by Jennifer Poindexter
Are you interested in growing cover crops in your garden? Have you considered picking red clover?Red clover is a unique cover crop which offers many benefits. It can protect your soil from eroding, can make it difficult for weeds to grow, and it’s a natural source of nitrogen.
If you need to protect your soil or add nutrients to your depleted garden, before or after a growing season, red clover might help. However, you must understand how to grow this crop and use it for this intended purpose. Here’s everything you should know to grow red clover.
Growing Conditions for Red Clover
Red clover is a hardy cover crop. It can survive over winter in planting zones four and higher. It isn’t a picky plant and can survive in a variety of growing conditions.
Clover grows well in wet or dry weather. It also produces in either full or partial sunlight. However, the more light the crop gets, the better it seems to grow.
Red clover should be planted in well-draining soil. Again, it can still grow in poor quality soil with poor drainage, but if possible, provide quality soil and proper drainage for the crop.
As you can tell, red clover isn’t difficult to provide adequate conditions. It seems to adjust to whatever area it’s planted.
Remember, the better the growing conditions, the better the crop will produce. When using it for a cover crop, the more you can get the plant to produce, the more benefits you’ll receive.
How to Plant Red Clover
Planting red clover is a simple process. There are two ways you can go about getting the seed into the ground.
We’ll begin by discussing how to plant the seeds. After this is understood, we’ll move onto the different times of year you can plant red clover.
The first method is to create rows for the clover. It’s recommended, depending upon the size of your garden space, that you sow rows which are approximately one foot apart.
Don’t make the rows too deep because the seed shouldn’t be planted more than a half inch into the soil. If you plant them any deeper, they won’t germinate.
Lightly cover the seeds and wait approximately two weeks for germination.
The next method of sowing red clover seed is to till up your garden area. Once the soil is well disturbed, cast the seed over the freshly tilled area.
Leave the seeds and allow them a couple of weeks to germinate.
Now that you understand how to plant red clover, let’s discuss when you can sow it in your garden. I’ll also share a few ideas of how you can mix the seed with other crops for optimum benefits.
You can plant red clover in the early fall. This allows the plant time to become well established prior to cold weather setting in.
Clover seed can also be mixed with grains to supply more nutrients to your soil. If you choose to plant red clover with grains, you may have to plant the clover in early spring to match the growing conditions of the grains.
Now that you have an idea of when to plant red clover, how you can plant this cover crop, and what you could grow alongside red clover, it’s time to learn how to care for it.
Caring for Red Clover
Red clover is a low-maintenance crop. It’s drought-tolerant but should be kept consistently moist when the seeds are first planted.
Once the crop is established, it can survive on about an inch or two of rain per week. It’s recommended you utilize the deep watering method to supply an adequate amount of moisture.
Water your plants for a longer period of time, fewer days of the week. This will keep the clover consistently moist and ensure water reaches the roots.
Red clover won’t need to be fertilized, and you shouldn’t have any issue with weeds when raising this cover crop.
The main things to consider is mowing and terminating the plant as this is part of its use as a cover crop. How you do these things will depend upon the variety of red clover you plant.
There are two types of red clover. One is mammoth red clover, and the other is medium red clover. Most gardeners go with the medium red clover because it grows faster.
Mammoth red clover should only be cut one time. This is at the time when the crop is starting to form blooms to create seed.
Use a tiller or lawn mower to mow the crop down. You can leave it on top of your soil or till it into your soil. Either way, it will decompose into the soil and add nutrients.
If you choose medium clover, it can be mowed multiple times. If you choose to plant clover in the fall, you can mow it towards the end of the season. This will put nutrients into the soil.
However, if the clover hasn’t reached the blooming point, it should regrow. At this point, you should be able to mow it in early spring and mow it, for termination, at the end of spring.
This will add nutrients to your soil multiple times because each time you cut it, the crop should regrow.
Mowing and terminating clover is the most important method to caring for this crop. If you miss the window for termination, by allowing the clover to go to seed, it could grow back in unwanted places.
Pay close attention to your crop to ensure it’s cared for in the best way possible for your garden.
Pests and Diseases That Could Impact Red Clover
Red clover is mainly susceptible to fungal diseases and root rot. The crop doesn’t have issues with pests as it’s known for attracting beneficial insects.
Root rot and fungal diseases can occur when clover is planted in areas with poor quality soil which doesn’t drain properly.
If you notice signs of fungal disease, remove some of the plants to create better air circulation for the remaining plants.
However, if you notice your clover is having issues with root rot, reduce the amount of water being applied to the area. You might also consider planting clover in an area with better drainage.
Though the area you planted in might be a chosen spot for your garden, if the soil doesn’t drain adequately, you’ll have these same issues with other crops you grow in this location as well.
Be mindful of any diseases which could impact your cover crop. This will create awareness to help you catch these issues early to give your red clover every chance to survive if attacked.
Benefits of Red Clover
Red clover has many benefits. It’s important that you understand what this crop brings to your garden.
As stated earlier, red clover is a great source of nitrogen. When the crop is terminated, and tilled back into the earth, it will release nitrogen into your soil.
Considering nitrogen is a nutrient all plants need, there seems to always be a shortage of it in most gardens. Clover could help you rectify this.
Clover can also protect your soil from erosion. It’s an excellent fighter of weeds as well. It has a complex root system, and the plants grow thickly wherever planted.
Therefore, there isn’t much room for weeds to sprout. This kills them off, and they shouldn’t be able to return the following planting season.
Due to the complex roots, clover is also great at refining heavy soils. If you have lumpy soil that clumps easily, consider planting clover in such areas when not in use. This should help correct the situation.
Clover will also invite pollinators and other beneficial insects into your garden space. This can provide your garden with a natural boost as well.
These are a few of the things clover can bring to the table when planted in your garden space as a cover crop. Plus, you can mix it with other cover crops to amplify more benefits at one time.
Hopefully, this information has helped you better understand how clover can be a benefit to your garden. I hope you also have a clear understanding of how you should plant, care for, and utilize this plant as a cover crop.
Many people are still wrapping their heads around planting crops in a garden to help the soil instead of taking more nutrients from it. Yet, utilizing cover crops is a process many gardeners use and are reporting great things about. Try it for yourself and see what you think of cover crops.