Benefits of white clover as a cover crop
White clover has many benefits that are useful for cropping systems.
December 15, 2014 - Author: Christina Curell, Christina Curell , Michigan State University Extension
White clover serves as the premier living mulch system over any other legume. It is robust, resilient and competitive. It produces nice, green walkways and builds soils. It outcompetes weeds, is easy to manage and produces nitrogen. Everything you could want in a ground cover exists in white clover. The following are examples of the many benefits of white clover.
A good white clover stand produces 80-130 pounds per acre. This is less than the average legume.
White clover is the most resilient of the clover genus. For this reason, white clover serves as an excellent ground cover crop. It withstands mowing very well and high traffic areas.
White clover has a very thick and interconnected root system. This root system breaks up and prevents soil compaction.
White clover withstands grazing very well, it is also palatable. It has a protein content of roughly 28 percent. Watch for bloat in your cattle when allowing them to graze on white clover.
The extensive root system and ground cover capabilities of white clover keep soil from running off, keeping key nutrients in place. White clover is also used to help increase soil health because of its erosion protection and nitrogen fixation.
Once established, white clover serves as an excellent weed cover. The large root system and biomass production, plus the fact that white clover competes well in adverse conditions, will hardly inhibit weed growth.
A guide to living mulch systems
In order to allow maximum economic value from your living mulch systems, management is key. During early stages of development and growth, make sure your living mulch system does not compete with the cash crop for light, nutrients and moisture.
Mowing, tilling or chemical suppression of the white clover are all good suppression techniques. This suppression should allow your cash crop to gain the upper-hand with nutrient management.
Once the crop is well established, usual mowing to keep the clover down and manageable will produce nice, green walkways in between your cash crops. This prevents soil erosion, compaction and nutrient loss. The cover will also allow greater water penetration into the soil and overall soil development.
Michigan State University Extension educators have developed fact sheets and pamphlets that will help you determine the best clover for your management needs. For more information on using cover crop or to request copies of the factsheets, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Paul Gross, email@example.com.