Despite their slow growth and tender appearance, alfalfa seedlings are tough, says Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension forage specialist.

“Many seedlings manage to survive stressful conditions and become productive plants, but some years are harder on them than others and this is one of those years,” says Anderson. “Because of the extended hot, dry weather in many areas, alfalfa seedlings are experiencing more stress than usual.”

To help reduce the stress on seedlings, he offers these tips:

  • Control weeds. Weeds use moisture and intercept light – two critical needs of the seedlings. If weeds aren’t too large and are growing actively, herbi-cides are a good option; otherwise, clipping may be necessary. If you clip, leave a tall stubble so seedlings don’t go into shock. Be careful not to smother seedlings with the clippings.
  • Scout for insects. Leafhoppers, aphids, grasshoppers and other insects cause extra problems during stressful weather. Timely insecticide application or mowing is more important than ever.
  • Consider topping off dryland alfalfa, even if there isn’t enough to harvest. The larger the plant, the more soil moisture it needs to survive. Making plants smaller by clipping will reduce the plant’s moisture requirement, thereby reliev-ing stress and conserving what little moisture still remains.

“Drought conditions may make growth difficult for alfalfa seedlings, but with a little extra care, they can get a good start,” says Anderson.