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Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Plant Characteristics: Perennial with five non-hairy oval leaflets and yellow flowers (4 to 8 per stem). One brown to purple seed pod is produced by flower situated at right angles to the flower stalk and resemble a bird’s foot.

Establishment: Low seedling vigor forage and late maturity. Drought tolerant. Planting should occur between from August 20 to September 15 using a cultipacker seeder at a rate 6 to 8 lbs/ac and a 1/4-inch depth.

Fertilization: Lime if pH is below 5.5 molybdenum (Mo) or deficiencies may result. Mo can be applied as a seed coating. This application method should provide sufficient Mo levels for the life of the trefoil stand. Trefoil responds well to P and K fertilization and establishment rates should adjusted according to soil test recommendations. In the absence of a soil test, assuming a medium-fertility soil level, plow down 0-45-135 lb/ac and apply 20-60-20 lb/ac in the row at seeding (banded if possible). When fertilizer recommendations exceed this amount, the fertilizer should be incorporated into the seedbed prior to planting. Established trefoil in mixed stands with more than 30% of trefoil composition should not receive N applications. If trefoil makes up less than 30 percent of the mixture 25 to 50 lb N/ac will be needed to meet the grass demand for N and to maximize production.

Grazing/Hay Management: Biomass production occurs from April to early October and yields range from 2 to 2.5 tons/ac. Birdsfoot trefoil can be managed with orchard grass or tall fescue in the northern part of the state. It will not compete with bermudagrass or bahiagrass. Grazing should be grazed to a 3-inch stubble height and allowed to reseed each year. Haying or grazing between September 1 and the first killing frost is not recommended. Heavy grazing pressure may be needed in the spring to reduce lush growth and to allow trefoil to better compete in a grass mixture. Trefoil will compete under continuous grazing better than alfalfa. Close continuous grazing is not recommended because trefoil regrowth depends on energy supplied by top growth and not root reserves. When harvesting trefoil for hay, the first cutting should be taken at early bloom and a second cutting in mid to late August.

Forage Quality: Non-bloating legume with high quality comparable to alfalfa (15 to 20% CP), TDN ranges from 58 to 66%.

Varieties/Cultivars: Dawn, Empire, Viking, Fergus, Norcen, Carrol, Leo, and Tretana.

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