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Cool Season Legume Establishment

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Posted Jun. 30, 1996

Often legume seed are planted into perennial grasses without thought to the management needs of the legume being planted. We have a tendency to manage grass to its fullest potential with external inputs that are contrary to the management needs of the legume. Remember when establishing a legume you are establishing two organisms; the plant and the rhizobium bacteria that grows on the roots of the legume.

A legume with a healthy population of rhizobium bacteria attached to the roots will produce nitrogen to feed the legume plant. The legume plant in turn will supply carbon and other essential ingredients for the rhizobium bacteria to live. This is what is called a symbiotic relationship.

Successful legume stands have the potential for additional grazing during the grass dormant season, add quality forage, and reduce the overall forage production costs. For this to happen, it is essential that plants be well established and healthy. In tests at the Noble Research Institute we have decreased production costs by reducing nitrogen fertilization and at the same time slightly increased our stocking rate.

The following are steps to being successful in growing winter annual legumes in summer perennial grasses. For additional information, contact the Noble Research Institute and ask for legume establishment in perennial grasses.

  • Plant well adapted varieties.
  • Select cleaned and scarified seed.
  • Plant at the proper time (October) and with favorable moisture conditions.
  • Plant into a minimum grass stubble height of 3 to 5 inches.
  • Use the proper seeding rates for the legume being planted.
  • Place the seed at the proper depth with slight soil or litter coverage.
  • Fertilize with phosphorus and potassium and apply lime according to soil tests.
  • Inoculate the seed at planting time.
  • Limit any nitrogen fertilizer that is antagonistic to the rhizobium bacteria until legume plants are well established.

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