Varieties of Clover
Clover is the foundation of a well- rounded whitetail food plot program. Many people are surprised to learn that clover will provide much more to their food plot program than just a high protein food source for whitetails. Clover can also be used as a multi-purpose work horse in a soil building food plot rotation. There are many benefits in using clover in your habitat program. Clover is highly desirable and nutritious deer forage that requires relatively low maintenance, it is dependable and easy to plant, readily accessible, a great soil builder and a built in cost cutting nitrogen source for future food plot crops.
There are many varieties of clover from which to choose. Each variety has special attributes that differentiate it from others. Clover varieties are annuals, biennials or perennials. Some clover varieties grow well in damp soil conditions, others don’t like their feet wet. Some clovers are expensive, some are very cost effective. Before planting a clover plot, it is important for us to identify and understand the benefits of one clover over another. We then can evaluate the differences and make a sound decision based on the requirements of our individual habitat program and plan our food plot program accordingly. There is no such thing as a “gold standard of clover”, not one variety of clover will fill every niche in the building of a whitetail habitat program. Pick and choose what varieties of clover are best suited for the job at hand. Clover is our work horse; make it work in your food plot program.
Clover is clover, right? Perennial clovers established for long term food plots live for an average of 3-5 years or longer. In colder climates these varieties will go dormant throughout the winter months and spring back to life in early spring. Perennial clovers work well in a food plot program; in many areas they offer a year-round draw for deer. These long term plots require maintenance to keep them healthy and productive. Clover is highly nutritious and offers tons of valuable forage while building healthy soil with organic material. Many perennial varieties are higher in cost but the average cost over several years makes many perennial clovers affordable and a cost effective food source. Clover can be planted alone, mixed with other varieties of clover, or mixed with compatible plants such as chicory. Blending of seed varieties assures us that during the growing season, there will be something that is attractive and palatable to whitetails. Many times perennial clovers are slower to establish, therefore, they are better suited for long term plantings, whereas annual clovers are quick to establish and are well suited for crop rotations and cover crops.
Clover cover crops are designed to be used as short term plantings. Annual clover’s quick establishment works well for this job. Annual clover plantings are beneficial in many ways. They offer forage much the same as a perennial clover plot; they are environmentally friendly and economical. A well maintained cover crop of clover can cut fertilizer costs by converting nitrogen gases from the atmosphere into soil nitrogen that future crops can use. Nitrogen loving crops such as brassicas grown after clover can take up large amounts of the access nitrogen produced by clover. Therefore, you can reduce the amount of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer required, costing you less on your fertilizer bill. Clover cover crops are also great weed suppressors, offering an alternative weed control option other than herbicides.
Annual clover’s quick establishment and reasonable price make it an attractive addition in clover blends. Many seed companies that specialize in whitetail forage blends will add up to 30% or more of the total seed volume in inexpensive annual clovers. These annual clover varieties are sold under the assumption that all contents of the mix are scientifically proven, superior perennial clover varieties. When purchasing a pre-mixed whitetail clover blend, always evaluate the seed tag for misleading information on the contents of the package.
Clover is a versatile plant that has many benefits for habitat management. It can be used as a two-fold short term cover crop and short term food plot at the same time. Or you may choose to use clover as a long term perennial plot. Most habitat programs can benefit from both practices.