Interseeding Alfalfa Into Bermudagrass

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Extension agents from Johnston, Harnett, Wake, and Sampson counties recently planted demonstration plots in each respective county to see if alfalfa can be successfully grown interseeded with bermuda in our area. Each of these counties already have producers who are successfully growing alfalfa in pure stands. It will be interesting to see what we will learn from these demonstration plots!

Planting Alfalfa Alfalfa Interseeded into Bermudagrass
  1. Possible benefits from interseeding alfalfa into bermudagrass
    Alfalfa allows producers to grow their own nitrogen.
  2. Alfalfa and bermudagrass results in forage that is 30 to 40 or more relative feed points higher than bermudagrass alone.
  3. The Bermuda component should help the alfalfa dry faster, retain more leaves, and minimize ash content from soil contamination.
  4. When the alfalfa plays out over several years the bermudagrass should still be there and able to reclaim is dominance.

Best management practices for establishing alfalfa into bermudagrass

  1. First select an appropriate site for planting. Make sure the alfalfa is being planted on a good well drained soil that is not too sandy. The soil pH needs to be 6.5 or greater or don’t try it. Also alfalfa needs lots of (P) phosphorus and (k) potassium fertility in the soil. Also, make sure that there are no herbicide residuals, read the product labels of materials that have been used for guidance on when alfalfa can be planted safely
  2. Test soil at the site; apply lime to ensure a pH of 6.5 or greater at the time of planting. Fertilize according to soil test recommendations and apply boron and molybdenum if needed.
  3. Plant at the right time of the year. In the Coastal Plain the best dates for planting appear to be Sept 1- October 15. Be sure that soil moisture is good and insects are not prevalent before planting.
  4. Clip or graze the bermudagrass short (1 – 2” inches) prior to planting.
  5. Spray the field with a light rate of a non-selective herbicide to “Chemically Frost” the bermudagrass. This will help prevent bermuda from growing back and competing with the seedling alfalfa. (Paraquat at 1qt/acre or Roundup at 9oz/acre of 5.5 lb. a.i. formulation or 12oz/acre of 4 lb. a..i. formulation). Ok to burn off thatch after chemical burndown before planting.
  6. Select alfalfa variety with a dormancy rating of 4-6 with disease resistance greater than or equal to MR for phytophthora root rot (PRR), anthracnose (An), bacterial wilt (Bw) and fusarium wilt (Fw) as well as an R rating to aphanomyces root rot (APH). Drill 22 to 25 pounds per acre if planting into 7 to 9 inch rows or 11 to 13 pounds per acre if planting into 15 inch rows. Seed depth should be a quarter to half inch deep.
  7. After the alfalfa comes up spray with an inexpensive insecticide (such as one of the synthetic pyrethroids, ex. Karate or Mustang Max at highest labeled rates) to control insect pests. Irrigate if available and necessary.

Maintenance

Apply K as recommended, same rates as for bermudagrass. Also apply B and Mo as recommended (for nodulation). Tissue sample 1 week before second cutting each year. Be on the lookout for insect pests. During February and March scout and spray fields for alfalfa weevils and during summer for fall armyworms if needed.

A good video on this subject, Why Interseed Alfalfa into Bermudagrass form the University of Georgia can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KycFVqClvOc

References

Dennis Hancock, Extension Specialist University of Georgia. Progressive Forage Grower. June 2015. Why Interseed Alfalfa into Bermudagrass UGA Cooperative Extension