Red Clover

Percy Folkard, BC FLNR
Scientific name: 

Trifolium pratense L.

Agronomic Legume
Annual precip. min (mm): 
Annual precip. max (mm): 
Seed size: 
Seeds per kg: 
Typical seeding objectives: 
PR Suitability note: 
Red clover is well suited to the Peace Region.
Key considerations: 
Red clover is relatively short-lived (2-3) years. Can cause bloat, however risk of bloat is less than for alfalfa. Can be difficult to cure for hay.
General Description: 

Red clover is an introduced, commonly grown, tap-rooted, short-lived perennial legume. It can thrive in cooler temperatures and more acidic soils than alfalfa. It has deep tap roots that develop from a shallow, narrow crown, though not as deep as alfalfa, therefore reducing its drought tolerance.

Each crown produces many branched, hairy stems, which grow to 75 cm (30 in.) in length. Leaves are made up of 3 hairy leaflets attached at one point and often have white water markings on the green leaflets. Red clover produces globe-shaped, purple, cross-pollinated flowers. Seed pods are about 3 mm (1/8 in.) long with 1 to 2 yellow to purple hard seeds per pod.

Originally from Europe and Turkey, although the commonly grown Altaswede variety was selected from Sweden.
Habitat and climate: 
Red clover needs adequate growing season moisture, and moderate summer temperatures. These conditions limit red clover to irrigated areas, or moist microsites at low to mid elevations in southern British Columbia.
Red clover is used for grazing, stockpiled forage, hay, silage, and green manure. It is palatable but can cause bloat. However, the risk of bloat is lower than for alfalfa. It is used for soil improvement in site rehabilitation in a variety of contexts.
Optimal time of grazing use: 
Grazing should be delayed until a full canopy of leaves has developed. Experience with some custom graziers found that leaving red clover (and alfalfa) until full bloom before grazing prevented bloat and increased the stand persistence.
Recovery after use (rating): 
Recovery after use: 
Recovery after use may be mixed depending on the site and management. Some sources indicate red clover recovers well after mid-season cutting and can be left for fall grazing. Other sources say using red clover twice a season can reduce longevity. Still others advise against its use for grazing because of its inability to resist traffic from grazing animals. Recovery may depend on where the growing tip is in relation to cutting or defoliation from grazing. It is also dependent on available moisture and management history. It is recommended to leave at least 10 cm (4 in.) to allow for regrowth.
Forage yield: 
Can yield 4,300 kg/ha (3,839 lb/acre) in the Grey or Black soil zones (e.g., areas of northern British Columbia). In drier regions, yield will be lower (e.g., 2,420 kg/ha [2,160 lb/acre]).
Palatability/Nutritional Value: 
Red clover is highly palatable and may be grazed preferentially. When red clover is cut or utilized at 25% bloom: crude protein can be 19% and dry matter 65 to 70%.
Longevity (rating): 
Red clover is relatively short lived (i.e., 1 to 3 years).
Persistence (rating): 
Persistence tends to be low, limited to 2 to 3 years. Because crowns and roots are close to the surface and break down naturally, crowns are more easily damaged. However, it can be more persistent if rotationally grazed.
Invasiveness (rating): 
Not invasive.
Competitiveness (rating): 
Red clover tends to be vigorous and a good competitor with companion crops like timothy.
Erosion control (rating): 
Erosion control: 
Red clover has value for soil improvement in erosion control seeding.
Drought tolerance (rating): 
Drought tolerance: 
Red clover is more drought tolerant than alsike clover but less than alfalfa.
Winter hardiness (rating): 
Winter hardiness: 
Winter hardiness depends on varieties, with single-cut red clovers having higher winter hardiness than double-cut types. Red clover tolerates colder temperatures than alfalfa.
Soil texture preference (rating): 
Soil texture preference: 
Prefers wet, fertile soils of any texture.
Flooding tolerance (rating): 
Flooding tolerance: 
Withstands 1 to 2 weeks of excess moisture, early in growing season; but intolerant of flooding during its actively growing period.
Salinity tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance (rating): 
Acidity tolerance : 
Tolerates pH levels as low as 5.0 but yield is reduced significantly. Prefers pH of 6.0 to 7.0.
Shade tolerance: 
Good shade tolerance, and seedlings can compete with companion crops.
Fire tolerance (rating): 
Pests and/or disease threats: 
Red clover casebearer insect, clover mite, red clover thrip, and lesser clover leaf weevil.
Ease of establishment (rating): 
Ease of establishment: 
Very easy to establish.
Application requirements: 
Can be applied with a variety of methods, including drill seeding, direct or sod seeding, and broadcast seeding. It can also be seeded by feeding directly to grazing animals in a salt mixture. (See page 39 for discussion).
Suggested mixtures: 
Normally grown with less competitive grasses such as timothy.
Management considerations: 
Seed should be inoculated with Rhizobium trifolii for better nodulation and nitrogen fixing. Stands may respond to fertilization. Red clover is short lived.