On a regular basis I see people recommend clovers as a food plot recommendation. The word clover is a very vague and general term. There are many different types of clovers. The common classes of perennial clovers include red clover, ladino clover and alsike clover. There are other terms like “medium red clover” and “intermediate clover” than are at times discussed in the industry. There is even “hybrid clover” that also can bring a smile to my face.
Ladino clovers are long accepted as a preferred forage by deer, yet they seem to be a canned answer. There are differences in varieties of ladinos as to growth year 1 and year 2. There are yield differences, nutrient differences, and cold tolerance differences between ladino clovers. There is even a variety than many crow about that Is below average in my many years of research to the point where I will not sell it even when people ask me for it.
What people overlook with ladino clover is that it is not the most ideal clover for hot and dry. It also is not the best clover for wet conditions. Medium red clover because of its root structure and growth type tends to be more drought tolerant as its roots go deeper, where as many ladinos are more short rooted and branchy. Alsike clover is a good combination clover for more challenged soils as well as wet soils. We live in a world where we never know what mother nature will throw at us. It is wise to plant blends of multiple varieties of clovers to handle the great unknown.
Many perennial clovers that last longer, tend to take longer to develop and mature. There are reasons for it. Those longer lasting clovers are making roots and a more extensive “root factory” which allows for better overall nutrient uptake and the means for sustainability long term. Some will scoff at the red clovers and alsike clovers, stating that they will not last as long. My reply to that is EVERYONE should be spreading even 1-2 pounds of seed per acre over all clover plots no matter how they appear. The key to reduced weed pressures and a thick, dense sward is to maintain a thick carpet of perennials.
Annual clovers are also overlooked by many. Some tolerate wet better than perennials, like berseem and balansa. Some tolerate dry better than many perennials as in the case of crimson and balansa. There are many other annual clovers such as Persian, rose, strawberry, ball, and subterranean. There are also many varieties of each of these as well.
Many people think 1 size fits all when it comes to clovers. We discussed the weather but there also is seasonality that can come into play. Some of the annual clovers can stay green as much as 20-30 degrees colder than perennials. Many of these annual clovers can contain higher sugar levels at various stages of their growth cycle or regrowth, post clipping. In fact, two of the most attractive forages according to the MSU deer lab were annual clovers. My research a couple years prior to their conclusions mimicked those and many of my clients were seeing the deer tell them that as well.
So, no matter if you live in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Kansas or Wisconsin, there are some basic concepts I would like people to consider. Plant at least 3 varieties of clovers or legumes in a plot. Plot at least 1 that tolerates wet, at least one that tolerates dry and 1 that grows fast. It is wise for the 1 that grows fast to be an annual. Most annual clovers grow faster then perennials. This acts as a “nurse crop” or “sacrifice crop”, allowing the slower to establish perennials to make roots and better handle graze pressures. The annual clovers because of their growth habits tent to be more attractive to deer earlier on. We want deer to browse those clovers before the perennials so as to not shut down the roots in the newly established perennials.
Yes, there is much more I will discuss in a part 2 of clovers. My challenge is for people to never use an answer of “plant clovers” as that is like saying to just plant corn to a farmer. There is no 1 corn that fits all climates and soils.