How to establish and maintain clover
In this article, CAFRE’s Stephen Flanagan explains how clover requires slightly different management to grass and how to establish and maintain it in an existing sward.
Previously, he discussed what clover can offer to sheep and beef farmers.
- Before sowing clover seed, minimise the competition from existing grass plants by grazing the sward hard and lightly harrowing to open it up and enable good seed to soil contact;
- Correct the soil fertility first, especially at the soil surface, as clover is shallow rooting. Target a pH of at least 6.0. Base this on a recent soil analysis.
- Clover is particularly sensitive to Nitrogen (N) application during establishment, so do not apply N during this period;
- Broadcasting is the most reliable method of sowing clover. However, as clover seed is very small, it may need granulated lime to act as a ‘carrier’;
- Use a higher seed rate (4.0 kg/ha or 1.5 kg/acre) than conventional sowing to compensate for greater seedling loss due to competition from the existing sward;
- The greatest losses come when clover seed is planted too deep, so surface sowing is ideal, followed by a light roll to aid seed to soil contact;
- Another technique that can be successful is ‘hoof and tooth’. This involves using sheep to trample seed in and graze grass tight for up to 10 days after sowing;
- After sowing, graze hard in short, intensive 3–4-day periods every month, until clover is well established, to reduce competition from other plants;
- Reduce N applications to allow the plant to grow and increase the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Therefore, this will reduce the need for purchased chemical N;
- Keep grass at 4–6 cm over the winter to protect clover stolons from frost damage.
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