Alfalfa pellet application?

subk3July 10, 2014

Am I correct that in an environment with more rainfall you can/should fertilize more often?

We've gotten 4-5+ inches of rain each of the last few months and I normally put about a cup of pellets around the drip line of each rose. The roses are anywhere from 1-3 years old--so not completely mature. How often can/should I be doing this?

Other than horse manure compost I don't add anything else to the soil.

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anntn6b(z6b TN)

Tennessee answer:

Because I'm seeing this in my gardens, you may have a similar problem. After last year's excess rain, I thought it was a good thing. This spring, as I was pulling weeds, I noticed that the levels of soil in all my beds was an inch to two inches lower. The soil also dries out much faster this year. The humus and general organic content of my soils is way low and I blame it on the rainfall and to a much lesser extent to the age of the beds. I think the rainfall really did accelerate breakdown of the organics in the beds.

My problem with alfalfa pellets is that there are years when they don't break down quickly. In a perfect world I'd soak the alfalfa for a day and then pour the mix around the roses.

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 6:59PM
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nippstress - zone 5 Nebraska

Ann's advice will suit you better in your zone, since we rarely have that kind of rainfall consistently in any year. I do however have a caution to add about the alfalfa pellets given my experience with them. I'd put them down around the established roses and left some space away from the canes, but the pellets rolled up next to the canes and swelled mightily in the rain (as Ann describes), and created a solid toxic mess next to all the canes. I lost about 25 relatively young roses, and at least a few established ones, because of the apparent toxic brew this created when the alfalfa expanded in the rain.

You obviously have been successful putting out the alfalfa pellets, and with more established roses it's not as much of a problem. You might consider mixing the alfalfa lightly with some other mulch that you may have around the roses, or lightly into the barest top of the soil, to keep it in place. For my part, I'm going back to alfalfa hay that not only stays put, but add a necessary amount of organic fiber to the soil whenever it decides to break down.

In terms of timing, as long as you keep fertilizer at least 2 months before your winter hard frosts, assuming you have those, you should be fine. As long as you don't pile up the organics and dry out your top soil layer or create a water barrier to the base of the rose, as Ann describes, there's not the frequency problem with alfalfa that there can be with inorganics.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 9:01PM
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Here's a little more detail

I'm the queen of horse manure! I compost manure and stall leavings (extruded straw) and use that 2-3 times a year a couple inches thick over the whole bed then throw some pine bark fines over the top to pretty it up. This has created over time some very friable soil about about 4 or 5 inches deep. I can literally put my hand down into soil 5 inches without any tools. Or course since I don't mix the compost what I'm reaching into is high in organic matter from the compost applications. Great for drainage.

When I spread pellets I move the mulch to the side and spread an area about 2 square feet around the base (staying at least 6" from the canes) with about a cup. Once I take my fingers and sorta mix/scrunch them in to that top layer then put the mulch back it doesn't seem like that many pellets. I don't think they move. In a matter of weeks the pellets are "gone" if I go digging around.

Yes, Ann you are exactly right that periods of lots of rain like we had last summer significantly speeds up the break down of the organic matter. With my big piles of manure/bedding--that I don't cover--you could really witness how fast it was disappearing. As a "farmer" I'm composting as a way to get rid of the waste as fast as possible. The compost nerds think I'm crazy because you lose a lot of nutrients especially nitrogen in the finished product the way I do it. Since my compost is lower in nutrients I thought I'd try adding some extra nitrogen this year.

All that a round about way of asking is I put down pellets 4-6 weeks ago and they are "gone" when should I put down more?

I know there are lots of folks here that use alfalfa and I love to hear what they do!

Ann thanks for the "Tennessee answer!" I may have a trip to your neck of the woods with a couple of my compost producers for a show later this year. I should bring you a big muck bucket of compost!

    Bookmark   July 10, 2014 at 10:37PM
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anntn6b(z6b TN)

For a N boost that happens with time, I use cottonseed meal. If we had a working farm, I'd probably buy it by the dumptruck load (a lot cheaper that way), and use it instead of bought mulch.

If you get this way, contact me not through Gardenweb, that e-mail doesn't work, but at

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 9:47AM
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I found the following on the Paul Zimmerman site in an article on fertilizing and using alfalfa. I thought I'd share it - I am using it this year instead of alfalfa. I have a lot of leaves and shredded organics from my yard so I don't really need the extra mulch that the pellets provide; this is more a sub for alfalfa tea, I think.

Note: SUPERthrive, the phony looking bottle aside, is a legitimate, very concentrated form of triacontanol, developed during WWII to improve corn production. This is a known growth stimulant for roses. The more traditional method of making triacontanol, involves mixing about 12 cups of alfalfa pellets in 32 gallons of water, and letting it ferment for about 6 or 7 days. The fermentation of alfalfa extracts the alcohol triacontanol. This process is messy, and if you don't like brewing your own, SUPERthrive is a good alternative, and diluted at 4.0 tbsp/32 gallons, a little bit goes a long way.

This post was edited by harborrose on Fri, Jul 11, 14 at 16:03

    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 2:47PM
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I actually think that soil texture is just as important as rainfall in fertilizing. If you have a sandy soil, the rain will leach nutrients out of your soil quickly. However, if you have a clay soil, not only does the water itself stay in the soil longer, but also the soil particles bind nutrients better. On the whole, and with some important exceptions, clay soils are more fertile than other kinds of soils.


    Bookmark   July 12, 2014 at 12:42AM
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jeannie2009've got me laughing over here. And I thought I was the queen. I put the alfalfa pellets in the grain bin and feed it to the horses.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 2:36AM
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buford(7 NE GA)

I've tried soaking the pellets, but they can still become a coagulated mess. This year I was able to get alfalfa meal, so I dumped it down and tried to disperse it as much as possible. There were spots I missed and these did become a hard dry mess when we stopped getting rain. But I was able to break it up and water them in better. These are established roses, I don't put alfalfa on new roses or potted roses ever since DH dumped a whole shovel full of wet alfalfa on one of my potted roses and I didn't notice it until it was too late. But he was 'helping' me. And now you know why I do almost everything myself.

The good part of the story...I had to dig up a bunch of roses yesterday to move them while work is done in my yard. The soil in these spots that I've been amending with compost, composted manure and alfalfa was perfect. The color and consistency of chocolate cake mix. At least down one foot, then it becomes more red clay. I am trying to take as much of the soil as I can when I pot up these roses. I hate to lose 10 years of work. Also the root balls of these roses was chock full of tiny root systems. I was able to get most of these in the pots. I did have to cut off some of the larger woody roots.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 8:48AM
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ernie85017, zn 9, phx

Thank you for explaining about alfalfa and miracle grow!

I'd like to know how many cups alfalfa pellets per plant?

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 6:45PM
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