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The Use of alfalfa pellets & tea to help plants!

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)

From this website:


Alfalfa meal or pellets is one of the green manure crops and contains small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium which feed the plant. However, the biggest benefit of alfalfa is from the work it does in the soil. Alfalfa contains the hormone, Triacontanol, a plant growth regulator. Alfalfa meal can be top dressed and watered in. But quicker benefits are had when alfalfa is brewed into a tea. The primary boost comes from the millions of microbes in the fermented meal that activate the soil organisms that then convert nutrients into forms available to plants. Roses love it. Only apply alfalfa to the surface. If placed in the root zone, the rapid decomposition of alfalfa will generate heat which can damage the roots.

Another website:

1. Made from alfalfa(If placed in the root zone, the rapid decomposition of alfalfa will generate heat which can damage roots.)

2. Slow acting all purpose fertilizer

3. An alternative to blood meal as a source of nitrogen, balanced with phophorus and potassium.

4. An excellent soil conditioner because of it's protein and carbohydrates that encourage microbial action in soil.

5. Ranges of N 2.0-2.5%, P .5-1.0%, K 1%

6. Has an excellent carbon to nitrogen ratio which helps speeds availability in the soil to plants.

7. Roses react to alfalfa meal especially well, also flowering shrubs

8. Application to plants are: half a cup per plant for new plantings; 1/2 to 1 cup to a depth of 4-6 inches deep around each plant; vegetables and flower beds need 2 to 5 pounds to 100 square feet.

9. Is used as a compost starter

The heat generated by alfalfa meal comes from bacteriological action.

Working in the wastewater treatment field, (sewage). I deal extensively with the action of bacteria. I am wondering how much of the oxygen in the soil a heavy dose of alfalfa meal would cause the soil bacteria to consume, (the growth hormone, Triacontonal appears to be a key here). Reduced soil oxygen levels and the heat generated by that rush of bacterial action as it breaks down complex nutrients to a form plants can use might not be good for the soil ecology. At deeper soil levels below six inches, the use of alfalfa meal may encourage anerobic decomposition, this would be very bad.

I would approach this with the same caution as if I were using a new gun powder while reloading bullets. Too much could be disasterous.

From Daves Garden:
Alfalfa Meal

Alfalfa provides many nutritional benefits not only for plant use, but for soil organisms as well. One very important ingredient is tricontanol, a powerful plant growth regulator.

Orchid and rose growers make an alfalfa tea and spray it directly on as a foliar fertilizer. Alfalfa is very high in vitamins, plus N-P-K-Ca, Mg, and other valuable minerals. It also includes sugars, starches, proteins, fiber and 16 amino acids. Approximate analysis is 3-1-2.

Sprinkle lightly over garden and water, or use about a handful (depending on the size) around each rose, tree, or shrub. Alfalfa meal and hay used for mulch contain vitamin A, folic acid, trace minerals and the growth hormone “tricontanol.” Use at 25 pounds per 1,000 square feet or 400-800 pounds per acre.

Alfalfa helps plants create larger flowers and increases the tolerance to cold. Make alfalfa tea by soaking 1 cup of alfalfa meal per 5 gallon of water.

Good for all flowering plants. Research has shown that using more is not better. At recommended rates alfalfa worked wonders on roses but it could be overused causing adverse effects.

From: Canadian Iris Society

Alfalfa and Irises - Mixing Alfalfa and Iris
by Dorothy E. Guild

A surprise had come with our regional newsletter when a member wrote that on the advice of a rose grower friend he had used alfalfa pellets on his iris with good results. It was noted that it can be used either as a side dressing or a tea to spray on the foliage. Very shortly I was off to the store to buy a bag of alfalfa pellets.

The usual commercial fertilizer mix had been spread in early April. In May the pellets went on as a side dressing for the one, two and three year old seedlings while a thin layer as a top dressing went on all seed rows. As the seedlings erupted through it they were carefully monitored so as not to be smothered. Another application of commercial fertilizer went on after bloom. Three weeks later an "alfalfa tea" was applied with a sprinkling can down the rows. I felt that in my opinion that the iris growth was much better from the alfalfa applications. Intrigued, I had written of this to another iris friend. Shortly thereafter he read in a garden catalogue of alfalfa use by rose growers. Included in the article was a specific analysis reporting the nutrients available in alfalfa. In 1990 he made up three beds to take transplanted iris. He chose to try an experiment by applying alfalfa to just one of them. By late fall he saw that vigor (side fan development, plant color and growth which are very important to a commercial grower and hybridizer) had exceeded that of those not getting the alfalfa treatment.

Weatherwise here, it had looked to be a sad year for iris culture. In the past two years leaf spot had suddenly exploded and with June so cold and wet, I had expected another year of the same. It did not happen though! Like my friend, I could not help observing how well the iris had done... seeming to exceed the performance of previous years. We will continue this experiment for three to five years and report back further results. The question is: Were our improved iris conditions attributable to the use of alfalfa? Can alfalfa pellets be a "magic carpet" for better iris culture?...

Dorothy Guild resides in Spokane, Washington. This article/item originally appeared in the CIS Newsletter April 1994 issue.


Feeding Iris alfalfa pellets
by Terry Varner

In mid-spring of 1991, upon information received earlier from an iris correspondent I began using alfalfa pellets as a side dressing in my iris beds. I had been informed that definite results were apparent within a few weeks. Through the years I have tried whenever possible to use organic methods of cultivation in my iris beds as well as my vegetable gardens. Though I have always used commercial fertilizers on my beds along with gypsum, I have also used compost as well. Therefore the idea of alfalfa pellets was highly appealing.

Following bloom season I used the pellets on new seedlings and before long their value was evident. I had healthier seedlings than ever before. Their color was a rich, dark green. In 1990 I redid three large iris beds in my back yard. (all the same size) At the time I added sand to loosen the clay and each one received the same amount of commercial fertilizer 12-12-12 mix, gypsum, and compost. This spring I did not fertilize the beds. In mid June, following the bloom season I decided to experiment on these beds since each had previously been reconstructed with equal amendments at the same time. I coated one bed heavily with alfalfa pellets and left the other two beds without alfalfa pellets or any other fertilizers. By summers end there was a very noticeable difference in the color, growth and development of the bed receiving the alfalfa pellets. The growth side rhizomes appeared on the irises in the treated beds two to three weeks before they did in the untreated beds. My seedlings which had been treated shortly after being transplanted also had tremendous side growth with some having as many as 6-8 side fans by fall. In my beds I coated the ground heavily with the pellets and applied them on a wet soil so that they would begin to draw moisture and disintegrate. I doubt that you can use them too heavily on iris. They do not burn. An interesting side observation is that I had practically no leaf spot this year. While it was a dry summer, by August we began to have good rains. I will not claim that the pellets themselves reduced the problem of leaf spot but it was nil this year except in the untreated beds.

Excited by what I was experiencing from using alfalfa pellets I began to research their composition. What do alfalfa pellets contain that would be of value in iris beds? The following information from Nitron Industries Inc., Fayetteville, Arkansas might help us to understand. Alfalfa has many qualities in the nutrition area, not only for plant use, but for soil organisms as well. One very important ingredient is Triacontanol, a powerful plant growth regulator. Orchid and rose growers make an alfalfa tea and spray it directly on as a foliar nutrient. Other benefits of alfalfa: very high in vitamin A plus Thiamine, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Niacin, Pyridoxine, Choline, Proline, Bentaine, Folic Acid, plus N-P-K-Ca, Mg and other valuable minerals, also included are the sugars and starches, proteins, fibre, plus co-enzymes and 16 amino acids. How could your soil not respond to such a delicious meal? We recommend a handful per plant or sprinkle lightly down the row.

Alfalfa meal or pellets are excellent to add to your compost pile. Make a tea and spray the liquid as a foliar feed while adding the remaining wet alfalfa to the soil. Fifty pounds of alfalfa meal or pellets will feed 1,000-2,000 square feet. Alfalfa Tea; Fill a five gallon bucket with water, add two pounds of alfalfa pellets/meal. Let sit overnight. The result will be a thick tea. Use as explained above. If you have not tried using alfalfa pellets why not try them this year? We believe that you will like the results.

Terry Varner resides in Marietta, Ohio and this article originally appeared in The Medianite Volume 33 #2 1992. This article/item also appeared in the CIS Newsletter April 1994 issue. It has been edited slightly.


More on Alfalfa - Some Comments...
by Terry Aitken

We replant our iris back into the same ground every year and we are careful to add humus each year, as a reconditioner and Nemacur (a soil insecticide) to control nematodes. The most cost effective product that we have found is alfalfa pellets which we apply at about one ton per acre (or one 50 lb bag per 100 feet of row). It is applied in late August as our shipping season winds down and about two weeks before transplant begins. The fields are stripped and a tractor grinds everything in, both alfalfa and Nemacur, in one step. Presto we are ready to plant back! We first saw alfalfa used by Elmer Price, a fine iris grower in Tacoma, Washington. I think that he used a higher concentration than we do and his results were impressive. George Shoop used the "tea method" and also got good results. We have been pellet spreaders for about seven years. We particularly like the idea that the alfalfa usage helps the plants to get re-established before the ground cools for the winter.

Terry Aitken is a hybridizer and iris grower in Vancouver, Washington. This article/item originally appeared in the CIS Newsletter July 1994 issue.

The use of alfalfa pellets sure sounds like something extremely interesting and beneficial to try on our own garden irises. If you try this, we would really like to hear of your experiences and/or results. Write the Canadian Iris Society via e-mail at [email protected] and let us know.

Another more scientific article from 1977:

Alfalfa tea as a foliar spray & alfalfa pellets as a top dressing appear to be the way to go.


Ennis, MT(Zone 4a)

I have friends here who top dress with alfalfa pellets. It is a great addition to oat straw mulch. They live in a more sheltered area than I do so their oat straw does not take off for the next county in the wind. Everyone I know who uses the alfalfa pellets have excellent gardens.

I will start using it this year. I formerly had a massive supply of green grass clippings and I mulched all my gardens heavily with it. I definitely did not need alfalfa pellets at that time Since my main source of green grass clippings bought a mower with a charging deck, I have had a much smaller supply of green grass clippings for the past three years. I have noticed a dramatic effect on my gardens, not good.

The green grass clippings inhibit weed growth in a way that brown partly decayed grass clippings do not. The loss of nitrogen has had a noticeable effect with less foliage growth in my gardens.

Since replacing the supply of green grass clippings is impractical for a variety of reasons, I intend to use alfalfa pellets extensively this year as I recondition my gardens from the neglect they had with my illness last year. Having read this material I will probably use alfalfa tea in the hoop house too.

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)


If the results mentioned in the articles are accurate, the use of alfalfa pellets is a huge plus in the garden at recommended application rates & prescribed methods.

After looking over these articles and many others, I have come to several conclusions;

1) Alfalfa pellets applied to the surface of the ground down to six inches at recommended rates are an effective side dressing. Alfalfa pellets are not meant as a replacement for compost or mulch. They should be used with compost to help with decomposition and assimilation of nutrients by plants.

2) Alfalfa pellets enhance biological activity in the soil through their interaction with soil microrganisms that convert natural and man made fertilizers into forms that plants can use.

3) One of the key elements of alfalfa pellets appears to be the plant growth regulating hormone triacontanol. This has yet to be proven and may indeed, (my opinion) be a key factor in the growth of beneficial soil organisms due to the evidence presented by the significant rise in soil temperatures when alfalfa MEAL is mixed with the soil instead of being used as a shallow surface dressing.

4) Conclusive scientific testing results reamain scant and are inconclusive using statistical methods. However, non-scientific field methods and results are very encouraging.

5) One paper mentioned that application of triacontanol at a rate of 4 milligrams per acre was optimal for most crops. 4 Mg per acre!? That is infintesimally small! Triacontanol like most hormones must be extremely powerful. But, if we stick with alfalfa pellets at the prescribed rate it should be very beneficial, safe and easy to use.


Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

Sonny, I followed you over from the Iris thread. I am growing red worms in a bin for worm castings. I have purchased alfalfa pellets and I was going to soak them to get them marginally moist and then feed them to my worms. I also purchased dried molasses which I was going to add to my casting tea to speed up fermentation. What is your opinion? I am new at this and trying to read everything I can. I have been in Las Vegas since 1960 and have very beautiful, composted, mulched landscape. Just trying to come up with ideas to help plantings and reduce need of water. I also have a large compost pile of everyday worms on the side yard. I was going to feed them both also along with their normal scraps and coffee grounds.

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)

I would start out very light on any tea mixtures.

If I understand your message, you will feed your red worms wet alfalfa pellets added to their bedding? I would watch the temperature of the bedding very closely and keep it well aerated, (turned). This will avoid high temperatures that may hurt your worms and the development of anerobic conditions, if you even think you get a whiff of rotten eggs, you will have anerobic conditions which is very bad. You want your compost pile and your worm bedding to smell like a box of mushrooms. Go to the local market and smell a flat of mushrooms, it has a pleasant earthy aroma.

The articles mention the use of alfalfa tea as a foliar spray and the use of alfalfa pellets as a top dressing which should be scratched into the surface, (NO DEEPER THAN SIX INCHES).

The articles say it is very good to use alfalfa tea in conjunction with compost piles. It is always a good idea to keep an eye on the temperature at the center of a compost pile & turn it regularly. COMPOST PILES DO CATCH ON FIRE if they are not attended too.

Alfalfa has a tendency to accelerate decomposition & so all the bacteria generate a lot of HEAT. If you combine alfalfa pellets with dried molasses PLEASE go easy at first!

Keep good records so you can tell us what works, and what is too much.

I am just beggining to use alfalfa pellets & alfalfa tea. I am going to follow the adivice given in the article by Darius in Daves Garden, "Application to plants are: half a cup per plant for new plantings; 1/2 to 1 cup to a depth of 4-6 inches deep around each plant; vegetables and flower beds need 2 to 5 pounds to 100 square feet."

1) Make tea out of the alfalfa pellets; Soak one cup of alfalfa pellets in five gallons of water 12-24 hours depending on temperature.
2) Strain the pellets out using a painters strainer or cheese cloth.
3) Within 24 hours, spray the liquid on your plants and compost pile.
4) Feed your worms or your plants the alfalfa "mash" right after straining

It just occured to me!

When using alfalfa tea as a foliar spray, also add an organic wetting agent to help it "stick" to the foliage. Something like Spray-N-Grow, Coco-Wet.


This message was edited Feb 6, 2010 7:54 PM

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

Sonny, thank you very much. I was out of the loop for a few days. I am back and I will make some alfalfa tea tomorrow and then feed the mash to my worms. I will go slow and I will use it in the indoor bi and the outdoor. I actually need to make a another indoor bin. We have had rain for four days. That is absolutely great because that is the most we get in a year. I have a new bed I am starting so I am going to fill it with fresh compost, peat moss, big batch of outdoor worms and frozen, thawed scraps. I think that is where I will put my alfalfa mash. I will take a before and after photo. Again that you for your knowledge and the willingness to share. If you are ever in Las Vegas, look me up. If and when you are coming, D-Mail me and I will give you my phone number.

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)

Thanks Sharon,

I have a question for you! I want to go with a no till system in several garden beds. What are the best worms to use? I was thinking of throwing compost on th surface and letting the worms do the rest.


Centennial, CO(Zone 5a)

My compost bin is LOADED with worms. They are just the local ones that found their own way in. Is there really that much difference, & is there a way to tell what kind of worms they are?

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

No. I have the red worms for worm castings and then I have my regional worms from my compost pile. I actually compost next to many plants. I just create a hole, put in the thawed scraps and the worms come. There is a great thread about composting I was in several months ago. I will find it and bump it up. I would not put the scraps on top because that will attract mice, rats, or some other varmint. Worms love coffee grounds and very over ripe bananas. I have placed the coffee ground on top and they come up to feast and move them downward.

Las Vegas, NV(Zone 9a)

I just placed it back active. You will find it under soil and composting thread.

Albuquerque, NM(Zone 7b)

Thanks for the post Pewjumper. I'll have to consider getting some for this coming year.

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)

Thanks Sharon!

I have some basic understanding of worms, but I want earthworms that will keep my soil well aerated and contribute their castings. I have been throwing my coffee grounds out in the front flower beds since fall after hearing what great mulch/compost they make for alkaline soils. It kinda looks like someone threw a huge wad of chewing tobacco out on the snow, but then it just disappears. I was also hoping to encourage the worms. It will be interesting to see what is left of cotton boll compost I threw down last Fall when I start my Spring clean up.


Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

I'm wondering about adding alfalfa pellets to our lasagna compost area, which we lay out on the veg. garden every fall. It's very slow to heat up in the spring, since this is Montana. Would the pellets help heat it up? Would it heat up too much for the worms?

Note that we shovel all this compost into a bin in May just before planting our veggies. Until then it is covered with a black tarp.

Glenwood Springs, CO(Zone 5b)


The heat generated in any compost pile is from bacteria. As the weather cools, bacterial activity decreases, so there is less heat generated. HOWEVER, if you have a really large compost pile that you don't turn and aerate on a regular basis, there is always the chance of your compost pile getting so hot that it can catch fire. If you are using the row type lasgna method, I don't think your compost would even harm your worms. I would still keep an eye on things just in case.

Apparently alfalfa is very easily broken down by these bacteria so there is more heat generated. I also understand that worms love alfalfa, (and coffee grounds). If you have a lot of worms in your compost, I am wondering if the worms would get to the alfalfa pellets first?

If you compost using the lasagna method, don't you leave the compost in the ground?


Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

It's just a veggie bed where we pile stuff on about 12" deep every fall. We alternate the contents of all our bins in layers: kitchen scraps, yard waste, leaves, grass clippings. A lot of it is moldy by the time fall arrives and we get everything pulled up out of the ground. Usually I put on coffee grounds, but I didn't get any from Starbuck's last fall. So I'm thinking we could take off the tarp soon and throw on alfalfa pellets/coffee.

It makes more compost than we need for our veggie garden. That's why we shovel most of it into a bin, and use it around the rest of the yard.


Something that has been overlooked through this thread is the fact that feed pellets contain salt. Years ago without any scientific proof I feel I got better results purchasing bales of alfalfa and working from the bale which has no salt. Of course this is a bit less desirable because it does take a bit more effort to mulch or make teas from the bales. I believe I got better results since making this little bit more effort. I have been using alfalfa and kelp teas for more years than I can count.

For the iris grower who did not get fungi attack in the ground amended with alfalfa. This does not surprise me. Alfalfa and kelp tea prevent a lot of fungi appearance. Both have many of the same contents and aproximately the same healthy plant production facts.

I have had nothing but positive results using alfalfa and kelp in any form but I still like the idea of not introducing salt found in animal feeds. To coin a phrase......that's some food for thought.

For what it is worth I use both of these teas indoors as well in rotation with other teas including aerobic compost tea.

I have never used man made fertilizer in more than fifty years of growing. To me it just did not make sense to work so hard for the healthy growing medium while introducing man made fertilizers that kill the biological life I was trying to build into my soils. Basically I consider the man made fertilizers biocides.

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