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Which annual clover do I plant?

By Jeremy Kichler
Colquitt CEC

This time of year, county Extension agents get numerous calls and questions about which clover to choose for winter forage systems. Winter annual legumes can be planted in the fall and they can provide forage in the late fall and spring. These forages can be used for grazing, hay and also silage production. Clover selection depends on soil type, growth distribution, cold tolerance, bloat and reseeding potential. Below is table of characteristics such as minimum soil characteristics, and management traits of selected cool season annual clovers. In this article we will discuss Arrowleaf, Ball, Berseem and Crimson clovers and how they can fit into your production system.

Arrowleaf Clover. Arrowleaf clover produces less forage in the fall and winter when compared to crimson clover. In most areas of the state, Arrowleaf can provide good quality grazing later in the spring. This clover has low bloat potential because of the high tannin content. Arrowleaf clover will produce new leaves and remain productive until late spring/early summer if grazing is managed to the height of 2-6 inches tall. This will help to reduce disease issues by improving light and air movement in the canopy.

Arrowleaf clover produces hard seed (90% hard seed) which allows it to have great reseeding potential. Cattle producers can take advantage of this reseeding potential by removing or reducing stocking rates in late April or early May when the clover starts to flower. Please keep in mind if Arrowleaf clover has been grown in a pasture for several years, a Fusarium disease complex can seriously affect the reseeding ability of this forage.

Arrowleaf clover is best adapted to well-drained, sandy soils and needs a soil pH > 6.0. The seeding rate for Arrowleaf clover is 5-8 lbs per acre if drilled or 8-10 lbs per acre broadcast. If Arrowleaf clover is the only clover in a mixture then the seeding rate is 6-8 lb per acre. According to UGA Forages, Apache and Blackhawk are the recommended varieties to plant. These varieties have virus resistance but are still susceptible to crown and stem rot.

Ball Clover. Ball clover produces forage about one month later in the spring when compared to Crimson clover and it produces less total forage. Ball clover has excellent reseeding abilities and it produces seed heads close to the ground in heavy grazing environments. When compared to Crimson clover, Ball clover tolerates wetter soils but performs best on loam to clay soils. It does not do well in low pH environments. Producers need to keep the soil pH above 6.0. If you are interested in honey production then it could be a great fit for this type of production. Ball
clover produces yellow-white flowered seed heads that look similar to white clove and has long, branched stems. Grazer, Select and Don are the recommended Ball clover varieties. The seeding rate for Ball clover is 2-3 lbs per acre broadcast.

Berseem Clover. Berseem clover is a non-bloating, winter annual that does well in South Georgia. It has a longer grazing season, lower bloat potential and higher yields when compared to Crimson clover. This clover does not reseed well and does not tolerate low soil pH. If you have wet or poorly drained soils then Berseem clover might need to be considered, but it is not as cold hardy as other annual clovers. Berseem can provide grazing in November or December but produces most of its forage production from March to May. Berseem clover has a higher boron requirement
when compared to other annual clovers. The seeding rate for Berseem clover is 15-18 lbs per acre if drilled or 18-20 lbs per acre broadcast. If Berseem clover is the only clover in a mixture then the seeding rate is 15-20 lb per acre. Seed supply might be limited but look for Bigbee or Frosty varieties.

Crimson Clover. Crimson clover is often times considered the bench mark when comparing clovers. This clover can furnish some grazing in the late fall and winter but most of the grazing can be expected in the spring. It matures earlier in the spring when compared to other annual clovers and has a shorter grazing season. Crimson clover likes well drained soils and is commonly used in ryegrass and other small grain mixtures to overseed bahia and bermudagrass pastures. One of drawbacks to crimson is its reseeding potential in grazing systems which is caused by the low production of hard seed. The seeding rate for Crimson clover is 15-20 lbs per acre if drilled or 20-30 lbs per acre broadcast. If Crimson clover is the only clover in a mixture then the seeding rate is 12-15 lb per acre. AU-Robin is a recommended variety to plant but Dixie and Tibbee can be used also if AU-Robin is not available.

An excellent resource for clover or forage legumes is the publication Georgia Forages: Legume Species. This can be found at https://georgiaforages.caes.uga.edu/content/dam/caes-subsite/forages/docs/publications/legume-species.PDF.

If you have any questions about forages please contact your local Extension agent.