Clover

Compared 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 grazing management.

Establishment

  • White and red clovers compete poorly with grasses and weeds  during the establishment year, and are sensitive to deep sowing, cold soils, and drought.
  • A thorough preparation of the paddock is needed before sowing. Remove as many weeds and their seeds, through combinations of  spraying, cultivation, and cropping.
  • If cultivating, a fine and firm seedbed is needed to allow for shallow seed depth and good soil to seed contact.  Seed should be covered with 15mm of firm soil, and this will often require rolling before and after sowing.
  • When direct-drilling, extra care is needed to achieve the shallow seed depth, and coverage of the seed with firm soil.
  • Take a soil test and if pH or nutrient levels are low, apply extra amounts of lime or fertilizer one to six months before planting to correct them.  These clovers require pH levels in water of 5.6 to 6.5 to perform and persist well.
  • White clover should be planted at 1-4kg/ha, and red clover at 4-6 kg/ha.  If clover seed is coated, increase sowing rate to allow for the weight of the coating.  Inoculation is required if the soil has not had  clover growing recently. The inoculum needs to be fresh.   Insecticide seed treatment can be important, especially with insects such as ants and earth mites.
  • Clover establishment can be poor if soils are cold at sowing, or 2-3 months afterwards.  Ideally soils should be above 10 C.  Drought and high temperatures in the first 2-3 months will also restrict clover establishment. 
  • Do not use residual herbicides on previous crops that could affect germination of clover within the plant-back period on the chemical label.
  • Insect and weed control is critical in the first year.  Monitor from the first week of sowing, and control insects early.  Weeds should be sprayed when still young, as soon as the clover plants have two trifoliate leaves (longer for some herbicides).  Use herbicides that  are registered for white or red clover.
  • Competition with weeds and grass in the first winter is the main 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.

Management

White clover is a perennial plant that spreads with stems attached to the soil (called stolons), which grow and form new roots and plants.  This is its main mechanism for survival, and it does not need to set seed.  Stolon growth and spread is maximized when soil temperatures are mild to warm (spring), soils are moist and fertile, and plenty of sunlight reaches the soil surface.  Stolons shrink during dry and hot summers, but can then grow back after autumn breaks, when clover pastures should be managed like establishing pastures.

Red clover does not have stolons, but has a deeper and longer-lived tap root.  When plants are damaged (over-grazing, pugging, root disease), they cannot re-populate the pasture like white clover – they can be considered as similar as short-lived Lucerne plants.

Once established, these clovers do best under rotational grazing, with grazing durations of 1-2 days and spells of 20-30 days.  Keep the grass below 12cm, because most of the clover plant lives close to the ground and cannot compete for light with rank grasses.  The clovers are preferentially grazed to low levels, so set-stocking leads to over grazing of clover and eventual dominance of  grasses.

White and red clovers are shallow-rooted and have less drought tolerance than most grasses.  During dry periods, it is important to spell clover – based pastures until there is enough rain to ensure strong recovery of grazed plants.

Soil nutrients (P, K, S and Mo) and pH need to be maintained at good levels for these clovers to compete with grasses.  High use of nitrogen (200 kg N/ha/yr) can reduce clover contents.

Good insect control (eg. Earth Mites, Black Headed Cockchafers) will improve clover production and persistence.  Gaucho treating of seed can assist establishment and minimise plant loss through insect attack (Red Legged Earth Mite).

 

White Clover

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White clover is a perennial plant that spreads with stems attached to the soil (called stolons), which grow and form new roots and plants.  This is its main mechanism for survival, and it does not need to set seed.  Stolon growth and spread is maximized when soil temperatures are mild to warm (spring), soils are moist and fertile, and plenty of sunlight reaches the soil surface.  

Red Clover

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Red clover does not have stolons, but has a deeper and longer-lived tap root.  When plants are damaged (over-grazing, pugging, root disease), they cannot re-populate the pasture like white clover – they can be considered as similar as short-lived Lucerne plants.Once established, these clovers do best under rotational grazing, with grazing durations of 1-2 days and spells of 20-30 days.