Planting Alfalfa with Oats: Does It Really Work?

As a gardener, you may have already learned about companion planting and its excellent benefits when pairing the right plants. With alfalfa plants, seeding practices have dramatically changed throughout the years. But one thing’s for sure- gardeners still practice companion planting.

While other gardeners opt for other practices, many have chosen to try planting alfalfa with oats, among other companion or nurse crops. However, is this method really effective in growing plants successfully, particularly alfalfa?

Read on to find out!

planting alfalfa with oats

Planting Alfalfa with Oats

If you’re wondering if alfalfa can be planted with oats, the short answer is YES. In fact, it’s often seeded with companion crops like oats, which can help control weeds and provide a good crop of grain/hay when harvesting season arrives.

Historically, alfalfa in the Midwest would be seeded with oats, used as a cover, or nurse, crop. Why oats, specifically?

This is because oats provide straw, which would be used widely for both bedding and grain. As a result, it protects alfalfa while feeding livestock.

But wait! Farmers and gardeners have also planted alfalfa on its own and yielded successful results. Over time, people have used other plants as nurse crops, or stopped using any at all, making one wonder if alfalfa with oats is really effective.

I’ll be getting into the pros and cons of companion planting alfalfa with oats in the next section.

Do you want to learn more about planting alfalfa with oats and other types of nurse plants? This informative video can help you out:

Should You Do Companion Planting with Alfalfa?

While there are people who plant with alfalfa, take note that this method won’t work for everyone. Clear seeding alfalfa plants on its own, without companion crops, works just as well, with or without pre-plant herbicides.

So, do you need to do companion cropping for alfalfa plants? That depends on your needs and objectives.

Some people prefer clear seeding when it’s least likely for the area to erode since alfalfa production would begin sooner compared to others. With companion crops, it can reduce the alfalfa yield during the first year and may even cause thinner strands. Furthermore, yields and stands in the next years are actually more successful with clear seeding compared to using companion crops.

To add, experienced gardeners see oats as more of a companion crop than a nurse crop when combined with seeding alfalfa. This is because oats may act like weeds with growing alfalfa, as it would compete with alfalfa seedlings with moisture, sun, and vital nutrients throughout its seeding year.

With that in mind, when you plant on the erosive ground, companion crops may be necessary for the alfalfa to start growing.

What does this mean?

If you want alfalfa and a good harvest, you should only plant alfalfa without any oats. But if your ground has a problem with erosion, I recommend adding a half bushel of oats when planting. Afterward, kill the oats with proper herbicide, or you can hay the oats earlier on rather than take grain.

The same would go for if you’d like to plant only oats. Rather than pairing it with alfalfa as cover plants, grow them on its own.

To learn more about companion planting alfalfa with oats, here are its pros and cons:


  • Companion crops will provide erosion control in areas that require it
  • These crops will help with weed suppression
  • It provides easier control of your nurse crops during the early stages of growth
  • If grown properly, companion crops MAY provide more forage during the alfalfa’s establishment year


  • Without companion planting, alfalfa harvesting time begins sooner
  • Companion crops will use water, sunlight, and nutrients that could have been completely provided to the alfalfa plants
  • Companion crops would reduce the first-year alfalfa crop yield, resulting in thinner strands
  • More companion crop seeding rates will add to your costs

As much as possible, especially when you want more alfalfa to harvest, stick with sole planting. But if you have problems with erosion, you may want to try companion planting with oats or to use herbicide and other remedies to help make the ground a healthier environment for your alfalfa.

There are also other companion crops you can use other than oats, such as:

  • Barley and triticale (the most common ones)
  • Small grains or pea mixes
  • Italian ryegrass
  • Grass-legume mixtures

However, these also have its pros and cons, so it’s best to consider what you want and need from your alfalfa plants before combining the seeds.

Wrapping It Up

It’s normal for gardeners to seed alfalfa with companion crops like oats, which have a lot of benefits. However, you have to be wary with how to do this correctly to ensure that both plants get enough nutrients, and to evaluate your garden to see if companion planting is a good choice. After all, planting alfalfa with oats and other companion plants also has its disadvantages, depending on your garden and specific needs.

I hope that this article on planting alfalfa with oats helped you understand the pros and cons of companion planting with these two plants. If you believe companion planting alfalfa and oats is beneficial for your garden, then start learning more about this method and allow your alfalfa to grow healthily!

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