The following information will provide general guidelines on basic management and production practices of most clovers and legumes. These guidelines are general applications and objectives and are intended only as a general guideline for clover and legume productions. Some practices may not be applicable to all management situations.
Planting Clovers & Legumes (General) Warm season annual legumes should be planted when soil temperatures are above 65°-70°F. Cool season legumes should be planted when soil temperatures are lower than 65°F. Actual planting dates will be dictated by moisture conditions and soil temperatures. Planting depth will be determined by seed size. Plant larger seed (peas, Cowpeas, vetch, etc.) at a depth of 1-1 1/2″, and smaller seed ( small seeded clovers) at 1/4 to 1/2″. Make sure there is adequate moisture, good seed to soil contact and firm ground around seed by rolling or packing. If rain is in the forecast, rolling or packing may not be necessary. Always inoculate seed with the proper inoculums before planting.
Drill Planting Drill planting ensures adequate seed placement as well as good seed to soil contact. Therefore, lower planting rates can be used. When drill planting clover and legumes in a prepared seed bed it is beneficial to have a smooth weed free and clod free seedbed. If the drill does not have packer wheels; roll or pack immediately after planting. When no till drilling or sod seeding, remove excess grass or sod to a height of 2-4″. It is recommended to plant using a heavier planting rate than with a conventional seed drill. Always remember, that when planting, large seed legumes the large seed box on the drill may be used. When planting small seeded legumes a small seed box attachment must be available on the planter, and is recommended to properly calibrate the seed drill to ensure proper planting rates.
Broadcast Planting Broadcast seeding of clovers and legumes is accomplished by scattering the seed over the top of prepared ground. When sod seeding, the seed is placed into existing sod or grass stubble. Broadcast applications do not ensure uniform ground coverage or proper planting depth. Always use higher seeding rates to ensure proper stand establishment and uniformity. If broadcasting large seeded legumes onto a prepared seedbed, lightly disc or harrow after planting, and follow with a roller or packer. When broadcasting small seeded legumes and clover on a prepared seedbed, pull a light drag, or roll with roller or cultipacker immediately after planting. When broadcasting, small seeded clovers and legumes into a existing sod, the most import factor for success is seed to soil contact as well as reducing and controlling stubble height on existing sod. After broadcasting seed, it is mandatory to lightly disc or harrow, and attempt planting immediately before expected rain.
Fertilizing Cool and Warm Season Legumes and Clovers Legumes and Clovers are very unique in that they have the ability to convert and utilize atmospheric nitrogen. Therefore, legumes and clovers do not need nitrogen fertilizer. However, in order for these plants to utilize this nitrogen they must be inoculated at planting with the proper nitrogen fixing Rhizobium bacteria. These bacteria are found on the roots of the legume or clover plant and live in a symbiotic relationship with the plant. One could say that the plant gives the bacteria a place to eat and sleep, and the bacteria pays the rent by assisting the plant in utilizing or fixing the atmospheric nitrogen. However, if a legume crop has a high nitrogen supply or if nitrogen is available in the soil, the nitrogen fixing bacteria will not allow the plant to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Also, if proper inoculation is not achieved or clovers fail to produce nodules, the legume crop will require supplemental nitrogen for adequate crop growth. Although legumes do not need nitrogen fertilizer if properly inoculated, they do require higher levels of Phosphate and Potash and calcium (Lime) than do perennial grass, annual grasses or other forages. When fertilizing for clovers and legumes, fertilize according to soil test. Apply and incorporate required Phosphate (P205), Potash (K20), Lime (Ca), during seedbed preparation.
If soil pH is low and lime is required, application and incorporation of lime should be done the season before legume establishment. This will provide ample time for the lime to go into soil solution and raise soil pH to desired levels. Without a soil test apply 40-100 units of Phosphate (P205), 50-100 units of Potash (K20). Use lighter rates on heavier clay type soils, and higher rates on sandier type soils. For liming and micro nutrient applications, always utilize a soil test to determine these levels. Adding too much lime or micro nutrients can cause excessive tying up of nutrients and create plant growth problems. In addition, legumes will replace an average of 50 units of nitrogen per acre. This nitrogen will be available for plant use the following season and will save producers up to $15.00/acre in nitrogen fertilizer cost.
Weed Control The type of weed control program will be determined by management objectives as well as planting methods. When planting clovers in a prepared seedbed, some herbicides may be used to control undesirable weed problems. When planting in existing sod as described in sod-seeding or no-till drill applications, mechanical practices (shredding) may be the only alternative for weed control. However, herbicide technology is rapidly improving and there are selective weed control herbicides, such as Pursuit, that can be sprayed directly over certain medics. Be sure and read herbicide label instructions before applying.
Grazing Management When grazing legumes and clovers, it should always be remembered that bloat problems may persist if grazing pure stands of clover. Most legume crops especially cool season clovers have high bloat potential. There are many varieties such as Bigbee Berseem as well as Hubam Sweet Clover, that show very little bloat problems. However, these clovers are more stemmy than most other varieties and therefore provide filler to reduce the effects of bloat problems.
To reduce bloat potential, it is recommended to mix cool season clovers with ryegrass, or small grain such as oats, wheat, or tricticales. This will reduce intake of high protein forage as well as provide higher levels of production for fall and winter grazing. When grazing cool season clovers, utilize clovers as a protein supplement.
Never continuous graze clovers unless mixed with small grain or ryegrass. It is also recommended to supply plenty of dry roughage for animals to reduce clover intake. Cool season clovers should not be grazed until the clovers have had a chance to establish a strong root system, usually when there is at least 6-8″ of top growth. If the variety planted is a reseeding type clover, reduce stocking rates at flower to about 50% normal stocking rates. This will allow the clovers a chance to flower and set seed. If not a reseeding variety, graze throughout the season. It is also recommended to use pasture rotation on most clover and legumes. This provides adequate time for re-growth.