Alfalfa plant – Planting, Grow and Care [Detailed Guide]

Alfalfa plant means the father of all foods in Arabic and seems to deserve that name. Alfalfa sprouts are full of nutrients. Experiment with salad or whole-grain bread. Do not think about the fact that commercially grown alfalfa is used as animal feed, although this should certainly recommend it as good nutritious food.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), also called alfalfa purple or medicinal, leguminous perennial, similar to clover, the family Pea (Fabaceae), widely cultivated mainly for hay, pasture, and silage. Alfalfa is known for its tolerance to drought, heat, and cold and for the remarkable productivity and quality of its pasture. The plant is also valued for soil improvement and is grown as a cover crop and as green manure.                               

alfalfa plant
alfalfa plant

The plant, which grows 30 to 90 cm in height, arises from a highly branched crown that is partially embedded in the soil. As the plant grows, the crown buttons appear numerous stems with leaves trifoliate (compound leaves with three leaflets). Bunches of small flowers emerge from the upper axillary buds of the stems.

In sunny regions with moderate heat, dry weather, and pollinating insects, these flowers can produce abundantly spiral legumes containing two to eight or more seeds. Like many other Fabaceae members, alfalfa plants harbor symbiotic soil bacteria (rhizobia) in their root nodules to “fix” the nitrogen in the air in the soil, making it accessible to other plants.

When grown as a cover crop or as part of crop rotation, alfalfa improves soil nutrient levels and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers.

What is the Best way to Plant Alfalfa

Following are the best ways to plant alfalfa in your home, garden, kitchen or field.

Run soil test: It is important to know the levels of pH, potassium and phosphorus soil.    

pH: The ideal is a neutral level between 6.8 and 7.1.

Fertilizer: Potassium: 170 parts per million (ppm) is the minimum level. Phosphorus: 25 to 30 ppm is the minimum level.

Check the planting depth: Plant alfalfa seeds three-eighths of an inch below the surface of the soil. In corn, we talk about precision planting and the focus is on seed spacing. Precision planting of alfalfa means controlling the depth of planting. The goal is to plant between 30 and 35 plants per square foot by the end of the implantation season.

Check for herbicide transport: Consider the crop you planted in that field last year. If it was corn and there was residual chemistry from that crop, find out before it grows. Any residual chemicals that are present can inhibit the establishment of alfalfa. A cool, dry spring can increase the chances of herbicide transfer.

Weed control: Roundup Alfalfa is an important feature and helps many growers to get good plants, controlling weeds during establishment, when seedlings are vulnerable. The first 30 days of establishing an alfalfa seedling are very important.

If you do not have adequate weed control, you will lose alfalfa seedlings. It is difficult to restore a thin alfalfa plant, so we do not want to lose the seedlings to weeds. An autumn application of Roundup on alfalfa is an ideal way to control annual winter weeds in your fields.

Grow Alfalfa in your Garden

Alfalfa or Lucerne (Medicago sativa) is a hero both in the kitchen and in the garden. It’s quick and easy to grow indoors to add a light nutty flavor to salads or sandwiches. Perfect for growing children as it can sprout easily in a container and be eaten in a few days!

It can also be grown as green manure in garden beds during winter, helping to promote good soil structure. Make sure of these practices to make your alfalfa more beautiful in the garden:

  • Remove all weeds from the garden bed. This will aid germination and reduce competition for nutrients and water.
  • Loosen the soil in the garden bed and enrich it with fertilizer, adding the recommended fertilizer based on your soil conditions.
  • Scrape the area slightly to create ridges.
  • Sow seeds at a rate of 10 grams per 10 square meters, then sweep the area to cover the seeds lightly.

How to grow Alfalfa in a Pot

  • For use in salads like cabbages.
  • Choose a well-lit place indoors, away from direct heat or sunlight.
  • Using a large, wide-mouthed glass jar, place the seeds in the jar and soak them in warm water for about 3 hours.
  • Cover the top of the bottle with a porous fabric, such as muslin, sock, or a cotton scarf, and secure it in place with an elastic band.
  • Strain the water and leave the jar slightly tilted with the top down. This will allow the water to flow freely and improve ventilation. 
  • Fill the jug twice a day with warm water and shake well to make sure that all spouts are rinsed and then drained.
  • After 3 to 5 days, the sprouts should be ready to eat. Remove them from the pot and rinse well under running water in a fine sieve before consuming.
  • Water well during germination and during the growing season.
  • When you start to see flowers, cut them on the ground and change them well on the ground or leave them on top of the ground to create a green vegetation cover. Alternatively, harvest the tops to use as mulch in other parts of the garden, leaving the plants in place to produce an additional crop.

Is Growing Alfalfa Profitable?

Yes. Growing alfalfa is profitable in 4 ways:

#1- Nutritional sense

Low content of fiber: The low content of fiber alfalfa maximizes the consumption daily dry matter of one cow and at the same time, meets the rumen fiber needs of the animal. Each additional kilo of intake directly translates into increased milk production.

Protein: Protein is the biggest supplementary expense on most dairy farms. Since alfalfa is rich in protein, the ideal use of alfalfa in the feed can reduce the cost of purchased supplements.

High potassium content: Dairy cattle need large amounts of potassium. Alfalfa provides many of the requirements.

High calcium content: Alfalfa provides more calcium per ton than any other forage or grain. High milk production requires large amounts of calcium.

More protein per acre: Alfalfa produces at least 3 times more protein per acre than other crops grown in dairy regions in the United States. Since protein is still the most expensive nutrient, alfalfa in the feed can significantly improve cash flow. The supplemental protein is required with diets rich in silage corn.

#2- Economic sense

Higher profits from alfalfa: The biggest milk producers know that alfalfa is their most profitable crop. The high performance of high-quality fodder results in an increase in the production of milk or meat per acre of any fodder. Alfalfa has a competitive cost with corn silage based on dry matter.

Check any farm management registration program and verify that alfalfa has been the most profitable crop compared to other staple crops for several years, especially in the absence of subsidy payments.

Alfalfa benefits of farming systems: Alfalfa reduces spending on nitrogen fertilizers for most of the crops following and provides an increase of 10-15% in the productivity of corn after alfalfa.

Alfalfa also helps to break the disease cycle and insects from other cultures, reducing thus the loss of income and/or the need for insecticides. Corn and soy are at risk of lower yields without alfalfa in the rotation.

Higher productivity per acre: Improved varieties and better management tools continue to increase alfalfa productivity.

#3- Reduced risk

Alfalfa is a rugged crop. The resistance improved winter and resistance to diseases of new varieties continue to improve their ability to grow and survive in difficult conditions.

Alfalfa also offers the opportunity to make several cuts during the year; poor conditions during a period do not affect the supply of fodder throughout the year.

Better production in drought conditions: With its deep root system, alfalfa will continue to grow and produce more yields under moisture stress than most other crops. Alfalfa begins to return to growth once conditions improve moisture while most grain crops suffer an irreversible loss of performance.

A reliable crop for grazing: Grazing alfalfa or alfalfa grass mixtures provides high-quality fodder right in the dry part of the hot summer months. New grazing tolerant varieties of alfalfa combined with improved winter resistance will help extend the persistence of alfalfa under grazing, reducing production costs compared to other legumes and grasses less tolerant to drought

#4- Sense of conservation

Reduction of soil erosion and runoff: Alfalfa is recognized as an excellent soil cover. Alfalfa reduces soil erosion and also reduces phosphorus and runoff from pesticides to streams and lakes. Alfalfa is one of the best crops to retain nitrogen before reaching the water table due to its deep root system that extends below the shallow root absorption zone of most other crops.

Additional manure management options: Alfalfa offers opportunities for manure application several times a year. This helps producers to distribute their workload and minimize storage facilities.

Better soil health: Since alfalfa is a perennial crop that lasts for several years, only a part of the total area of ​​the producer needs to be planted each spring. In many areas, alfalfa can be planted in the summer, after canning or short-term grain crops, reducing the need to plant alfalfa in damp fields in early spring.

The absence of soil preparation during the life of the population reduces the degradation of the soil structure in comparison with the row crops cultivated annually.

Wildlife benefits: Alfalfa is an incredible home for many beneficial insects that feed on other insects, produce honey, and serve as a food source for birds. Alfalfa attracts many birds and small mammals for food and nesting, as it provides ground cover for a long period.

How do you care for an Alfalfa Plant?

Sunlight: Sun / Partial shade: About 3-4 hours of sun in the morning/evening with some shade in the afternoon. Alfalfa sprouts can be grown quickly in just 3 to 5 days indoors. It can be grown in a glass jar or small tray. After the shoots have grown 7 to 12 cm, they are transplanted to the garden beds.

care for an Alfalfa Plant
care for an Alfalfa Plant

Water: regularly, as long as the topsoil dries. Keep the soil moist, but not soaked, to prevent rot and fungal diseases from a drenching.

Sowing season: Spring to summer

Sowing method: Planting alfalfa seeds requires a firm bed to improve seed contact with the soil. The bed should be free of weeds and kept moist. This helps the seeds retain moisture and prevents new roots from drying out. Alfalfa seeds can also be germinated indoors, for better results.

Weeds: Alfalfa must be kept free of weeds. The easiest way to do this is by using a herbicide before planting. The fertilizer must be applied according to the results of the soil tests. Lime, phosphorus, and potassium are the most important nutrients for a healthy alfalfa plant.

Pests: Diseases such as bacterial wilt, mildew, common leaf spot, etc., which can turn the leaflets into yellow and decaying roots in established plants, leading to the death of the plants. Pests such as aphids, whiteflies, and alfalfa caterpillars stimulate the growth of sooty fungi in plants.


  • By seeds: Alfalfa can be propagated by planting alfalfa seeds in well-prepared soil. A firm, well-drained bed allows the seeds to retain moisture and prevents new roots from drying out. This bed must be free of weeds and must be kept moist. The seeds should be sown in rows 45 to 60 cm apart and watered immediately when the seedlings emerge.
  • By stem cuttings: Alfalfa can be easily propagated through semi-rigid stem cuttings, about 6 inches high. Remove all leaves from the stem except 2-3 at the top. Soak the seedlings overnight and plant them in moist soil, about 5 to 5 centimeters deep. Place the seedlings in strong, filtered sunlight. As soon as the new leaves begin to appear along with the seedlings, in about 4-6 weeks, it is time to transplant the seedlings.

Harvest: Alfalfa can be harvested between the final sprouting stage and the initial flowering stage, providing high-quality feed yields without reducing quality to a reduced stand. Alfalfa can be harvested twice without any detrimental effect on winter survival and can be packaged as hay for direct animal feed.

What is Alfalfa used for

planting Alfalfa
Alfalfa Sprouts
  • Alfalfa is a good source of nutrients
  • Alfalfa is rich in nitrogen, a necessary element for the growth and development of plants, as well as for the absorption of nutrients and water.
    • It is also a good source of phosphorus and potassium and trace elements, such as calcium, boron, iron, magnesium, zinc, and sulfur. 
    • In general, the NPK ratio for alfalfa is 3-1-2.
  • Alfalfa is a fantastic cover culture
  • A sustainable and organic agricultural practice, planting cover crops makes it possible to enrich the soil for the next harvest without the use of chemical fertilizers.
    • Cover crops also suppress weeds, prevent soil erosion, control soil-borne pests and diseases, improve soil structure, and replenish vital nutrients that are depleted after the final harvest. 
    • Such as alfalfa is a good source of nutrients, fixes nitrogen, and creates an ideal ground for the preparation of the soil, it is an excellent cover to plant between growing seasons.     
    • Sow alfalfa seeds in the fall, after harvesting your last harvest and cleaning the bed. Prevent them from becoming seeds by cutting them or running a lawnmower over them. Leave the cut stems on the soil surface and allow them to dry completely. You can grow this plant material back into the soil when you are ready to plant it again, or leave it and use it as mulch.     
  • Alfalfa attracts beneficial insects to your yard
  • Like other legumes, alfalfa plants are home to a wide variety of “good” insects that feed on other pests.
    • Wherever alfalfa is grown, it attracts voracious predators like big-eyed bugs, bugs, anthocorid maidens, ladybugs and parasitic wasps.
    • These insects feed on populations close to aphids, thrips, spider mites, and armyworms and serve as stellar biological controls.
    • When alfalfa plants are treated with insecticide, these unwanted pests quickly return to the fields.
  • Alfalfa as animal food
  • Alfalfa is grown around the world as feed, harvested as hay, or used as a green cutlet. While large-scale farms will certainly benefit from growing alfalfa, smaller operations can also take advantage of alfalfa as animal fodder.
    • Alfalfa hay is a good source of nutrition for horses, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens, pigs, and more.
    • Alfalfa pellets are easy to handle. Alfalfa is convenient for feeding horses, as it comes in small buckets, easy to handle, reducing dirt and waste during feeding.
    • The cubes of alfalfa are denser than normal hay bales, so require less storage space and are easier to carry. They take up less space in the vehicle and do not mess. They also remain fresh longer than packaged hay. Alfalfa has a higher percentage of digestible nutrients.
    • Alfalfa has a higher percentage of digestible nutrients than any other form of hay or forage. It is a food very rich in proteins, rich in energy, calcium, and vitamins. As with any high-energy food, you should make sure to feed the horse an adequate amount, taking into account the amount of energy the animal consumes.
  • Alfalfa as human food
  • Although the stalks and leaves of the alfalfa plant are edible parts for our animal friends, the seeds can be collected, germinated, and consumed in the form of alfalfa sprouts as a healthy snack for us as well.
    • Per cup, alfalfa sprouts are very low in calories (7.6) and still provide a good source of protein, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.
    • Sprinkling sprouts of alfalfa on a sandwich or salad also has some health benefits; it can help to lower cholesterol, improve metabolism, relieve menopausal symptoms, relieve inflammation, and prevent free radical damage.
    • By adding alfalfa in your diet you can solve your health problems like:   
      • High cholesterol
        • Kidney problems
        • Bladder problems
        • Prostate problems
        • Asthma
        • Arthritis
        • Diabetes
        • Bellyache

 Can Humans Eat Alfalfa

Yes. Alfalfa is used for culinary purposes and is rich in vitamin K, it also has great medicinal importance. Alfalfa sprouts are the immature sprouts of the alfalfa plant.

The plant itself is not used for culinary purposes because the ripe leaves are bitter. Alfalfa sprouts are extremely likely to transmit food-borne diseases, such as e.coli, listeria, and salmonella, so it is best to grow your own seeds fully sanitized or make sure the sprouts are cooked long enough to kill any potential bacteria.

People with compromised immune systems, such as pregnant women and the elderly, should not eat raw sprouts.

You can use alfalfa sprouts, which are delicious both hot and cold. Put them on sandwiches instead of lettuce to add a little bit of green and crispy. They are especially good with any avocado sandwich. Add them to stews or soups.

Always wash your hands before handling the sprouts and rinse well. Wash your hands again after handling them. If you grew them at home and have a healthy immune system, you can add the sprouts at the end of the recipe preparation time.

Otherwise, kale must be cooked to kill any disease transmitted by the foods it contains.

There is a long list of traditional uses of alfalfa as a medicinal herb. They include lowering blood pressure, acting as a diuretic, increasing breast milk production, treating arthritis, and eliminating kidney stones.

What are the side effects of Alfalfa

Despite a large number of valuable nutrients and metabolic compounds, there is still substantial concern about the safety of using alfalfa. 11 Long-term use of alfalfa, especially seeds, has an immunostimulating effect and can worsen autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and multiple disease sclerosis.

The weak estrogenic effects make the use of alfalfa inadvisable in patients at risk of breast or uterine cancer. Safety for use in pregnant or nursing mothers or children has not been established.

Alfalfa contains a high concentration of vitamin K, so patients who currently take any blood-thinning medication should consult their doctor before taking any alfalfa product.

In addition, with the well-known mild hypoglycemic effect, patients who are already taking diabetes medications should be advised of the possibility of unintentional drops in blood glucose.  Lack of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in the blood (from ground alfalfa seeds).

Is Alfalfa good for asthma?

Alfalfa is a herbal supplement that can be used as a treatment for asthma, arthritis, diabetes, excessive production of urine (diuresis), high cholesterol, indigestion, and excessive bruising or bleeding (purple thrombocytopenia). But there is no scientific evidence that self-treatment with alfalfa tablets for asthma and hay fever is effective.

Can you plant Alfalfa in the Fall 

Yes. Late summer and early autumn are usually the best times to plant alfalfa. With the June rains in most areas, there may be enough humidity to achieve good plotting in at least some fields.

Alfalfa crop sown in the fall is more productive during the first growing season than a crop sown in the spring. However, after the first season, the performance potential is almost the same.

Producers only need to plant early enough to have three to five trifoliate leaves before the first frost. Alfalfa is an investment of three to five years or more.

Some producers avoid alfalfa due to its high cost of establishment and the risk of breaking the plot. However, in the long run, it is relatively cheap if you pay over the life of the crop.

Can you plant Alfalfa in the Spring 

Yes. You can grow alfalfa with these tips in mind: 

  • Alfalfa seed requires well-drained soil for optimal production. Poor soil drainage can cause problems with the formation of crusts that can cause poor soil aeration, micronutrient toxicity, and ice damage in winter.
  • It is important to remember to collect soil samples before planting to determine the pH and nutritional status of the field.
  • The preparation of the bed is a fundamental step to guarantee the good germination of the alfalfa seed. Firm beds reduce the chance of planting too deep and help keep moisture closer to the surface. Soil compaction will help ensure firm sowing and good soil moisture retention.
  • Determining when to plant alfalfa depends on several factors, such as soil moisture and cultivation practices. For best results in South Dakota, alfalfa should be sown between mid-April and mid-May.
  • The seed must be covered with sufficient soil to provide moist conditions for germination. Seed placement of ¼ to ½ inch depth is appropriate in most soils at rates of 10 to 25 pounds of seeds/acre.
  • Planting alfalfa with a complementary crop, such as annual ryegrass, oats, barley, or triticale can help to minimize competition with weeds during establishment. However, planting alfalfa without a complementary crop allows producers to harvest more alfalfa of higher quality in the year of planting.
  • Pure alfalfa fields will produce the highest quality fodder and for this reason, are the most sought after in the dairy industry. Other producers whose animals need fewer nutrients may be interested in using alfalfa/grass mixtures to take advantage of improved persistence while still meeting their herd’s nutrient needs.

Can you Plant Clover and Alfalfa together 

Yes. You can mix alfalfa with clover. The Clover Frosty berseem mixed with alfalfa hay can increase production by almost 30%. If your alfalfa field is now 5 or 6 years old and begins to lose its fullness, sowing over the field with clover Frosty berseem can be a way to improve your hay harvest during the summer.

Sowing clover can increase hay protein, but you still basically have alfalfa-based food. Berseem’s clover looks more like alfalfa than typical red or white clover crops.               

How late can you Plant Alfalfa

The decision of late planting of alfalfa depends on climatic conditions (temperature), available soil moisture. Actual dates vary according to the availability of humidity and temperatures.

You should have at least 45 days without frost in good growing conditions after planting to accumulate adequate carbohydrate reserves for the winter. Along with dry soil, planting too late is the main cause of failures in summer planting.

Best time to plant Alfalfa in North Carolina

Alfalfa is not a new crop in North Carolina. It has been grown in the region since the late 19th century and is still recognized as an excellent forage species. Late summer planting is preferred in North Carolina due to the opportunity to establish alfalfa after planting another crop.

Herbicides are generally not needed for planting in late summer. Irrigation allows sowing in late summer in all areas.

Grow Alfalfa Sprouts

  • Rinse 2 tablespoons of alfalfa seeds, removing any residue or floating matter.
  • Place the alfalfa seeds in a jar or other container to germinate. Add ¼-½ cup of cold water, cover with a bud screen or bud screen cover and soak for 8 hours or overnight. 
  • Drain all the water from the alfalfa seeds.
  • Invert the jar over an angled container so that the seeds drain and the air can circulate.
  • After about 8 hours of draining, rinse and drain again.
  • Repeat the wash and drain 2-3 times a day.
  • Small shoots should start to form in about 3 days. When the buds’ tails appear, move the buds container to the indirect light so that the green leaves grow. Avoid direct sunlight.   
  • Continue to rinse and drain 2 to 3 times a day for another 2 to 3 days or until the sprouts grow about 7 cm.
  • As soon as the shoots reach the desired length, drain well, remove the remaining peels and taste immediately or transfer to a covered container.

Grow Alfalfa Sprouts in the Soil

Simply spread the seeds evenly over the soil and lightly cover them with soil. Use about ¼ pound of seed for every 25 square feet and space the 18-24 inch rows. You should start seeing the disruptions within seven to 10 days.

When the seedlings reach 15 to 30 cm, tune as necessary to avoid agglomeration problems. Unless you grow alfalfa as hay for livestock, let it grow until the crop is ready to be planted or until its purple flowers appear, at which point you can just cut and plow it in the soil or leave it -over there. The alfalfa sprouts will break. This ‘green manure’ will fertilize the soil and stimulate microbial activity, aerating it too.

Does the Alfalfa come back every year

Yes. Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume that normally lives for four to eight years but can live for more than 20 years, depending on the variety and climate.

The plant reaches a height of up to 1 m (3.3 feet) and has a deep root system, sometimes growing to a depth of more than 15 m (49 feet) to reach groundwater.

How much does it cost to plant 1 Acre of Alfalfa?

For pure alfalfa plantations, you should plant 18 to 20 pounds per acre. For mixed-grass settlements, there is a recommendation of 15 to 16 pounds per acre.

For transmission propagation, the propagation rates must be increased by 10 to 20 percent

plant 1 Acre of Alfalfa
plant 1 Acre of Alfalfa

How much Money can you earn per acre of Alfalfa?

Excluding the cost of inputs (seeds, fertilizers, water, pesticides, herbicides, etc.) and the cost of harvesting, you can make over 350$ profit for one acre of alfalfa.

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