How to Germinate Red Clover
Red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) is a fast growing member of the legume family that germinates easily under most conditions. Red clover is often used as a cover crop and natural fertilizer to add nitrogen to the soil over the winter. This plant is tolerant of shade and grows under a variety of conditions that make it ideal for growing in conjunction with other garden crops. Red clover sown alongside corn rows will naturally fertilizer the nearby corn plants and limit erosion in your garden.
If you plan on using your red clover as a natural method of fertilization, you will need to innoculate the seeds with rhizobium first. This bacteria is a necessary part of the natural process that red clover uses to transfer nitrogen from the atmosphere to the soil. Rhizobium is available from many seed distributors.
Red clover sown during the fall uses the nitrogen-fixing capabilities of red clover to prepare the soil for the next year’s crop. Plant your fall red clover crop at least 6 weeks before the first frost. This allows your red clover time to germinate and establish a healthy level of growth.
In gardens with established crops you can use a broadcast spreader to spread red clover over the surface of your garden between your garden rows. Establish your other garden plants first to ensure that they are not competing with the clover. Rake the spaces between your rows and seed the red clover between each one at a rate of one ounce per 226 square feet. Apply a fertilizer high in nitrogen between your existing garden rows before you overseed your garden with clover, to promote growth after it germinates.
Red clover seeds germinate readily in bare ground when they are planted at a depth between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch. Seeds that are planted deeper than 1/2 an inch may not germinate. Use a roto-tiller or hoe to create rows in your garden that are less than 1/2 an inch deep. Space your rows within an inch of each other to create a dense cover of red clover. Sow your seeds into each row at a rate of one ounce for every 453 square feet of ground. Cover the seeds with a layer of dirt no more than a 1/4 of an inch thick.
Considerations and Care
Red clover requires very little maintenance and grows best without fertilizer. If your area is experiencing persistently dry weather, water your seeds enough to thoroughly moisten the surrounding soil. Red clover grows in most types of soil but it performs best in well drained, loamy soils with a pH rating above 6. Consider adding a layer of topsoil to your garden if you are having trouble establishing your clover in sandy or rocky soil.
- United States Department of Agriculture: Red Clover
- Michigan State University: Red Clover
- Pennslyvannia State University: Management of Red Clover as a Cover Crop
Daniel Thompson began writing about analytical literature in 2004. He has written informative guides for a hardware store and was published at an academic conference as part of a collaborative project. He attained a Bachelors of Fine Arts in English literature from Eastern Kentucky University.
How to Germinate Red Clover. Red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) is a fast growing member of the legume family that germinates easily under most conditions. Red clover is often used as a cover crop and natural fertilizer to add nitrogen to the soil over the winter. This plant is tolerant of shade and grows under a …
Red clover is one of the most popularly used true clovers in the UK. Once established it’s capable of rapid growth and shows reasonably good persistence up to three years, although ongoing breeding work is being carried out to increase plant persistence. The highest yielding strains of red clover are called ‘double cut’ varieties, normally providing quick regrowth after cutting and several flushes or cuts per season. The ‘single cut’ strains of red clover, notably the variety altaswede provide one large cut per season, flowering approximately 10 days later than the ‘double cut’ strains.
Used for silage and aftermath grazing in the autumn. It can also be used as a soil improving green manure.
The crop should persist for 2 – 3 years, It is survival of the plant crowns that determine the longevity of the crop, so good management is essential. These gradually deteriorate over time, becoming diseased, damaged by cutting, trafficking, or trampling by livestock. The Swiss variety milvus has been bred to last up to 4 years in the field, and work continues in other breeding programmes to improve on this further.
More palatable and digestible than pure grass forage, is one reason why livestock perform well when fed clover. It provides a home-grown source of protein and more forage intake with a high protein content leads to greater live weight gain and milk yields. Fixes nitrogen and when grown in forage leys offers a cheap alternative to nitrogen fertiliser. It also provides a very good soil improving break crop in arable rotations, with a particularly strong tap root for improving soil structure.
The plant overwinters as crowns. This structure should be tolerant of all but the most severe frosts.
5 – 6t DM per ha.
Sowing Rate Advice
6kg per acre – 15kg per ha.
Clover seed is small and should be broadcast or drilled a shallow depth (not more than 10mm). Sowing too deep will reduce the germination dramatically. The soil should be rolled after sowing to increase soil moisture contact with the seed.
Mixture Sowing Rate Advice
3kg per acre – 7.5kg per ha.
Sowing at these rates in a mixture with aggressive ryegrass will equate to approximately 50/50 grass and clover plants in the sward, ideal for a high protein silage mixture.
Ideal Sowing Time
March-May is the ideal time for sowing in the spring. It will germinate in the summer only if there is sufficient moisture in the soil. Mid to late August is the best time for an autumn sowing. Establishment is less likely to be reliable if sowing extends too far into September.
Red clover should be cut regularly when it reaches a height of 30cm. The first cut may be before this if there is a severe weed problem. On a dry sandy soil, it may only need cutting twice in the season. Conversely on a fertile soil in a warm wet summer, it may need cutting as frequently as once every ten days. Red clover is more susceptible than other species to the soil borne disease Sclerotinia trifolium and the stem nematode, Ditylenchus dipsaci, responsible for the widespread clover sickness in the 1970s and 80s. For this reason, there should be a four year gap between the red clover crops. Other fertility building crops such as white clover can be used as an alternative. Although not the most rapid to establish, red clover generally competes will against weeds. Once established, it produces large amounts of biomass that smother weeds. It also grows back rapidly after cutting, which is important in out-competing weeds.
This is a rounded, kidney shaped seed. It varies in colour from dark brown to yellowish, green. It is dull in colour with a smooth texture and is approximately 2-3mm in length. It is a larger seed than white clover.
The seedling develops two oblong cotyledons, on short, stout stalks. The cotyledons are nearly as wide as they are long and the first true leaf is situated on a stipule with a minute hairy covering.
A green to dark green legume. The trifoliate shaped leaves are on short stalks, each leaflet has its own very short petiole. Each of the leaflets are oval in shape, with a pale almost inverted crescent on the upper surface. The margin of the leaf is not toothed, unlike other clovers. The plant may be hairy, or now and again non hairy. The stems are hollow in their structure. The inflorescence can vary in colour from red to pink and very occasionally white. The root has a pronounced, strong taproot, with finer lateral branches on either side, the aerial part of the plant grows from a crown slightly above the soil surface.
Average number of seeds per kg 550 000. Average protein content 19%. Bloat can be an issue if grazing red clover swards, especially in cattle. The high oestrogen content of the plant can cause issues when fed to breeding stock during tupping or serving. Pure stands of red clover can yield approximately a third less than a grass and clover mixture.
Works well with
Red clover can be grown with short term aggressive ryegrass like westerwold, Italian and hybrid ryegrass in high yielding silage mixtures. It may also be a constituent of longer term drought resistant mixtures with species like cocksfoot, however it will normally disappear from the sward over time. Red clover is aggressive enough to be over-sown into existing swards to boost protein levels and/or drought resistance. Important guidelines should be followed when over seeding to get the most reliable result.
You can find Red Clover in the following mixtures
First introduced to England in the 1600s and later to the united states in the 1790s.
Red Clover Red clover is one of the most popularly used true clovers in the UK. Once established it’s capable of rapid growth and shows reasonably good persistence up to three years, although