Alfalfa (Sativa)

The Alfalfa (Sativa) is generally described as a perennial forb/herb. This is not native to the U.S. (United States) and has its most active growth period in the spring and summer and fall . The Alfalfa (Sativa) has green foliage and inconspicuous purple flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Alfalfa (Sativa) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Alfalfa (Sativa) will reach up to 2 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Alfalfa (Sativa) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -43°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Crops: Alfalfa is harvested as hay which is processed or fed directly to livestock, or for seed production. It is also used in pellets as forage supplements.

Livestock: This plant is grown in combination with grasses in improved pastures. It is grazed by all types of domestic livestock. Caution should be taken when using alfalfa for grazing due to its high bloat hazard.

Wildlife: Alfalfa is an excellent food for antelope, deer, elk, Canada goose, and sage and sharp tail grouse. It is fair food for sandhill crane, mallard, Hungarian partridge, and pheasant.

In addition to providing high quality hay, grazing, and wildlife forage and protection, alfalfa is an important source of leaf meal used for fortifying baby food and other special diet foods prepared for human use. Large quantities of dehydrated alfalfa are also used in manufacturing concentrated feeds for poultry and livestock.

General Characteristics

Medicago sativa L., alfalfa, is a long-lived perennial 1egume. Flowers vary in color from purple to yellow and are borne in loose clusters. Pods of alfalfa range from the sickle type to those that are twisted into spirals. Each pod contains several small kidneyshaped seeds. Alfalfa’s stems are erect and grow from a woody crown to about 2 to 3 feet tall. New growth occurs from buds in the crown. The plant has a tap root which may penetrate deep into the soil. Leaves are alternately arranged on the stem and are normally trifoliate.

Required Growing Conditions

Alfalfa grows best on deep, well-drained, friable soils. Lands subject to frequent overflows or high water tables are unfavorable for alfalfa. The pH of the soil should be 6.5 or above.

Alfalfa is distributed throughout the entire United States.

Cultivation and Care

A seedbed must be smooth, firm, free of weeds and trash, and contain adequate moisture for germination and emergence. Land grading must be sufficient to ensure good surface draining. Alfalfa should not be seeded as a first crop on newly leveled land where fill may settle and cause poor surface drainage.Five pounds of scarified, properly inoculated pure live seed (PLS) per acre evenly drilled ¼-inch deep on adapted, properly prepared sites will produce adequate stands. A combination drill and packer is desirable. Cultipacking soil before and after seeding is helpful to establishing a stand. Seeding depths should be no greater than ¼ inch on finer textured soils and no greater than ½ inch on sandy soils Spring seedings can be made 30 days before the average date of last killing frost. Other dates of seeding may be made during the late summer.

General Upkeep and Control

In general, graze or cut for hay when alfalfa is in early bloom. Graze or cut to about a 2-inch height. Successive grazings and cuttings for hay should occur at ¼ bloom stage or after a 5 to 6 week recovery period. Alfalfa can best withstand grazing if rotated frequently or grazed in small strips. The last cutting of alfalfa should be made 3 to 4 weeks before the first killing frost date.

Alfalfa may cause livestock to bloat. Care should be used in managing such grazing to reduce the possibility of this hazard.

Pests and Potential Problems Alfalfa is susceptible to the spotted or pea aphid, alfalfa weevil, stem nematode, bacterial wilt, snout beetle, and several leaf spots.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) Alfalfa is the oldest crop grown for forage and there are many cultivars available on the open market. More than 440 publicly and privately developed cultivars were approved for certified seed production in the U.S. between 1962 and 1992. For a specific state or region of the U.S., use cultivars that are adapted and have been tested for local performance. Cultivars are readily available from commercial seed vendors.

Control Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA, NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Forb/herb
Growth Period Spring, Summer, Fall
Growth Duration Annual, Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Introduced to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Crown
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 2
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color Purple
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements High
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -43
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Rapid
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–8.5 pH
Precipitation Range 12–12 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 90 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating High

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA