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Planting Density for Forage

By Dr. Harold Willis

Which seeding method? Whether you want to use broadcast, drill, or band seeding methods may depend mainly on your situation and available equipment. With good soil conditions, any seeding method can give good results. Under less than ideal conditions (low fertility or dry weather), band seeding (placing a band of seed directly over a band of fertilizer 1-2 inches deep) has been proven superior.


Legume seed should always be inoculated with the proper strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria to insure development of root nodules. The extra cost is small, while the benefits are great. Pre-inoculated seed can be purchased or you can apply the inoculant at seeding time. Inoculant or inoculated seeds should be stored in cool temperatures (below 60°F in a refrigerator is fine) and used as soon as possible (not over six months after purchase).

Generally, seed treatment with fungicides is unnecessary for small-seeded legumes and grasses.

Optimal seeding depth for legumes and grasses is less than one inch. In fine-textured and moist soils, seeds should be planted closer to the surface, from 1/2 to 1/4 inch. In summer or drier periods or in sandy soils, deeper planting (¾ to 1 inch) is recommended.

Alfalfa sprouts
Alfalfa: Long-lived perennial (except annual varieties); high-yielding with early spring and good midseason growth; good drought-tolerance, some varieties very winter hardy; cannot be grazed in seedling stage.

There are several factors to consider regarding seeding rates:

  1. Moisture. If the soil will not have much moisture later in the year (especially sandy soils), lower seeding rates will reduce competition for moisture among the seedlings. Adequate humus will increase available soil moisture.
  2. Soil conditions. Low soil fertility or acid soils will require higher seeding rates to insure that enough seedlings survive. Proper fertilization and adequate humus will overcome these problems.
  3. Species and variety. Different grasses and legumes and their varieties differ in their germination rate, number of seeds per pound, and growth-form (some spread out in growth more than others).

University of Wisconsin recommendations for alfalfa seeding rates are 10 – 12 pounds of live, pure seed per acre for pure stands, 15 pounds per acre if quackgrass may be a problem, and 16 – 18 pounds per acre if you wish to harvest in the year of seeding.

Use the number of seeds per pound to figure seed mixtures. For example, it would take only about one-fifth the amount of orchardgrass seed to equal bromegrass.

The timing of stand establishment must be adjusted to your local climate and possible crop rotation schedule. In the North and Northeast, the best time is spring; otherwise dry summer weather
may not allow enough growth to survive the winter (companion crops should not be used for late seedlings because they compete with the legume and slow the establishment). In the South, late summer is the best time for seeding.

Source: How to Grow Great Alfalfa