Stem length less than six inches. There are no buds, flowers or seedpods visible, except for a small axillary bud in between the main stem and a leaf or branch.
Stem length ranges from six to 12 inches. Again, there are no buds, flowers or seedpods visible. The axillary branch begins forming with the appearance of one or two leaves in the axil at the mid-point of the stem.
The stem length is greater than 12 inches. During this stage, buds can be felt touching the apex but are not visible. The branches are growing and can be seen in the axils of the leaves.
One or two nodes have visible buds during this stage. Flowers and seedpods are not yet visible. Closely spaced nodes on the stem may give the plant a clustered appearance.
The alfalfa plant has more than three nodes with visible buds. Flowers and seedpods are still not yet visible. From this stage through early flower is usually ideal to harvest high-quality alfalfa.
During this stage, the alfalfa plant has one node with one open flower. No seedpods are visible. Flowering begins near the apex of the stem while buds are still developing rapidly above and below the initial point of flowering. Quality alfalfa can be harvested at this stage.
During this stage, no seedpods are visible and the plant has two or more nodes with open flowers. Quality of harvested alfalfa declines rapidly as flowering increases.
The plant has one to three nodes with green spiral-shaped seedpods. The pods appear from the mid-portion to the base of the stem while upper nodes are still flowering.
The alfalfa plant has more than four nodes with green seedpods during this stage. Many leaves have fallen off and the stems are highly branched out.
Nodes have mostly brown, mature seedpods at this stage. Most of the leaves have fallen and the stems are thick and fibrous. If harvesting alfalfa for seeds, harvest should occur during this stage.