As cold temperatures arrive, be happy if you received snow recently. Although snow can create some problems, snow is good – for alfalfa and new irrigated grass seedings that were planted late last summer.
For alfalfa, nothing can increase the chance of alfalfa surviving winter better than a nice, thick blanket of snow. Last fall’s moderate weather allowed alfalfa plants to harden well for winter, leaving them with a high concentration of nutrients in their roots. This winterized condition enables alfalfa crowns and roots to withstand cold temperatures.
Fortunately, the soil doesn't get as cold as the air above it. And when soil is covered with a blanket of snow, this snow acts like a layer of insulation protecting the ground from extreme cold temperatures.
For new irrigated grass seedings, especially for those with orchardgrass, snow cover plays a very important role in reducing desiccation or drying out of the young grass plant crowns and roots. This is why we can expect to see more injury to alfalfa or new grass stands when we have winters with little snow. For both alfalfa and the grasses, having adequate soil moisture going into the winter is also important.
Of course, management practices in the fall influence the effect of snow on your alfalfa or new grass stands. Tall stubble provides some insulation value itself and it will catch more snow. Also, avoiding alfalfa harvest during the so-called risk period from mid-September through mid-October helps alfalfa roots winterize well by building up nutrients and reducing water content.
You may not like the way snow disrupts your daily routine but remember how valuable it can be for your alfalfa and new grass stands. Then, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Legume frost seeding in pastures
By Brad Schick, Nebraska Extension
Are you looking to increase production from pastures or hay fields? Interseeding legumes might just work in your operation.
Nitrogen is one of the key ingredients for productive pastures. A way to get more nitrogen in a pasture is to plant legumes. Alfalfa, birdsfoot trefoil, clovers, and other legumes all fix atmospheric nitrogen and can reduce nitrogen costs. These legumes are also very high in forage quality.
Not all pastures are good candidates for adding legumes, however. First, legumes need adequate phosphorus and a pH usually above 6, and some prefer a pH closer to 7.
Next, good seed placement is needed. Frost seeding is one method, however, snow-free or very little snow is preferred. Frost seeding uses broadcasting seeding in winter to allow the natural freezing and thawing of the ground to plant the seed for you, resulting in good seed to soil contact. Frost seeding success can vary and while more invasive, drilling is almost always a better option if the pasture would allow it.
Lastly, heavy flash grazing several times in the spring will reduce the competition from existing grasses and help promote the legume seedlings. Once the grass is 3 to 4 inches taller than the seedlings, graze quickly until the grasses are grazed down to the height of the legume seedlings.
Legumes can help reduce fertilizer cost and create higher quality pastures and hay. Frost seeding is an economical approach that might work to establish legumes in your operation.