close up of red clover

Red Clover

Trifolium pratense L.

One of the oldest true clovers to be sown, red clover has many uses, including hay and grazing.

A long history.

Red clover is one of the oldest true clovers to be sown and used as livestock feed and crop rotation. It became integral in the development of both European and American agriculture. Originating in Asia Minor and southeastern Europe, it easily spread as an important sown crop throughout Europe, then in England, and finally in America. As an outward sign of this historical spread, its flower is the national flower of Denmark and the state flower of Vermont!

Types of red clover.

In North America, red clovers are grouped by flowering type. Early flowering types are known as “medium red”. Medium red types are known for producing 2-3 hay crops per year, are normally biennial or demonstrate a short-lived perennial growth habit. In the lower South, they generally act as an annual. Late flowering types are known as “mammoth” or “single-cut”. The late flowering mammoth types are nicknamed “single-cut” because they produce only one major hay crop per year.

Distinguishing marks.

Red clover has hairy hollow stems and leaves, and magenta flowers borne in compact seed head clusters. Each leaf has three oval leaflets. The 2” long leaflets have a white or light green chevron. Red clover plants grow from crowns. Red clover has larger seed than white clover giving it better seedling vigor than its white flowered cousin. This seedling vigor also facilitates drilling it into existing grass pastures. 

Grows well, even in the heat.

Red clover prefers soils with a pH of 5.8-7.0. Red clover is often grazed, but is not tolerant of continuous close defoliation; rotational stocking is best. Red clover also requires good soil moisture, has good heat and drought tolerance, but is not considered as tolerant of wet conditions like other clovers, such as white and alsike.

Good for grazing, hay and cover cropping.

Red clover is commonly used for hay, grazing, weed suppression, and soil building. Its extensive root system and deep tap root can penetrate multiple feet, providing access to nutrients and moisture over other more shallow-rooted clovers.

Although it is still primarily used for both hay and grazed pasture, in the grand tradition of ley farming, it is re-establishing itself as a green manure legume for crop rotation and cover cropping systems. Its flowers have even been promoted recently for use as herbal tea with possible medicinal qualities.

Nitrogen producer.

Red clover can produce up to 4 tons DM/A and fixes up to 150 lb. N/A. In order to achieve optimal nitrogen fixation ability, red clover needs to be inoculated with Rhizobium leguminosarum biovar trifolii. This is best achieved with Nitro-Coat®.

What we recommend.

Kenland red clover has been a good performing variety and is often specific. Kenland is usually available in both certified and uncertified seed.

Red Clover Specifications

Red Clover Specifications

Planting
zonesHumid or irrigated regions of zones 3-8; acts as annual in zone 9
annual/perennial/biennialBiennial
ease of establishmentExcellent
seed/lb270,000
seeding rate straight12-15 lbs/ac
seeding rate mix8-10 lbs/ac
seeding timeFall (October-November) or late winter to early spring (February-April)
seeding depth1/4-3/8 inch
seeding methodBroadcast or drilled (preferred)
method of killing/suppressionMowing; grazing; chemical
optimal germination temperatureNight temperatures >40 F
seedling emergence/vigorGood
reseeding potentialGood
root typeTap
Usage
grazing potentialGood
hay potentialExcellent
use with wildlifeGood
use in orchardsGood
use with row cropsGood
use with other grasses/legumesExcellent
Bees/benefitial insectsGood
compaction controlGood
erosion controlGood
weed suppression potentialGood
green manure/cover crop useExcellent
spreading capabilityFair
N contribition potentialGood
DM potentialExcellent
Forage qualityGood
harvest time frame (late/early/year round)Year round
number of harvest/yr3-4/yr
other commentsCut hay at early bloom stage; practice rotational grazing as continuous grazing detrimental to persistence
Tolerance
bloat riskHigh
disease susceptibilityHigh; many diseases such as powdery mildew, anthracnose, virsues can be a problem
insect/nematode riskModerate
cold toleranceExcellent
traffic toleranceGood
heat toleranceGood
drought toleranceGood
shade toleranceGood
dry soil toleranceGood
wet soil toleranceFair
pH range5.8-7.0
required fertility (P,K, other nutrients)P, K, Ca, Mg needed; minor especially Mo, B also needed