Alfalfa as a Backyard Ground Cover
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Lisa
Posted on: March 26, 2001

I want to use alfalfa as a backyard cover, is this feasible?

Cover crops such as alfalfa could be grown as backyard covers, but alfalfa and others such as red clover are short-lived perennials, and in many cases, annuals. That means that the cover will not persist more than a couple of years, with weeds gradually taking over.

As a short-term cover crop where the crop is plowed under after a couple of seasons, alfalfa, red clover and others are excellent. They help to restore fertility and improve the organic and mechanical characteristics of the soil greatly. They also help to suppress weeds and can be used to clean up a persistent weed problem. In this sense, they are what we call "green manure" crops, and as such they are an important part of any organic farming strategy.

Do you have any other suggestions if you don’t think this is wise?

If persistence is important, you may want to explore your options with longer term perennials such as yarrow or wild thyme. Both yarrow and wild thyme make exceptionally good hardy ground covers that will persist for years.

We had some fescue and then annual rye ... at present it is pretty much bare, except for some weeds. Would I have to clear before seeding?

This depends on what your goals are. If you want to grow a "green manure" crop without worrying too much about aesthetics then you could probably seed without clearing, treating the resultant mix as your organic source material. If looks are important and you want a lush uniform cover then you will need to clear the weeds before seeding.

Should I make a barrier so it does not go over to my neighbour’s yard, is it, in other words, invasive?

Alfalfa is not particularly invasive. Wild thyme can be, depending on your local conditions. Wild thyme favours sandy soil and sunny, dryish conditions; but it is easily controlled with occasional spading at the edges where it is growing out of bounds.

We live in North Carolina and I really want to be more environmentally friendly and grow something that feeds the earth and can be used medicinally. Oh ... what square footage will 1 kg cover?

One kilogram covers about one tenth of a hectare which is about 1000 square meters or 10,000 square feet. The recommended sowing rate in the field is 9-13 kg/hectare.

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