Alfalfa, the queen of forage crops, has been grown since time immemorial by the various civilizations across the world, due to its high yield and nutrient content. Read more on how to grow and care for this popular pasture crop.
- Common names: Lucerne, Alfalfa
- Indian names: Lusan ghas (Hindi), Lusarne soppu(Kannada), Kudirai Masal(Tamil), Ashvabala (Sanskrit), Dureshta(Oriya)
- Botanical Name: Medicago sativa
- Varieties: Sand Lucerne, GM alfalfa
- Design Ideas: Alfalfa is suitable to be grown in pots or in garden beds.
Alfalfa, Medicago sativa is a perennial flowering plant in the pea family Fabaceae cultivated as a forage plant in many countries. It is a native plant to warmer temperate climates and has been cultivated as livestock fodder. Many essential nutrients are also found in Alfafa plants which are of great importance to human health. It helps in the detoxification of the urinary tract, purification of blood and liver, and in the maintenance of the alkalinity of the body.
PS: Alfalfa should be avoided by pregnant and lactating women.
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- Life-Cycle: perennial
- Height: 1-3 feet
- Width/Spread: 2-3 feet
- Flowering season: May-July
- Flower: The flowers resemble clovers, with clusters of small purple/yellow/blue flowers.
- Foliage: The leaves of the plant are made up of three individual leaflets (trifoliate) which are narrow and oval or oblong in shape with a smooth upper surface and slightly hairy lower surface.
- Sunlight: partial sun/shade – around 3-4 hours of morning/evening sunlight with some afternoon shade.
Alfalfa sprouts can be grown quickly in just 3 to 5 days indoors. It can be grown in a glass jar or a small tray. After the sprouts have grown from 3 to 5 inches, they are transplanted to the garden beds.
- Water: regularly- whenever top-soil turns dry. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, to avoid rot and fungal diseases due to over-watering.
- Sowing season: spring to summer
- Sowing method: Planting Alfalfa seeds requires a firm seedbed to improve seed contact with the soil. The seedbed should be free of weeds and kept moist. This helps seeds to retain moisture and prevents new roots from drying out. Alfalfa seeds can also be germinated indoors, to obtain best results.
Alfalfa should be kept free from weeds. The easiest way to achieve is with the use of a preplant herbicide. Fertilizer should be applied in accordance with soil test results. Lime, phosphorus and potash are the most important nutrients for a healthy alfalfa stand.
Diseases like bacterial wilt, downy mildew, common leaf spot, etc. which can turn leaflets into yellow and decaying roots in established plants leading to the death of the plants. Pests like aphids, whiteflies and alfalfa caterpillars encourage the growth of sooty mold on plants.
Alfalfa can be harvested between the late budding and early bloom stage which gives yields of high-quality feed without reducing the quality to a reduced stand. Alfalfa can be harvested twice without any detrimental effect on winter survival and baled as hay for direct feeding to animals.
- By seeds: Alfalfa can propagated by planting alfalfa seeds in well-prepared soil. A well-drained and firm seedbed allows seeds to retain moisture and prevents new roots from drying out. This seed bed should be free from weeds and kept moist. The seeds should be sown in rows spaced 45-60 cm apart and watered immediately while seedlings emerge.
- By Stem cuttings: Alfalfa can be easily propagated through semi-rigid stem-cuttings, about 6 inches tall. Remove all the leaves from the stem, except 2-3 on top. Soak the cuttings overnight and then plant them in a moist soil, about 2-3 inches deep. Place the cuttings in bright, filtered sunlight. Once new leaves start appearing along the cuttings in about 4-6 weeks, its time to transplant the cuttings.
Edited by Farhana Afreen for GreenMyLife.