Management and planting of crimson clover as a cover crop
Crimson clover is a good choice for those who would like to use an annual clover as a cover crop.
Crimson clover was first used in the United States in the south as a pasture legume. Its use began as early as the mid 1800s and interest in using it increased around 1940. Over the past 60 years many different types of crimson clover have been produced. Reseeding varieties are now popular and its use as a cover crop have become widely known. Like all cover crops, crimson clover has specific management needs to ensure a good, reliable stand.
Crimson clover grows well in any type of well-drained soil. It prefers sandy loam soil, however, and does perform poorer in heavy clay, waterlogged soils. It also performs poorly in highly acidic or alkaline soils. This type of clover prefers to grow in soils with a pH of 5.5-7.0. If soil pH drops below 5.0, it can shut down N-fixation done by the clover.
Crimson clover grows well in mixtures of small grains, especially oats. It can also be mixed with other clovers or medics. For mixed seeding, sow crimson clover at about two-thirds of its normal rate. In order for crimson clover to reseed itself, there has to be sufficient moisture through April.
For winter annual use, crimson clover should be seeded six to eight weeks before the first average frost date. If using a drill, seed at 15-18 pounds per acre; if broadcasting, seed at 22-30 pounds per acre. For summer annual use, plant as soon as the danger of frost is past. Seeding rates are similar to winter seeding rates. Crimson clover can be over-seeded in crops such as corn and used after short rotation crops such as snap beans.
Crimson clover will winter kill. If crimson clover survives through the winter it can effectively be terminated mechanically. Mowing after early bud stage will effectively terminate the clover.
Crimson clover works well with crops sown in the late spring, or harvested in early fall. Crimson clover also works in a strip-tilling situation.
For more information on crimson clover, see "Benefits of crimson clover as a cover crop."
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.