Clover, like other legumes, are amazing plants. They are unique in their ability to gather nitrogen from the atmosphere and convert it to a form beneficial to the plant. The legume achieves this through the activity of bacterial colonies, (nodules), which form on the roots when the proper strain of rhizobia bacteria is present in sufficient number in the soil upon germination of the legume seed. Some legumes are very efficient at gathering nitrogen and convert enough to supply their own needs as well as those of surrounding plants.
All legumes bear fruit in the form of a pod containing seeds. These plants may be annuals, perennials, or biennials, and include some shrubs and trees. Legumes also include a great number of ornamental plants and plants valued as sources of such products as dyes, drugs, resins, perfumes and wood. They also include some of the most important of all food and forage crops, such as; clovers, peas, beans, alfalfa, peanuts, and soybeans. Many legumes are exceptionally rich in proteins and are practically the only non-meat source of some of the amino acids essential to mans diet. Unfortunately, not all legumes are beneficial. Some can be aggressive weeds (such as Kudza) and many are poisonous to grazing livestock (loco weed, crolateria, etc.)
Before low-priced nitrogen fertilizer greatly reduced their usage, many legumes were utilized as green manure crops. Increased fertilizer prices, along with our recent concern and awareness of ground water nitrate levels and stream pollution due to erosion runoff, may result in tremendous demand for legume crop seeds in the coming years.
Many legumes are utilized in pure stands or in combination with grasses for grazing and/or hay production. When utilized in combination with grasses, legumes increase forage yield and protein content, improve palatability and digestibility of grassland forage, supply nitrogen, improve soil structure, and can substantially increase carrying capacity of pastureland. However, if legumes are to co-excist with grass and be productive, the grass/legume mixture requires good soils with good to excellent drainage and relatively high pH values. While legumes provide their own nitrogen they are generally heavy users of other nutrients, in particular potassium and phosphorous.
Medium Red Clover
Red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) is the most widely grown of all the true clovers. It is grown alone or in combination with grasses for hay, pasture, and soil improvement. Most American red clovers are the early-flowering type, known collectively as "medium red clover". This type is characterized by producing two or three hay crops per year and having a biennial or short-lived perennial growth habit. "Mammoth" red clover is the principle late-flowering type grown in the United States. The late-flowering or single-cut type usually produces one hay crop plus an aftermath.
Red clover requires ample precipitation to produce high forage yields, thus, it is limited to the eastern 1/3 of Kansas. It performs best on those soils with good water retention and drainage qualities. Deep loams, silt loams, and even fairly heavy soils are preferable to shallow or sandy soils.
Taproots of red clover plants can penetrate depths of up to six feet and numerous roots will develop laterally from the taproot making red clover an excellent soil improvement crop. Usually the taproot disintegrates in the second year and surviving plants rely upon the development of a strong secondary root system.
Red clover is a herbaceous plant made up of numerous leafy stems arising from a crown. The flowers are borne on heads of compact clusters at the tips of the branches. Each flower cluster can consist of as many as 125 individual flowers. Flower color is rose purple or magenta. The shape is similar to pea flowers, although much smaller. Seeds are contained in coiled pods and are oblong to slightly kidney-shaped and vary in color from pure yellow to purple.
Red clover will grow on moderately acid soil and be moderately productive, however, for maximum production soil pH should be 6.4 or higher.
Altaswede Red Clover is a late flowering red clover with good winter hardiness. It is more tolerant of acidic soils than Alsike Clover but does not tolerate drought well. Late-flowering cultivars are more tolerant of grazing than early-flowering cultivars since the growth buds on the plant crowns are more numerous. However, continuous stocking at a high grazing pressure will reduce plant persistence due to foliage removal and crown damage by hoof trampling.
Use and Management:
In the first year of the stand one hay crop may be attempted, weather permitting. If the newly seeded red clover blooms by September 5 in northeast Kansas or by September 15 in southeast Kansas, the growth should be removed by grazing, haying, or clipping. Red clover allowed to bloom in the seedling year has much less winter-hardiness than plants which do not bloom. If a hay crop is harvested the seedling year, the stand should not be grazed prior to freeze down. In succeeding years, the first hay crop should be taken in the pre-bloom to early bloom stage. Subsequent hay crops should be taken when plants are in early bloom. Often, the first crop is harvested as hay and subsequent crops harvested by grazing animals. Red clover as pasture should be grazed at six to seven week intervals utilizing rotational rather than continuous grazing. Bloat can be a serious problem with cattle grazing red clover. Grazing animals should be observed closely and provided with plenty of dry roughage. Anti-foaming products (Bloat Guard) are recommended but care must be taken to insure each animal regularly consumes an adequate supply.
Red clover is routinely over-seeded into pastures and meadows to improve quality and yield. In a study conducted by Kansas State University extension researchers on a farm near Girard, red clover interseeded into tall fescue dramatically increased the amount and quality of forage produced.
Alsike clover (Trifolium hybridum) is grown in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. It has become an important forage legume in areas suited to clover-timothy production. Alsike clover is well adapted to wet, heavy soils and is tolerant of flooded conditions. It produces well on soils that are either too cold and wet or too acid or alkaline for red clover.
Alsike clover is a short-lived legume (3 years average) that is most useful in short-rotation pastures or in hay mixtures on wetlands. It can be used in combination with grasses for pasture or hay in areas that have high precipitation or are poorly drained.
Use and Management:
Alsike clover is most often established in the early spring when soil moisture conditions are most favorable. In areas where irrigation is available, late summer seedings are also successful. Seed may be broadcast and covered by a harrow or drilled ¼ inch deep into a well-prepared seedbed. When alsike is used in renovating pastures, the existing sod should be clipped or closely grazed, disked, fertilized, and seeded in early spring or late fall. As with all legumes, alsike clover should be inoculated with the proper inoculum immediately before seeding.
Including timothy with plantings of alsike for a hay crop is recommended because the clover has a tendency to lodge. Alsike clover produces only one crop of hay each season.
Alsike clover is quite tolerant of grazing. A rotational system where alsike is grazed to a height of 2 to 4 inches following a regrowth period of 4 weeks will result in a persistent stand of good quality forage.
Yellow Blossom Sweet Clover
Sweet clover (Melolptus spp.) is native to Eurasia and was introduced to North America in the early 1700's. There are two principle types; yellow sweet clover, M. officinalis, and white sweet clover, M. alba. Generally, the cultivated forms of sweet clover are biennial, however, a few annuals (such as "Hubam") are also cultivated.
Sweet clover is adapted to all of eastern Kansas and to areas of western Kansas with favorable moisture conditions. Seedlings are weak and slow to establish, but once established, sweet clover is one of the most drought resistant legumes.
In the seedling year, the biennial sweet clovers produce a plant with a single, branched stem which obtains 12 to 36 inches of growth. The second years growth may reach a height in excess of six feet. At the end of the second season, growth is completed, seed is produced, and the roots and tops die.
From midsummer to early fall of the first year, buds are formed on root crowns. These remain dormant during winter and produce a strong, coarse growth of stems early the next season. Numerous small flowers are borne on racemes. Seed pods generally contain one seed.
Yellow sweet clover is considered to be better adapted to Kansas than is white. Yellow is more tolerant to adverse conditions such as drought and competition from companion crops. It also is slightly finer stemmed and generally superior to white in forage quality. None of which makes any difference to the bee-keeper who prizes white sweet clover for the flavor it imparts to honey.
Use and Management:
Sweet clover is used for soil improvement, hay, silage, pasture and the production of honey. It is tolerant to poor drainage, overflow, and alkali conditions. It will grow on a wide range of soil types including heavy clays and rocky terrain.
As a soil improvement crop, sweet clover excels. Its massive tap root is capable of breaking up plow pans and penetrate and loosen soil to great depths. When plowed under, sweet clover can provide up to 100 lbs. of nitrogen per acre to succeeding crops.
Sweet clover utilization in Kansas as pasture far exceeds its usage as hay or silage. As pasture, sweet clover produces forage high in protein but lacking in palatability. Coumarin, an aromatic compound, affects the palatability of sweet clover until livestock become accustomed to the bitter taste. If livestock are placed on sweet clover pasture when plants are young and small, acceptance is relatively good.
During heating and spoilage of sweet clover hay or silage, coumarin breaks down into a toxic substance, (dicoumarel), which reduces the blood clotting ability of animals consuming the forage, death may result.
New forage growth the second season does not come from the crowns as in alfalfa. Instead, growth originates from buds on the lower portion of the stem. Therefore, if cut too low, the second season regrowth will be prevented and the plants will die.
"Ladino" clover (Trifolium repens L.) is a large or giant type of white clover. There are also small and intermediate types of white clover. The small type is usually referred to as "Wild White". The small type produces low yields, and is seldom planted in improved pastures. The intermediate type of white clover has commonly been referred to as "White Dutch Clover". It is intermediate in size to the small type and ladino. White Dutch clover generally flowers earlier and more profusely than ladino, and is preferred in those areas of the United State where white clover behaves as a reseeding annual. In Kansas, the large type, ladino is much preferred over either the small or intermediate types.
Ladino clover excels under conditions of optimum soil moisture and fertility. It is shallow rooted and spreads by solid stolons that root at the nodes. Leaves are trifoliate, and usually are marked with a white V. Flowers are usually white, occasionally pinkish, and are borne on heads containing 20 to 150 individual perfect flowers. Plants flower and produce viable seed the first summer. Under stressful conditions, the persistence of ladino in a pasture depends upon volunteer seedlings. Under more favorable conditions, ladino persists as a perennial returning from the roots. In Kansas, persistence of ladino clover is a function of both.
Ladino clover is entirely cross pollinated, relying upon honeybees and other pollen collecting insects. Pods usually contain three to four seeds, which mature three to four weeks after pollination.
Leaves and flowers are the only plant parts harvested. Consequently, the forage yield of the clover component of a ladino/grass pasture is relatively low. However, total forage yield, forage quality and distribution of production is excellent. Total yield of a ladino clover/grass pasture is comparable to that of other legume/grass mixtures.
White clover has been described as a "tonic" because of its beneficial effects on livestock grazing it. Ladino is low in fiber and is highly digestible, nutritious, and palatable. On a dry weight basis crude protein can run 30% and digestibility may range from 60% to 80%. Ladino clover has been credited with improving animal health, increased milk flow, increased calf weaning weight and daily gains, and improved conception rates.
Use and Management:
Ladino clover is well suited to the eastern 1/4 of Kansas. In tall fescue, ladino is generally more persistent than other perennial legumes. This is due to its capacity to reseed itself and not rely soley upon its perennial growth habit.
Ladino clover in cool-season hay meadows will increase total forage yield and quality. Management of the grass/legume mixture must be centered on the maintenance of the legume.
Use of ladino clover for pasture is much more widespread than its usage for hay. Ladino clover is well suited to rotational grazing or continuous grazing. Rotational grazing provides maximum animal performance but requires added management expense. The "rule-of-thumb" is to allow forage growth to reach a height of 8 to 12 inches and then graze to three to four inches.
Controlled continuous grazing is the practice most often utilized in Kansas. Grazing pressure should be controlled by either stocking rates or varying the length of time animals are allowed to graze per day to maintain forage height between four and eight inches. Ladino clover/grass pastures must be managed so that the carbohydrate reserves in the clover roots are not depleted going into the winter season.
Arrowleaf clover (T. vesiculosum Savi), one of the most popular forage legumes in eastern Oklahoma, is generally used with bermudagrass, tall fescue, and small grains for pasture and hay. This clover produces abundant growth during spring, resulting in high-quality forage for stockers and cow-calf operations.
Arrowleaf clover is a cool-season annual. Seedlings are somewhat slow-growing, delicate, and sensitive to drought. Growth slows in June, and plants begin to die by mid July.
Arrowleaf clover was introduced from Italy and became popular in the southeastern USA during the 1960's. Like most forages from Mediterranean environments (no summer rainfall, mild winter temperatures, and abundant winter rainfall), arrowleaf clover has its major growth period in spring and prepares for hot summers by producing seed as soils begin to dry. As a survival mechanism during dry periods, a high percentage of the seed is dormant because of an impermeable seed coat. Few seeds germinate during the first fall, and most seeds germinate during the second, third, and fourth falls following seed production.
Use and Management:
Establishing this forage should be viewed as a "several-year undertaking". Care should be exercised during the first fall to optimize the seed germination and emergence. Grazing should be deferred during early fall and during seed production the following summer. This approach enables plants to develop strong root systems during the fall and to produce an abundant supply of seed in the soil for subsequent years. Once established and productive, arrowleaf clover pastures seldom need special renovation practices. Practices to encourage reseeding are necessary, however. These include allowing good seed production and removal of thick thatch by grazing and/or haying in September.
Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is an upright, winter annual native to Europe, but has naturalized throughout temperate North America. This clover will adapt to virtually all soil types, but it does not grow as well on wet or alkaline soils. Crimson clover prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade.
Crimson clover may produce abundant quanties of seed, but it differs from many other forage legumes in that few seeds are "hard". The lack of a high proportion of hardseed allows many seeds to germinate too early in the summer. Crimson clover does not have a high yield potential, but can produce up to 1.5 tons of dry matter, with good rains it can yield another ton per acre before dying. It has a good nitrogen fixation capability and can contribute 60-90 lbs of N per acre.
Use and Management:
Grazing is more important than haying with crimson clover. Crimson clover is overseeded mostly with Bermuda, Dallis or Bahaia pastures. It helps in fertilizing pastures because it can take the atmospheric nitrogen and convert it as a nitrogen source. It improves the nutritive content of the pasture and the condition of shallow clay soils. Crimson clover is preferred by horses and livestock as a more palatable forage than grasses. This and other legumes are considered most beneficial when considered part of a pasture mix. Crimson Clover, in particular, is used for winter grazing. It can also be used in highway medians and roadside areas for beautification purposes.