Desmodium plant is a valued crop in agriculture for its role in improving soil health due to their ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen with the help of symbiotic bacteria in their root nodules.
This makes them important components of crop rotation and agroecological practices aimed at sustainable farming.
Desmodium is a legume that is commonly used as a protein supplement in dairy cattle, with many farmers growing it to cut production costs. The most common varieties are Greenleaf and Silverleaf.
Desmodium needs to grow in close association with a group of very beneficial bacteria called rhizobia, says Dennis Kariuki, a farmer from Nyeri. These bacteria live in the roots of desmodium and other legumes and can fix nitrogen from the air, which is then available as a free fertilizer to the desmodium plants.
“If available, packs of rhizobia inoculant should be obtained. Mix the contents with the desmodium seed and carefully following the instructions on the pack. If not available, mix the seed with a handful of soil from another good desmodium plot,” says Kariuki.
Desmodium species are mostly found in tropical and subtropical regions. They thrive in warm and humid climates with prefered temperatures of between 20 degrees centigrade to 30 degrees centigrade.
The plants typically prefer full to partial sunlight. They may not grow well in deep shade.
Well-draining, loamy soils are usually ideal for Desmodium, with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. These plants do not like waterlogged or compacted soils. Some Desmodium species are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen, so they can grow in soils with low nitrogen content.
Desmodium plants generally require regular moisture but are also somewhat drought-tolerant once established. They may not do well in areas with excessively dry or arid conditions.
Sow the seed immediately after adding the inoculant. The seeds can be sown either by drilling or by broadcasting. For drilling, make shallow furrows about 5cm deep spaced 30cm apart. Cover the seed softly. For broadcasting, spread the seed evenly over the seed bed.
The nursery bed should be watered carefully and often. Shade may be provided but it should be removed soon after germination.
Desmodium can also be established from cutting. Compared to seed, cuttings are bulky but can be obtained at little or no cost from a neighbour and they compete well with weeds during establishment.
Get cuttings from an established nursery or from desmodium in the field.