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Extension > Agriculture > Dairy Extension > Forages > Seeding grasses with alfalfa: This old idea makes cents today

Seeding grasses with alfalfa: This old idea makes cents today

Paul Peterson, Extension Forage Agronomist

Including grasses in some of your new alfalfa seedings is worth considering. Years ago, mixing grasses with alfalfa was standard practice, whether seeding an oat companion crop and/or including timothy or smooth bromegrass with the under-sown alfalfa. The increased availability of grass herbicides and the evolution of how we estimate forage quality contributed to the movement away from grasses towards alfalfa monocultures. However, recent developments in forage testing have helped restore the respect that grasses somewhat unfairly lost.

Reasons to seed grass with alfalfa:

Some management considerations with alfalfa-grass mixtures:

Table 1. Some grass options for seeding with alfalfa in Minnesota.


Grass Species Rate (lb/ac) Alfalfa (lb/ac) PROS CONS
Small Grain harvested at boot stage 1 - 1.5 bu/ac 12 - 15 High seeding-year yield
Good erosion/weed control due to rapid emergence/cover
Moderate quality
Too competitive if seeded too heavily or harvested after boot stage
Italian (annual)
Ryegrass
2 - 5 12 - 15 High seeding-year yield
High quality, leafy
Good snow catch/insulation
Difficult to wilt to hay moisture
Too competitive if seeded too heavily or in same row with alfalfa
Annual Ryegrass 2 - 5 12 - 15 High seeding-year yield
Good quality
Difficult to wilt to hay moisture
Produces seedhead during every growth cycle
Too competitive if seeded too heavily or in same row with alfalfa
Reed Canarygrass 5 - 7 7 - 10 Very winter hardy
Sod former
High yield once established
Yield distribution matches alfalfa
Not too competitive in short rotation
Speeds drying rate
Coarse/unpalatable if too mature
Sometimes slow to establish
Can dominate in older stands
Smooth Bromegrass 6 - 10 7 - 10 Very winter hardy
High spring yield
Sod former
Not competitive
Speeds drying rate
Limited presence in summer/fall harvests
First cutting during stem elongation reduces persistence
Timothy 2 - 5 7 - 10 Very winter hardy
High spring yield
Not competitive
Speeds drying rate
Limited presence in summer/fall cuts
Orchardgrass 2 - 5 7 - 10 High yield
Yield distribution matches alfalfa
Good fall yield
Leafy regrowth
Too competitive if seeded too heavily
Susceptible to winter injury
Tall Fescue 4 - 8 7 - 10 High yield
Yield distribution matches alfalfa
Good fall yield
Leafy regrowth
Difficult to wilt to hay moisture
Susceptible to winter injury
Too competitive if seeded too heavily or in same row with alfalfa
Festulolium 4 - 8 7 - 10 High short-term yield
Good quality
Difficult to wilt to hay moisture
Susceptible to winter injury
Perennial Ryegrass 4 - 8 7 - 10 High quality Difficult to wilt to hay moisture Susceptible to winter injury
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