NORTH PLATTE, Neb. — Do you have a thinning and low producing alfalfa stand; but are not quite ready to do a complete reseeding? These stands can be rejuvenated by interseeding grasses to increase hay production in subsequent years or to convert them to pasture.
Most alfalfa fields start to lose stand and production potential after cutting hay for several years. Orchardgrass is the grass most commonly interseeded into alfalfa, but other grasses like endophyte-free tall fescue, smooth or meadow brome, festulolium, and wheatgrasses also can be used. In fact, if the field will be used as pasture, a mixture of several grasses may be best since it adds diversity to your animals’ diet.
Interseeding after a mid- to late August hay harvest can be excellent timing if you have moisture to start the new seedlings. Alfalfa regrows more slowly this time of year so it won’t compete as aggressively with your new grasses. Still, if your alfalfa is relatively thick, you probably will need to take another cutting in about four weeks, or as soon as the alfalfa starts to form a full canopy. This allows sunlight to continue to reach new grass seedlings below the alfalfa.
The seeding rate of the grasses will vary depending on the species that is used and how thick the existing alfalfa is. With orchardgrass for example, as little as 3 lb./acre might be adequate in a relatively thick alfalfa stand or up to 6 lb./acre in a very thin alfalfa stand.
Next spring you will need to judge how well established your new grasses have become. If they seem a little weak, cut hay early to again open the canopy for better light penetration. After that, you should be able to hay as you choose, but keep in mind that grass regrowth in the heat of the summer will be less than that of the alfalfa.
— Jerry Volesky, Nebraska Extension
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