Establishing Red Clover

Red-Clover-establishmentCompared with most grasses, white and red clovers are more difficult to establish and maintain.  Extra care needs to be taken during pasture establishment to ensure adequate clover and content, and maintenance of this will be affected by management.

Plant population is the main factor that affects persistence and productivity in a Red Clover sward. For a specialist red clover sward a target plant density of 200 red clover plants/m2 in October of the sowing year is recommended. This should enable the grass/red clover mixture to last for three seasons.

Factors affecting the optimum Red clover population are as follows.

The correct seed rate.

A number of sowing options are suitable, these are listed below.

When sowing red clover in a monoculture a seed rate of 12 to 15kg/ha ( 5 to 6 kg/acre).

Or a high red clover content sward,

15kg/ha (6kg/acre) of Red Clover

5kg/ha (2kg/acre) grass seed.

Popular mixture to achieve a balance of grass with white and red clover.

10kg/ha (4kg/ace) of Red Clover,

15 to 20kg/ha (6 to 8kg/acre) of grass

2kg/ha (0.8 kg/acre) of white clover

  • Sowing between April and July has given significantly higher DM production than autumn sowings. Late season sowings do not allow the seedlings to be robust enough to withstand harsh winters.
  • It is better not to establish the crop under a cereal. A direct reseed is best.
  • Inoculation of the seed is not required in the UK as there is no evidence that in most soil types and conditions it is required.
  • Aim for a pH of 6 and adequate P and K.
  • Clover establishment can be poor if soils are cold at sowing, or 2-3 months afterwards.  Ideally the soil temperature should be above 10°C.
  • Do not use residual herbicides on previous crops that could affect germination of clover within the plant-back period on the chemical label.
  • Avoid wet and heavy soils. These conditions restrict root development.
  • Choose compatible companion grasses. Probably the most useful is a mixture containing Hybrid with some intermediate grasses.
  • Sow shallowly (10-15mm).
  • Choose varieties resistant to stem eel worm and diseases such as clover rot and necrotic mosaic virus.
  • Competition with weeds and grass in the first winter is a major reason for poor clover establishment.  Ryegrass is a common companion, but competes strongly for light and soil moisture. The grass should be grazed before it exceeds 8-10cm, with short grazing-durations.  Avoid grazing when the soils are excessively wet or dry.
  • Red clover with its erect growth habit was never recommended as a crop suitable for intensive grazing. A light autumn grazing is best. Red clover does not have stolon’s but has a deeper and longer-lived tap root, when plants are damaged (over-grazing, wheel damage, root disease), they cannot re-populate the pasture like white clover.


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