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Characteristics of White Clover

White clover (Trifolium repens L.) is a short- lived, perennial which can reseed itself under favorable conditions. It grows rapidly and spreads via stolons. White clover has a shallow root system which make it intolerant of droughty soils. It grows best during cool, moist weather on well-drained, fertile soils with a pH between 6 and 7. Pure stands of white clover are not usually planted because of their low growth habit and associated low yield. However, they make high quality pastures in mixture with a grass and fix nitrogen for use by the grass.


Adapted White Clover Varieties

The various types and varieties of white clover are undistinguishable from each other except for their size. Ladino and Regal are varieties of white clover which have leaf stems (petioles) that grow taller than other white clover varieties. Because of this taller growth habit these varieties are often referred to as large type white clovers. Dutch or common white clovers have slightly shorter petioles than the large white clover types. White clovers with the shortest petioles are classified as small clovers. The names of these small clovers frequently contain the words "wild white". These small white clovers yield less than the large types but persist better under heavy continuous grazing.


White Clover Establishment

White clover can be "frost seeded" (in early spring when the soil is still honeycombed with frost) into existing grass pastures to improve pasture production and quality. This seeding technique requires that the seeding be done while the soil contains frost. Delaying seeding until mid-morning when the soil has become slippery on the surface will result in poor stand establishment. White clover can also be no-till seeded into existing grass pastures.

Seeding white clover-grass mixtures into a conventionally prepared seedbed is also an excellent method of establishment. Do not plant deeper than 1/4 inch when seeding. Press wheels or cultipacking used in conjunction with or after band seeding will improve the seed-soil contact and the chances of obtaining a good stand. To obtain a proper seeding depth, the seedbed should be firm. This can be accomplished by cultipacking before seeding.

Fluid seeding (planting in a fertilizer solution) of white clover onto a well-prepared, firm, fine seedbed can also be successful. Cultipacking before fluid seeding to make a firm seedbed and after fluid seeding to insure good seed-soil contact will improve stand establishment. Fluid seeding requires special equipment, therefore a custom applicator is recommended.

Seeding rates of white clover into an existing grass pasture should be 2-4 lb. per acre. White clover seeds are relatively small and one pound of seed contains about 800,000 seeds. Therefore the seeding rates for white clover appear low relative to other forages. Hay or silage mixtures which contain white clover should also contain a red clover to increase the potential yield.


White Clover Harvest Management

Harvest management of white clover for hay or silage production is generally based on the grass in mixture with the clover since white clover constitutes such a small proportion of the total forage and its quality remains relatively high at maturity. Harvest should be dictated by the harvest schedule which maximizes grass performance.

Pasture mixtures which contain a legume offer many advantages but also require more careful management than pure grass pastures. Advantages of having white clover or any legume in a pasture mixture is that forage quality is improved over a pure grass pasture and the stand requires less nitrogen application because of the legume N contribution.

White clover can be grazed continuously or rotationally. It can be grazed to a height of about 1 inch without serious damage to the stand. However, closely grazed white clover plants must be allowed to recover. If rotationally grazed with a tall-growing grass, the pastures should be grazed at intervals which do not allow the grass to excessively shade the white clover. On predominantly white clover pastures, bloat can be a problem.


White Clover Fertility

Lime and fertilizer needs of white clover should be determined by soil testing before planting. For best results the soil pH should be between 6 and 7. Starter fertilizer application of up to 20-60-20 lb. per acre will often assist in white clover establishment. If the soil test calls for nutrients in excess of this amount, they should be applied prior to seeding and incorporated into the seedbed. If white clover is to be seeded into an established winter grain, topdress applications of nitrogen to the small grain should not be made.

Clover stands should be fertilized annually according to soil test recommendations. In the absence of a soil test and assuming a medium- fertility soil, apply 0-60-145 lb. per acre. When white clover makes up less than 30% of a white clover-grass mixture, apply 30 to 50 lb. of N per acre to enhance grass production.


White Clover Summary

White clover is a low-growing forage legume which is predominantly used in pasture mixtures with grasses. It will improve forage quality above a pure grass stand and supply nitrogen for grass growth. White clover can tolerate close grazing but persists best if allowed a period to recover. Its contribution to the total forage yield in a mixed stand is generally relatively small but its overall contribution to forage quality and nitrogen for the grass makes it an excellent legume for pasture mixtures.


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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002