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Steps for Establishing Clover in Pastures

By Rick Thomason, UT/TSU-Johnson County Extension Director

One of the most common forage recommendations made across the Southeast is to plant clovers in grass pastures.  Gary Bates, director of the University of Tennessee Beef and Forage Center, says research at the UT Institute of Agriculture has shown that seeding red and white clover in tall fescue pastures and hayfields can reduce fertilizer needs.

“The yield of a tall fescue-clover mixture will be equal to a pure tall fescue stand fertilized in the spring with 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre.  With the price of fertilizer, this can save a significant amount of money,” Bates says.
The forage expert cautions that many producers experience inconsistent results when trying to establish clover stands.  “Seeding rate and environmental conditions are two common reasons,” Bates said, but they are not the main problem.  “One of the most common reasons for the failure of clover seed to emerge and establish is due to planting the seed too deep,” he said.
“Clover seed is very small and needs to be planted less than one-fourth of an inch deep.  Using no-till drills to plant clover seed in February and March can make it difficult to control seeding depth.  The drills are heavy and the ground is soft,” Bated added.  He says it is often better to broadcast the seed on top of the ground.  Here’s the procedure that Bates recommends for planting clover into a fescue pasture:

  1. Fertilize according to soil test.  Establishment and yield of clovers will be enhanced if the proper pH and nutrient levels are provided.  Do not add nitrogen.  Nitrogen will not kill clovers, but it stimulates grass growth and increases the potential of the clover being shaded out by the grass.
  2. Seed 2 pounds of ladino white clover and 4 pounds of red clover per acre.  With the clovers, be sure to use pre-inoculated seed, or inoculate the seed yourself.
  3. Seed the mixture from February 15 to March 1.  If forage stubble is 2 inches or less, broadcast the seed on top of the ground.
  4. Don’t graze livestock on the newly seeded pasture until the pasture is 8 inches tall.  This will allow the clovers to develop a root system that will not get pulled out of the ground by grazing.

Bates says following these simple steps will improve the quality of pastures and hayfields while at the same time reducing costs.  More information can be found online at the UT Beef and Forage Center website ( or at your local county UT Extension Office.
The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.