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Red Clover vs White Clover: Similarities and Differences

Aug 9, 2016 | 0 comments

Clover has made a name for itself worldwide as a terrific forage crop. A native of Northern Asia and Europe, it’s now available to farmers Australia-wide. McKays offers two clover options: red clover and white clover. So which is best for your situation?

There are obvious similarities between the two varieties, but also a few surprising differences (apart from their color). Let’s look at both and see which variety offers what.

red clover and white clover

The Similarities

Both varieties of clover are cool-season perennial legumes. They both make for terrific fodder choices because of their high yield. High in protein and fibre, they both offer a fantastic feed option for livestock, as cattle eat clover. You can feed more animals from a field of clover than you can from almost any other fodder option available.

Red and white clover require regular moisture to survive. The drought conditions found across much of Australia will often prove too much. Couple this with the fact that both clovers have evolved to handle cooler climates and tend to struggle in extreme heat. Both varieties are limited to Australia’s damper and more temperate regions or where irrigation is readily available.

The flip side of the cool season coin is that all clovers will cope fairly well with frosts and excess moisture. You’ll rarely find any issues relating to water logging or frost damage with either red or white clover.

Both red and white clover can act as a living mulch. This plant family is famous for its nitrogen production, which can help to re-enliven tired soils. Whether it’s used as mulch between fruit trees or as a fodder crop as part of good crop rotation, the benefits on your soil can be great. When used as part of a seed mix, it can help spur the growth of companion grasses.

Finally, both red and white clover can be excellent at promoting biodiversity on your land. The existence of clover will encourage all sorts of beneficial wildlife to visit your property, particularly birds and bees.

mixed white and red clove

The Differences

The main differences between the two varieties are growth habits and their corresponding management.

Red clover grows vertically – new shoots start from the crown and grow upright until the point at which the plant is ready to flower. The fodder quality quickly decreases once red clover has flowered, so you must cut it back when it reaches about a 20 percent bloom stage to ensure the feed is still good for your animals.

While this may be more effort, red clover will usually stay palatable to animals for an extra month in the year compared to white clover. Red clover has a life cycle of 2-3 years, so you may want to rotate your crops anyway. Allowing your red clover to flower and seed should give you a decent amount of cover for the next year if you choose.

White clover, in comparison, grows relatively short and spreads using stolons (horizontal above-ground stems). This can create a thick, low-growing mat that will spread until it hits a barrier. This growth generates both leaves and flowers simultaneously, so the forage remains at a good quality all year round, without the need to cut it back.

Due to this spreading, white clover doesn’t have the limited life cycle red clover does. While that’s a good thing for those that want to keep the plant around, it can make rotating to your next crop a little more work. The spreading will also help keep invasive weeds at bay.

Essentially, red and white clover offers the same product with different delivery methods. Depending on your situation, you may see the benefit in either a low-maintenance, aggressive white clover or a slightly higher-maintenance, yet more tranquil red clover.

If you have any more clover-related questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to the friendly team at McKay’s.

FAQs

1. Is red clover better than white clover?

Although each clover has a different advantage, Because red clover tends to fix more nitrogen than white clover, it can better fertilize your soil for other grasses. This is one benefit of using clover. The more clover nitrogen fixing, your grass will be healthier and require less natural fertilizer.

2. What is the difference between white and red clover?

  • White clover spreads laterally and grows shorter than red clover, which grows tall and erect.
  • White clover is a durable plant that can reseed itself even in grazing conditions, but red clover has a short life cycle of two to three years.

3. What type of clover is best for lawns?

Strawberry, white, and red clovers are the most common types used in lawns. These are all perennial clover varieties, as opposed to annual varieties, which live for only one year. Perennials spread through both seeds and spreading roots, whereas annuals exclusively reproduce from seed.

4. Does red clover fix nitrogen?

Red clover does indeed fix nitrogen. Nitrogen production by red clover ranges from 70 to 150 pounds per acre. This is a typical serving size for most legumes.

5. What is red clover best for?

Red clover has a long history of use as a treatment for gout, cancer, whooping cough, and asthma. Red clover extracts are frequently advertised for osteoporosis, high cholesterol, and menopause symptoms.

6. Why do farmers grow red clover?

Red Clover provides a low-cost substitute for nitrogen fertilizer and a locally grown protein source. Through bacteria found in nodules on plant roots, clover plants can indirectly draw nitrogen from the air, which is composed of 75 percent nitrogen, and add it to the soil.

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