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Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)

Plant Characteristics: Winter annual with dark oval leaves and no V mark. Very pubescent (hairy) leaves and stems. Long and brilliant crimson flowers maturing from bottom to top.

Establishment: Crimson does not establish well in calcareous or poorly-drained soils. It can be broadcast from late August to October at a rate of 20 to 30 lb/ac. If planted with small grain and/or ryegrass, crimson clover seeding rates should be 15 to 20 lb/ac. To avoid excessive competition for the clover, seeding rates of small grain and/or ryegrass in mixtures should be no more than 90 and 15 to 20 lb/ac. Seeds should be placed at 1/4 to 1/2 inch depth. Natural reseeding can be affected by clover weevils. Stand persistence can be affected by crown and stem rot.

Fertilization: Moderate tolerant to soil acidity. Fall application of P, K, and lime should be done according to soil test recommendations. An additional application of 60 lb N/ac is usually made to crimson clover/grass mixtures in late winter. Application of about 2 lb B/ac may be required if reseeding is desired, especially if the clover is being grown on sandy soil.

Grazing/Hay Management: It could be used for pasture, hay, or green manure. Yields range from 2 to 3.5 ton/ac and forage availability will vary within the state. In the southern part, forage availability occurs from late November to December, and from February to early April. In the northern part of the state, available forage occurs in November and from March to April.

Crimson clover should not be grazed until the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall and should not be grazed closer than around 3 inches. When grown in combination with winter annual grasses reduce excessive grass growth to prevent excessive grass growth from shading out the clover plants, especially early in the growing season. Increasing the stocking rate or allowing animals access to a pasture earlier than had been planned may be necessary to accomplish this. Reducing or eliminating grazing pressure should be done soon after the clover begins to bloom (usually late March or early April) to allow reseeding. Crimson clover seed mature within about 30 days after pollination. Once mature seed have been produced, the field can be grazed or cut for hay during summer but nitrogen fertilizer should not be applied after around mid-summer. Also, Crimson can be grazed throughout the winter and a moderate stocking rate will reduce possible fungal diseases. Livestock should be removed in mid-March if planning to cut hay in late spring.

Forage Quality: Early spring growth of crimson clover often contains more than 20% crude protein and can be as high as 80% digestible. Even at full bloom the forage may contain 12 to 14% crude protein and 60 to 65% digestible nutrients on a dry matter basis.It is also possible for animals grazing crimson clover to bloat, but the likelihood is much less than for white clover or alfalfa. Planting grasses with the clover, providing dry hay to animals during periods of lush growth, avoiding turning hungry animals into a lush pasture, and providing anti-bloat materials are approaches for avoiding bloat problems.

Varieties/Cultivars: 'Dixie,' 'Auburn,' 'Autauga,' 'Chief,' and 'Talladega, Tibbee.

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Portrait of Dr. Rocky Lemus
Extension/Research Professor
Forage Establishment, Grazing Systems and Management, Hay Production, Forage Fertility, Forage Quali