Has anyone following this newsgroup tried to use alfalfa as a lawn/groundcover
plant? I'm trying it now (in the Central Valley of California, USA) and it
seems promising. If anybody can offer experiences or insights I'd be grateful.
The variety I'm using is called Nomad, developed for direct grazing on non
irrigated rangeland. It tolerates (at least for the first season) being
mowed at 2" height and makes a reasonably neat lawn. Unmowed it'll look
weedy, with stems about a foot high, but that's not a problem unless
it gets into flowerbeds.
The only disappointment so far is that the flowers are yellow, which looks
like many common weeds. Purple flowers found on "industrial" alfalfas are
much more attractive and can be spectacular in mass.
If anybody's tried something of the sort I'd be grateful for your experience.
Thanks for reading,
i use alfalfa as a green manure source, which
gets chopped once, twice or three times a season
depending upon how much energy and time i get
for the task.
90% of what i chop is left behind to help
improve the soil structure and keep the worms
fed. it is helping a great deal.
i've observed alfalfa (the regular kind with
the purple flowers) growing in grass lawns
and it's ok if kept trimmed on a regular basis.
sometimes two inches or less, but like you
say in your first post, it does have a woody
stem when cut infrequently and would hurt to
walk on barefoot.
the neighbor has a clump or two growing in
his lawn that gets mowed regularly and it seems
to be ok.
i like it because it does get purple flowers,
but they don't show up much at a distance,
however the smell is divine.
mine is mixed with birdsfoot trefoil (a
bright yellow flower), the patches are just
now starting to bloom so it is looking like
bee heaven out there.
it was the generic alfalfa that was sold
in bulk by a local grain elevator. i'm not
sure it has a variety name. grows to 18-24
inches if not cut. it will likely be a long
time before i get back to them to check it
out, but i'm sure you can find generic
alfalfa almost anyplace there is a grain
in order to get it going in an established
field or grassy area you'll need to disturb
the soil enough that it can get going, it is
not a fast grower at first, i often plant it
as a mix with other cover plants (golden flax
is pretty, buckwheat is a great cover crop and
the bees love both of them when they are left to
bloom). i'd avoid red clover in the mix.
Agreed on the red clover, it didn't do well.
I've taken to putting alfalfa seed down each time
a weed is dug up. The issue of how well the alfalfa
is doing got a little confusing lately. Trefoil plants
that looked like alfalfa but had yellow flowers began
to appear in numbers in the yard, and I declared success.
Then, some pot-grown alfalfa (whose identity is much more
certain) revealed purple flowers. No purple flowers yet
in the lawn. I'm not sure what the story is at present.
Maybe it'll bloom later, maybe it all got eaten.
Snails, slugs and sowbugs seem to be major problems. I'm
trying to avoid chemical warfare, mostly for sake of the
earthworms. Principles of sustainable horticulture might
have to be sacrificed on the alter of expediency.
Thanks for reading,
it did too well here and took over any
place it could. i suspect we get a fair
amount more of rain than you do.
i was wondering about what you were calling
yellow flowers alfalfa as i'd never heard of
that before. glad that confusion is figured
the alfalfa here blooms a week or two later
than the trefoil (our alfalfa just started
blooming this past week).
it may take more time to get established or
just be too arid for it to get going without
irrigation (or both). i didn't see any blooms
on the alfalfa i seeded in one summer until the
if you have snails, slugs then you have a lot
more moisture than i was figuring... hmm, but
believe me they are not usually a problem with a
field as the other creatures will eat them (snakes,
frogs, toads, lizards, etc.).
i would consider it a good sign that you have
all this life going on. no need to use chemicals,
if you want to cut down on snail and slug populations
then you need to get less moisture, which would mean
more frequent and lower trimming. which to me is
rather defeating the purpose of having a field of
such plants. i want them to grow, put down the deep
tap root, and then once in a while they get clipped
to simulate grazing and that pulse of roots dying
back and then regrowing, along with the nitrogen
from the decaying leaves and stems, well it all goes
to feed the worms and soil creatures and that is
visible after several years.
the patch i'm growing did not have any organic
matter on top of the soil as it was sloped and very
compacted, it mostly grew queen-annes-lace and a
mix of other weeds, some of them i didn't want
spreading into other gardens (sow thistle, globe
thistle,...), it was also starting to form an
erosion gully. after i did a bit of tilling to
break up the surface so that i could have enough
soil to move to level it then it was planted with
alfalfa and trefoil. i kept it weeded the rest
of the season and forgot about it for the winter.
what i did not know was that mouse-eared chickweed
and a small blue flower were going to take over
growing underneath the snow. by the next spring
all the initial seedlings were being smothered
by the undesired weeds. so i spent some time the
next spring weeding around the edges and gradually
getting inwards and through the whole patch to
get rid of most of them. so the alfalfa and trefoil
could get well established before the heat of the
summer came along.
a year later i made the mistake of scattering
garlic scapes/bulbules throughout the patch. since
then i've harvested a lot of garlic from there and
decided to take it all out when i come across it.
between digging most of what i could get out last
year and going through it again this spring i've
reduced the garlic population by quite a bit, but
it will probably take a few more years to remove
all of it.
when i'm removing garlic i'm also opening up
small patches to be planted and so i seed them in
with daikon radishes, turnips and whatever else
veggies that may be interesting to grow. this is
unfenced area so can be raided by plenty of wild-
life, i'm trying to grow things outside the fenced
gardens to keep some of the critters from being
so interested in the fenced area. so far it is
helping, but always more to keep doing to continue
the experiments and increasing diversity.
oh, and i forget to mention before that if you
let the alfalfa and trefoil grow longer so that i
they get a fairly woody stem before trimming them
back then you get those stems as a longer lasting
organic mulch on top of the soil. trim sooner and
they get eaten to nothing by the worms/etc fairly
soon, but it also depends a lot upon your soil
moisture, rains, etc.
also, i'm not sure what the problem with pill
bugs might be, they tend to eat only decaying
organic matter or very ripe fruits that hit the
ground. not much else that i've noticed. i
don't consider them pests, they tell me that i've
not picked the strawberries often enough. i just
knock them off the berry if it is otherwise sound
and then trim off the chewed part when prepping
it's a fun topic for me as i keep trying
different things and enjoy watching how the
soil improves. before in that same area there
wasn't much worm activity or organic material
on the surface, now it has a fair amount of
stems slowly decaying and much more worm and
other life going on.
i keep telling myself that i should get a
series of pictures i've taken over the years
of the patch posted to my website, but as of
yet... it's a winter or rainy day project...
still you can see some pictures of the patch
in question at the website
a few places (look for NE corner shots).
There are yellow-flowered cultivars of alfalfa,
usually called medicago falcata, or Siberian alfalfa.
I still don't know what the yellow flowers are, but
on close inspection the leaves are slightly more rounded
than those of the alfalfa
I hope you're right!
The climate here is Mediterranean, 19" rainfall in
a typical winter, this past year was only 10", but
irrigation is heavy. Frost a few times each winter
but no snow. Standard subdivision, single-familiy homes on
1/4 acre lots, mine's a little smaller. That really puts
a crimp on the small insectivores. No skunks, no possums,
never seen a mole or shrew. Lots of squirrels, some roof
rats, plenty of birds (all day active) so the snails,
slugs and whatnot have close to a free pass.
Here we do such things by turning down the sprinkler timer 8-)
Your point about several years is well-taken. I'm
trying to gently shift a 50+ year old lawn to a new
paradigm. It isn't a quick project.
The heavy irrigation common around here produces
loads of pillbugs, which do seem to attack certain
things. Clover survived about a week before disappearing
_during_daylight_hours_ when only pillbugs were seen to
be active. By that evidence I charge them....
The place looks much wetter than around here, unless
you're irrigating at least an inch per week.
Thanks for reading,
ah, ok, thanks. :)
:) it can be as simple as just mowing once
in a while when it looks ragged. the natives
and wind-blown seeds that can adapt to that
regimen will then dominate and cycle with the
hmm, never seen that happen here on all
clovers, but some clovers will die back after
they grow and bloom, in the hot part of
summer here our white clover does that for
a while and then pops back in the cooler
fall or when more rains come.
the heavy soil holds water or keeps it
from soaking in quickly.
we average about 3 inches of rain a month,
but do have bouts of drought at times. i
don't usually irrigate anything but the main
fenced gardens and any new plantings or
seedlings i want to make sure will make it.
otherwise, yes, we're right in the middle of
two flowing drainage ditches and a high water
table most of the time. those ditches are
like wildlife highways, we rarely go a day
without seeing some kind of creature.