pH and nutrient levels. The soil type can vary, but soil fertility and drainage are essential factors to consider for the best results.

When Should I Plant Alfalfa in Missouri?

The optimal planting time for alfalfa depends on the location in Missouri. Southern Missouri can be planted in both early spring and late summer, while northern Missouri should be planted in early spring.

How Much Alfalfa Seed is Needed Per Acre in Missouri?

The recommended seeding rate for alfalfa is around eight pounds per acre. However, the rate may vary depending on soil type, drainage, and seedbed preparation.

FAQ: When to Plant Alfalfa in Missouri

Q: What is alfalfa?

A: Alfalfa is a perennial legume that is commonly used for forage in pastures and hay fields.

Q: When should I plant alfalfa in Missouri?

A: Alfalfa can be planted in Missouri during late March through early fall. Plant early enough to allow the seed to germinate and produce enough vegetation for winter hardiness.

Q: How much seed should I use when planting alfalfa?

A: The recommended seeding rate for alfalfa is 15 to 20 pounds per acre for a pure stand, or 6 to 12 pounds per acre when planting in a mix with other forages.

Q: What kind of soil is best for planting alfalfa?

A: Alfalfa grows best in well-drained, deep soils with good soil fertility. A soil sample should be taken prior to planting to determine the soil fertility and pH levels.

Q: How can I improve soil fertility for alfalfa?

A: Applying 40 pounds of limestone per ton of expected yield can help increase soil pH levels and improve soil fertility for alfalfa.

Q: What is the best seedbed preparation for planting alfalfa?

A: The seedbed should be firm, level and free of weeds. No-till planting with direct contact between the seed and soil is preferred.

Q: What are some tips for weed control when planting alfalfa?

A: Planting in a clean seedbed free of weedy vegetation and using mulch around young plants can help reduce weed competition and improve plant vigor and protein content.

Q: How can I ensure good winter hardiness for alfalfa?

A: Late summer plantings of alfalfa may not have enough growth to survive the winter. Early fall plantings, however, have time to develop good root reserves for winter hardiness.

Q: Where can I find alfalfa seeds for planting?

A: Alfalfa seed can be found at farm supplies stores or through the MU Extension office.

Q: Is alfalfa an annual or perennial crop?

A: Alfalfa is a perennial crop that can be harvested for several years if managed properly.


Planting alfalfa in Missouri can be a challenging task, but following recommended guidelines and consulting specialists from the University of Missouri Extension can enhance your success. 

Factors like soil fertility, optimal planting time, seedbed preparation, and pest control should be considered. With proper management practices, alfalfa can provide high-quality forage or hay for livestock, contributing to their growth and reproduction.

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