by Saffyre Falkenberg
Crimson clover, also known as Italian clover, is a type of clover native to most parts of Europe. It is an annual legume typically planted in late summer or early fall. The plant makes a beautiful addition to the home garden, as the flowers are a vibrant, bright red color. Crimson clover is remarkably frost-resistant; established plants can handle temperatures down to zero degrees Fahrenheit.
Most of the time, crimson clover is used as a cover crop to enrich soil or cultivated as roughage to feed cattle. As a cover crop, crimson clover produces a large amount of nitrogen. It leaves these pockets of nitrogen behind after it’s harvested, which increases the fertility of the soil.
Start this plant in late fall, and you will be rewarded with beautiful flowers in the spring. As a very versatile plant, crimson clover can be used as an ornamental, a cover crop, roughage for cattle, or an attractor for pollinators. Often used as an ornamental plant on the side of highways, crimson clover can become invasive if not managed properly.
Growing Conditions for Crimson Clover
Crimson clover does the best up to zone 6. The plant, despite being mostly frost-resistant, must be planted in full sun. Although it does well in any well-drained soil, it especially thrives in sandy, loamy soil. Crimson clover may not do well in heavier soils or excessively wet soils. Though it requires full sun, crimson clover does not do well in overly hot environments and prefers a cool, humid atmosphere.
It also does best if the soil is between a 6 and a 7 on the pH scale, and it will not do well in extremely acidic or alkaline soils. If you are using the crimson clover to enrich the soil, make sure to incorporate manure and compost into the soil. Crimson clover also needs a good amount of potassium and phosphorus in the soil to thrive.
How to Plant Crimson Clover
In areas that do not go below zero degrees Fahrenheit, you can plant crimson clover in the late fall so that it is established before the frost. Try to plant crimson clover at least eight weeks prior to your area’s average date of first frost. In areas that regularly drop below negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit, wait until the spring to plant the clover.
Plant the seeds one-quarter to half an inch deep in rows, with each seed three inches apart and with at least three inches of space between each row. Crimson clover often does well as a companion plant for species such as cornflower and broccoli or for annual flowers, such as bachelor buttons and corn poppies.
Care of Crimson Clover
Crimson clover is fairly low-maintenance once it is established. It is not drought-resistant and must receive even watering and moisture during its growing season. Sufficient moisture is especially necessary if you want the plant to reseed itself during the spring months.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Crimson Clover
Because crimson clover is often sown as a crop to provide roughage for cattle, it is especially tempting to deer. In fact, some gardeners use crimson clover to feed deer on hunting properties.
Crimson clover is also susceptible to other pests, such as the corn earworm and cotton bollworm. Depending on the severity of the infestation, the plants may have to be destroyed. For more information about how to deter pests like deer in a natural way, you can refer to this article.
Although some believe that crimson clover is resistant to viral diseases, it is actually susceptible to increased damage after contracting a viral disease. One virus it especially at risk for is bean yellow mosaic virus.
Crimson clover is also susceptible to certain fungal diseases, such as crown rot, stem rot, fusarium wilt, and fusarium root rot. These diseases are most likely to occur when crimson clover is planted in wet soil. To avoid incidents of these diseases, make sure the soil is well-drained and not overly wet.
Harvesting Crimson Clover
Take down the plants in spring when the red flowers begin to fade but before the plant produces seeds. The easiest way to do this is with a hoe, by slicing the clover off at the plant line. You can then use the waste in compost. Another way to harvest crimson clover is to mow over it before the plant buds. After harvesting, you can also make crimson clover into hay.
Crimson Clover Varieties to Grow in Your Home Garden
There is really only one type of crimson clover, which can also be referred to by its scientific name, Trifolium incarnatum, or as Italian clover. When purchasing seeds or seedlings, make sure you are buying crimson clover and not red clover, as they are not the same.
Videos about Growing Crimson Clover?
If you want to learn more about growing crimson clover as a cover crop, watch this video about Turner County in Georgia using crimson clover as a cover crop: