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Will's Windmill - Can wheat be used as an alfalfa companion crop?

DETROIT LAKES - Current market prices for wheat and barley make these crops potentially profitable options as small-grain companion crops when establishing alfalfa, according to recent University of Minnesota research.

Wheat's current value should give growers extra incentives to choose it over the more commonly used oat crop when starting new alfalfa fields. The research showed that alfalfa yields were higher the year following seeding when the crop was established with wheat as compared to oats, barley, field peas or annual flax.

Alfalfa yields were the lowest when seeded with field peas. The peas have good weed control early on, but the weeds gain a foothold later. The flax did not compete well with the weeds during the research trials.

It is important to make sure the companion crop does not overwhelm the alfalfa. Whenever you inter-seed two crops, you have to be really on top of what you are doing. It is a recommendation that producers selecting earlier-maturing and shorter-stature companion-crop varieties. It is important to reduce the seeding rate, and promptly removing straw so alfalfa is not smothered.

Another option is to plant a small grain in the spring without the alfalfa under-seed, harvest that crop for grain in the summer and then, by Aug. 15, seed the alfalfa. This approach eliminates the early season competition, and hopefully timely rainfall will supply moisture for germination.

Source:?Craig Sheaffer, U of M agronomist

March horticultural tips

Gardeners should continue to sow seeds indoors if you raise your own transplants of flowers and vegetables. Starting your own transplants from seed can allow for a greater selection of varieties than what one may find as transplants in the garden center come May.

In order to prevent seedlings from becoming leggy provide plenty of light, good air movement, moderate temperatures (too warm of conditions can encourage stretching), moderate moisture, and for some species consider pinching to encourage well-branched, bushy growth.

In March, many garden centers receive packaged bulbs, bare-root divisions of herbaceous perennials, and bare-root plants of woody perennials like roses, blueberries, and raspberries. Plants are bagged in sawdust, peat, and shredded cardboard or other substances and are shipped across the nation usually arriving in Minnesota while snow is still on the ground.

Upscale garden centers will often refrigerate these dormant plants to preserve their quality before consumers purchase and plant them. Garden centers with fewer resources will display them right away at room temperature. They will begin to grow within packages and start to deplete their limited energy reserves. Consider purchasing these dormant plants soon after they arrive at the stores and keep them cool (typically 35-55 degrees using a refrigerator, unheated basement, or root cellar) and dormant at home until you are ready to plant them.

Branches of early-flowering shrubs like forsythia, pussy willow, flowering almond, and hardy quince and early-flowering fruit trees like apples and cherries can be cut and forced into flower inside to give us a preview of spring. Flower buds on these species are already formed the season before and are ready to continue to develop as temperatures warm up.

Treat cut branches like typical cut flowers, by re-cutting the stems when placing branches in vases to allow for good water uptake, and replacing the water periodically and using floral preservative.

Source: David C. Zlesak, U of M Extension educator