• Response of tap- and creeping-rooted alfalfas to defoliation patterns

      Gdara, A. O.; Hart, R. H.; Dean, J. G. (Society for Range Management, 1991-01-01)
      Under grazing, creeping-rooted alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) cultivars have been reported to be more productive and have higher survival than tap-rooted cultivars. To determine if differences in persistence could be related to response to defoliation patterns, we clipped 3 tap- and 3 creeping-rooted alfalfa cultivars. Different fractions of the total number of stems were clipped to different stubble heights every 21 days. Both tap- and creeping- rooted cultivars responded similarly to defoliation. Maximum forage production was obtained when one-third of the stems on a plant were cut back to 5 cm above the ground at each harvest. The lowest forage production was obtained when all stems on a plant were cut back to 5 cm. The most lenient defoliation (one-third of the height of one-third of the stems removed at each harvest) maximized total herbage production (forage plus stubble) but only 32% of the herbage was harvested as forage, leaving 68% as unharvested stubble. Severe defoliation every 21 days decreased the concentration of total nonstructural carbohydrate in the roots and reduced total root biomass. Thirteen alfalfa cultivars responded similarly to grazing when seeded in dense stands. The greater persistence of creeping-rooted alfalfa cultivars under grazing does not appear to be a result of greater intrinsic productivity or more rapid recovery from defoliation. The lateral spread of individual creeping-rooted plants in open stands may increase the probability that some stems will escape defoliation at each grazing; these stems then contribute to rapid recovery from grazing and to plant survival.