Skip to main content

SDSU Extension Develops Perennial Plant Mixtures for Alkali Areas

BROOKINGS, S.D. - The Every Acre Counts program through SDSU Extension has developed perennial plant mixture suggestions suited for various types of marginal land situations, including saline, sodic and wet soil areas. 

“There are numerous forage species that can adapt to alkali, or salty, areas. However, the perennial plant mixture SDSU Extension has developed helps to spread the germination risk across species within the mixture and is a well-adapted combination of salt tolerant species within South Dakota.”

— Sara Bauder, SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialist

Soil salinity issues often result from upward salt movement as water evaporates on the soil surface. In order to prevent this, deep-rooted perennial plants can be used to utilize excess soil moisture, rather than leaving areas fallow. Many perennial species are capable of living in alkali soils, however not all species are ideal for any particular cropping system.

High salt concentrations in soils can greatly affect plant performance. Planting in salt effected soils requires careful plant species selection in order to maintain productive plant performance and improve soil quality over time.

According to Bauder, the key to turning around salty areas in fields begins with getting a living root established in the affected area. Once plants are established in or near the outside boundaries of a problem area, perennials slow water movement into the highly affected areas and prevent accumulation of more salts. 

“This helps salt tolerant, deep-rooted plant species slowly spread across the area, allowing the land to heal over time,” Bauder said. “With proper management, saline or alkali areas may once again grow a forage or field crop successfully, however long-term management changes may be required.”

Generally, late fall is considered the most ideal time to plant forage type species into salty or wet soils. If a fall planting is not possible, winter dormant seeding can work as well if a snow-free period is available. 

“Keep in mind, this type of conservation effort is not a fast process,” Bauder said. “While these perennial mixes may establish better than other plants in marginal areas, they still must acquire reasonable amounts of sunlight and moisture and may be slow to establish in some areas. Depending on the salinity levels in the soils, plants may develop at different rates and can oftentimes be less palatable during the first few growing seasons, as slower growth caused by salts could cause forages to be tougher and less palatable.”

There are numerous recommended perennial plant species that may establish well on saline or sodic soils, for a full list and additional information on this topic visit NRCS online.

For more information about the Every Acre Counts program in South Dakota, contact Anthony Bly, SDSU Extension Soils Field Specialist, by email

About Every Acre Counts 

The purpose of the Every Acre Counts program is to improve the profitability, diversity and ecosystem benefits of agriculture by using precision technologies to empower producers to make informed management decisions for every acre of their operations.

Table 1. Recommended Saline/Wet Soils mix per SD Every Acre Counts Program.

Saline/Wet Soils
Common Name Variety
Bulk lbs/acre
Falcata Alfalfa Sholty
Alfalfa SalinityMax
Green Wheatgrass AC Saltlander
Creeping Foxtail Garrison
Intermediate Wheatgrass Oahe
Tall Wheatgrass Alkar
Barley Tradition
Common Milkweed -
Slender Wheatgrass Revenue
Switchgrass Sunburst
Total Seeding Rate (lbs/Acre)