Clovers and Other Legumes

LegumesLegumes are a category of species that develop nodules on their roots that have the capability of take (fixate) nitrogen from the air and transfer it to a usable form in the soil that can be used be the legumes themselves and surrounding plants (grasses, for example). Clovers, alfalfa, beans and peas are the most well-known types of legumes.

Legumes consist of annuals and perennials and warm-season and cool-season species.

Forage legumes, as a whole, have a very high forage quality. They are often planted in pure stands or mixed with grasses for hay, silage or grazing. A common practice in many regions is to frost seed clovers into mostly grass pastures or hayfields. Frost seeding is done by simply broadcasting the seed onto the soil (or snow/ice) surface. The late winter thawing and freezing opens the soil and pulls the seed into the soil. Many legumes are also planted as cover crops following the harvest of a row crop to reduce soil erosion, add nitrogen to the soil, and add organic matter to the soil.

 Alsike Clover

Alsike clover is a short-lived perennial that is best adapted to the northern U.S. It often produces only one cut per year, if used for hay, and is often mixed with other cool-season grasses such as timothy. Alsike excels in soils too wet for alfalfa and red clover.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 10 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Longevity: Poor
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Poor
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor-Medium

Annual Clovers (Berseem, Crimson)

The major annual clovers have a lot in common. They are all good forage quality and can grow in various soil conditions. In terms of forage quality, the often rank as berseem the best and crimson the poorest (poor forage quality for an annual clover is still good compared to grasses). However, crimson and arrowleaf can often produce the highest yields. Crimson is the most cold tolerant and can often survive winters in the Northeast and to the I-80 corridor in the Midwest. The annual clovers, especially crimson, are often mixed with annual ryegrass or winter cereal grains to increase forage quality for winter grazing or early spring hay/haylage harvests. They are also mixed in grass stands to fix nitrogen into the soil. All three are used extensively in wildlife food plots, with berseem being the most attractive for deer.  

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 20 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Longevity: Cool-season Annuals
  • Winter Hardiness: Medium
  • Drought Tolerance: Poor
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor

 Medium Red Clover

Medium red clover is a medium-lived perennial. It is often used as a substitute for alfalfa in grass mixes, inter-seeded with thinning alfalfa stands to extend the stands life, mixed with grass in pastures and hayfields, and planted in pure stands for hay or silage. Red clover thrives from the upper South to Canada. It is often higher yielding and grows more upright than ladino clover, along with having better drought tolerance.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 15 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Longevity: Medium
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium-Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor-Medium

Improved red clover products offered by Heritage Seed:

Shamrock Red Clover

Sweet Clover (Yellow Blossom, White Blossom)

Yellow and white blossom sweet clover are biennials when planted in the spring. Contrary to their name, they actually have a bitter taste to some livestock, and they have course stems, making them poor options for forage use. They are, however, commonly used for cover crops or for soil-building. When plowed under at maturity yellow and white blossom clover can add up to 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre to the soil and a large amount of organic matter. A pH of 6.5 or higher is needed for optimum nodulation, which fixes nitrogen from the air to the soil. Yellow blossom matures about two weeks earlier than white blossom.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 15 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Poor-Medium
  • Longevity: Poor
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium-Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Medium

White Clover (Dutch, Intermediate, Ladino)

White clover may be the most adaptable clover, thriving from the Gulf Coast to Canada. It is very high quality and very persistent under grazing or hay conditions. White clover consists of three sub-types – Dutch, intermediate and ladino. Dutch white clover is very low growing, with small leaves, which gives it remarkable grazing tolerance but very low forage yields. Ladino grows more upright, with large leaves, resulting in much larger forage yields. Intermediate types are a cross that combine many of the good attributes of both parents. Intermediate white clover has larger leaves and more upright growth than Dutch varieties, giving it better yields. But it grows slightly lower than ladino, giving it better grazing tolerance than ladino.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 6 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Longevity: Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium
  • Heat Tolerance: Medium-Excellent

Birdsfoot Trefoil

Birdsfoot trefoil is a non-bloating, perennial legume that probably should utilized more than it is. It is very winter hardy and adapted to the northern third of the country. Although birdsfoot trefoil is slow to establish, is very persistent for up to 10 years. It works well mixed with non-competitive grasses, such as timothy, and can be used for pasture or hay (it actually has excellent grazing tolerance after establishment). Birdsfoot trefoil maintains a high forage quality through maturity and even after going to seed. It is moderately tolerant of soils with poor drainage.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 10 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ¼ to ½ inch
  • Forage Quality: Excellent
  • Longevity: Excellent
  • Winter Hardiness: Excellent
  • Drought Tolerance: Medium
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor-Medium

Cowpeas and Forage Soybeans

Summer annual cowpeas and beans generally have a “viney” nature, with long stems. They are commonly used for wildlife food plots and occasionally used for pasture and hay for livestock in the South. The leaves are high in protein and very palatable, but the plants are stemmy, which brings the overall forage quality down a bit. Some tests have mixed 6-gene BMR forage sorghum with cowpeas for hay, and the cowpeas actually brought the quality down slightly and decreased the overall yield. Cowpeas and forage soybeans love heat and are very tolerant of drought. With the development of BMR forage sorghums, summer annual peas and beans are better suited for wildlife plots.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 40-50 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ½ inch
  • Forage Quality: Medium-Excellent
  • Longevity: Summer Annual
  • Winter Hardiness: N/A
  • Drought Tolerance: Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Excellent

Winter Peas

Winter peas look and act very similar to cowpeas, except they are winter annuals rather than summer annuals. As with their summer counterparts, winter peas are occasionally mixed with grasses for winter pastures or hayfields, but they are more commonly used for wildlife food plots. They are adapted to the Southeast and southern Plains.

  • Seeding Rate (Pure Stand): 40-50 lbs/acre
  • Seeding Depth: ½ inch
  • Forage Quality: Medium-Excellent
  • Longevity: Summer Annual
  • Winter Hardiness: N/A
  • Drought Tolerance: Excellent
  • Heat Tolerance: Poor