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Clover.......perennial?


CodyDawg

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We planted a mix of clover for a food plot 2 years ago. The first year, it was pretty spotty. Last year it was fantastic. Many different varieties of clover, thick, tall, it was just great. Now this year, where all of that clover was last year, is just grass. Very little clover at all. Why did it all die off? Nothing was sprayed on it. We have a clover plot that we planted last spring not far away that is doing fantastic. Any ideas?

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What you're describing is pretty typical of perennial clover -- slow to get started in the first year, awesome in it's 2nd year, but by it's 3rd year it can start going downhill if you haven't taken care of it. But the good news is that you should be able to save it.

First off, you should be soil testing to make sure the ph is correct, and liming if needed. If not, the soil will be better for the weeds than the clover. Also, the soil test will tell you how to fertilize, but the rule of thumb for clover is low or no nitrogen -- the clover doesn't need it and it will just spur weed growth.

Next, you should be mowing your clover, 2-3 times each summer. Mowing kills many annual weeds and helps regenerate the clover. Mowing will not kill all weeds and it will not kill grass but it keeps many weeds in check.

The good news about grass is that it's easy to control in clover, but you need to use herbicide. Sethoxydim is the active ingredient, brand names include Poast, Poast Plus, Vantage, and maybe Select (not sure about that last one). It's better to spray in the spring when the grass is small and actively growing, but if you have a grass problem I'd spray now. Those herbicides will stop the grass right away, but it will take 3-4 weeks before it LOOKS like it's killing the grass. You can also spray for broadleaf weeds but that is much touchier since clover is also a broadleaf.

Another key component to maintaining a long-lived stand of perennial clover is to overseed in the spring. Do it early in the spring, before anything starts growing, and it will fill in the thin spots and keep the whole stand vibrant.

By mowing, spraying, and overseeding, I've got 2 stands of clover that are in their 4th and 5th years and doing great, and some younger stands that look like they'll be around for years also.

One more thought, you said you planted a mixture of clover. There's many varieties of clover that only live for 1 or 2 years, so you may have some natural die-off occuring. There's advantages and disadvantages to clover blends, but I prefer to not use blends, or to use blends I make myself by buying individual varieties.

Good luck, I hope this helps.

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Perchjerker, good advice on the clover!

What kinds of clover do you find last the longest? Do the deer like them?

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Yes, great advice so far! I would just like to add a couple of things. First, mow the clover just after the flowering part of the plant begins to die off. This will help to distribute more seed in the plot. Second, every Spring, you should lightly disk or drag the entire plot. This will regenerate growth and will germinate seed from the flowers (from the mowing) and will also germinate seed that did not germinate the first time around (from irregular planting depths etc.). If you are currently having difficulty with your stand of clover due to grass, spray your plot and when the grass dies off, lightly disk the entire plot. This will regenerate new growth. Your clover should spring up very fast. You might want to add more herbicide when new grass begins to grow which will happen after you disk it up. It would be a good idea to broadcast a little extra seed and fertilizer prior to lightly working up the plot. The second and third year are usually the best years for clovers. However, with the mothod above, you get get many years from the plot. I am going on 5 years with one of my plots and it looks as good as the second year. Good luck!

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I know that I should invest in a sprayer, I've looked at both three point mounted and used pull type sprayers, I know it would help me keep the grasses down in my plots and prolong the plots, but I hate messing around with the chemicals and I hate the idea that even on a calm day I'd be exposed to and breathing in the chemicals (I don't have a cab on my tractor). For instance, I want to plant a fall plot, right now its grass, I've mowed it, now I SHOULD hit it with round-up to kill the grass, but I'm just going to plow it up and plan on discing it 4-6 times before I plant in late Aug. A roundup application would probably help me cut that down to 2-3 discings.

jlm, when in the spring do you drag your clover? How tall is the clover at that time?

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BJ, you can actually skip the chemical application if you have the ability to continuously work the food plot (Fall food plot). Once you break the soil up really well, its only a matter of a pass or two with a good disc to kill all the weeds and grass. Eventually, you will work most of it (grass and weeds) out for a brief period of time. Plus, cool weather will help eliminate new germination of grasses. The rye will come up so quick that is will take over the plot and prevent grass and weed growth. All of this combined will prevent competition in Fall food plots. No need to spray at all. As far as a light disc in the Spring, you want to try do it as soon as possible. I have done it when there is no germination of anything at all and I have done it when the clover is just beginning to germinate for the year (and inch or two tall). You will kill some if it is up and growing, however, the benefit of a light disc will far outweigh any losses you will see with new germination. I have lightly worked half of a plot to see if it makes a difference and guess what, it makes a HUGE difference. Give it a try. Good luck!

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I agree with jlm that a light discing or dragging in the spring will help the clover. I usually fertilize as soon as the clover shows any signs of growth (April, and I'm way up north), and I usually drag my harrow across the plots after I've fertilized. It gives them a nice jumpstart in the spring.

Without question my favorite clover is Imperial clover from the Whitetail Institute. It's far from the cheapest variety you can get - in fact it might be the most expensive - but for me it grows really well, lasts for at least 5 years, and most importantly is the deer definately prefer it over any other clover I've planted. I've tried several other blends and have bought my own ladino and white dutch clovers, but the Imperial grows as well or better than any of them and definately gets more use from the deer.

On the subject of clovers, my least favorite are Red clovers. They are popular in blends because the are the easiest clovers to grow (more tolerant of low ph and drier soils), but Red clovers are not very high up on the deers' lists of favorite foods. White clovers are much better and ladino varieties are the best.

BlackJack, I can understand your reservations about spraying as I was a little hesitant to start it myself. But for me it got to the point where I had spent enough time and effort and money on my food plots and I was tired of having weed and grass issues, so I got an atv sprayer with small booms (only 2 nozzles) and started slowly. But it has made a huge difference and I find myself spraying more and more. I don't know anything about tractor-mounted sprayers, but for my atv sprayer I adjust the height of the booms until the are only 12-18 inches above the plot height, and have had no issues (that I know of) with spray drifting. My nozzles are more of a jet style nozzle that spray down, vs. flat fan nozzles that spray horizontally (which would probably cause more drift).

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I'll have to give that light disking in the spring a try. I can see if you fertilize and add some seed where it would keep the plot going longer. I'll also have to rethink the spray thing...

Right now I have a 2 acre plot where I planted four sections - red clover, a perennial mix from Albert Lea Seed house, Imperial clover, and Imperial Alfa-rack. Its in its second year, I fertilized it this spring and its growing great guns! It’s also kind of weedy, so I've already mowed it once, but it will be interesting to see which portion the deer graze hardest. In another spot I have some red clover and a clover mix from the MN Deer hunters. Again, it will be interesting to see where the deer concentrate their grazing. In the past I've had luck with the red clover, by late fall the deer have it eaten down to the ground. The plot that I'm planting this fall will have the Imperial clover and the MN deer hunters mixes. We'll see what they like the best.

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BJ, I have to be honest, I have never had much luck with clover as far as attracting deer goes. My clover plots are lush and are beautiful, however, it is never grazed all that much. I have only one clover plot left (mix of several kinds of clover) from many years of experimentation. The only reason it is still there is because the grouse love it. We do have deer in there on a daily basis but if you want to have a high power attractant for deer, I would work on Fall food plots such as rye or other similar products. I stopped planting other plots because I was just in competition with the farmers. I lost every time, the deer still liked the beans and other products much better plus there was a whole lot more of it! This may be different in other areas though so I am not saying you wont have good luck. I am just speaking for me and my area. Come Fall, that is prime time to attract and hold deer with lush green rye grass which in my area, the deer really love. They prefer this and over any other product in my experience. I have one plot that is about 1.5 acres and I have had well over 30 deer in that one plot. Even when they overgraze it, they still come back to look for more throughout the rest of the season. Anyway, just my 2 cents. Good luck!

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jlm,

Good information. Thats one thing often overlooked in all food plot documentation. No sense being in competition with surounding crops.

Three years ago I planted about 1.5 acres with Imperial Whitetail clover - Alpha-rac. It is still growing quite well. I am impressed because I didn't follow all the normal rules on planting, fertilizing, mowing, and weed control.

This may not be the ideal method, but it has worked for me.

1. Sprayed the area with Roundup (around Memorial day)

2. Re-sprayed two weeks later.

3. Waited one week (third week of June)

4. Used a "no-till" drill to plant the seed.

5. Cut the hay (this is part of a larger field) once each year. (Middle of August).

This year we planted several small plots with the clover mixture from MDHA. I haven't been back to see how it is doing.

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jlm, where do you have your plots? Your profile says St. Cloud, there is a lot of dairy and alfalfa around there, I could see where you'd have a tough time drawing them in. In the area I'm in, its mostly corn and bean farmers, not much dairy.

On the rye, are you talking about annual or perennial rye? If its annual, then do you just leave it sit until July and then start working it up for an Aug/Sept planting? I must have planted the perennial rye because it survived the winter and is heading out. I'm going to let it mature and then mow it down, maybe I'll attract in a few doves. The pup will like that, if I get around to hunting over it.

Back to the disking clover spots in the spring, how light is a 'light disking'? You could easily get too deep and destroy your clover; I'm thinking dragging would be easier to control....

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My cabin/land is much further north and it is mostly an ag area. I am referring to annual rye (cereal). I work my plots all Summer long (if its not too wet like this year has been) to control weeds so I do not have to spray and then plant in the Early Fall. I try to plant in late August to Early September. You are looking for new growth at that time of year where everything else is dying off. The rye will only get a few inches or so tall. You can use other cereal grains as well, they work just as good. As far as lightly working the plot, you can actually work it pretty good. I would say that it would be somewhere between shallow cultivation and dragging with a harrow. I think you have to do a little more than just drag it, you really want to disturb the soil enough to expose new seed etc. Good luck!

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Well my clover that I had planted in May is off to a really nice start. It is getting really thick thicker than I thought it would get. Anyhow if I am to mow it in August how high should it be mowed. The highest I can mow is 4" will that be enough? I also put some forage turnips in and they look nice too. I might have planted them too heavey though but time will tell. I didn't have near the weed problems I was expecting and I haven't sprayed anything yet. Would you recommend a light application of fertilzer when I mow or should I let it buck and put some on next spring? I used some of imperials no plow and that stuff is growing great right now. I had the trail cam on that plow and it showed a few deer munching away on it.

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My plots are way up north in the big woods of the Chippewa National Forest. The good news for me is there's no agricultural crops around me and my soil is really good for clover, but on the downside I've had to carve my plots out of the woods by hand (chainsaw), and I can only work them with atv implements - no tractors for me.

Clover is definately more a nutritional food source than a fall attractant. One of the great things about clover is that it's there, green, and growing in the spring as soon as the snow melts, before anything else starts to green up. This is a critical time of the year for deer as they come out of the stress of winter and as the does go into their final trimester and the bucks start to grow antlers. Just because the snow is gone does not mean there is nutritious food available. My clover plots get pounded from snow melt until early June, then the utilization of them goes way down until late August when a lot of the native vegetation starts to harden off. But the clover gets browsed all summer - any time I go out there I have a chance of jumping deer, and I always find browsed stems. Not to mention what the trail cameras show.

I'll stress what jlm said about planting your cereal grains in late Aug or Sept, for sure do not plant them too early. They come up fast and withstand heavy browsing, but you do not want them to mature. I plant them in late Aug in northern MN - by late Oct or early Nov the frosts will have usually wiped them out for me. I also plant brassicas which the deer do not eat until there has been a few hard frosts, but then they get pounded. By that time my clover plots are eaten down to the level of a golf course putting green.

iffwalleyes, I usually fertilize my plots again in mid-August -- give them a shot of growth and sweeten them up a bit for the start of bow season. As for mowing my clover, I do not mow after early-mid August and I leave 6-8 inches when I mow - 4 inches is probably too low. You do not want to mow your turnips.

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Good info PJ! I agree, 4 inches may be too low. I think I am about 10 inches to a foot when I mow. Fertilizing your plot will make a huge difference. A good bet is to put extra fertilizer close to where your stand will be, deer will always find the most nutritious food in any plot which is the area that has been fertilized well. Good luck!

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Is there a difference between annual rye and perenial rye other then annual needs to be planted every year? When I go to get rye seed what should I ask for? Do I need to mow the rye? This is getting complicated, but once I get it down it'll be like riding a bike. Can't wait to get my first plot in and watch it work. Thanks for the help.

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Cereal grains such as rye, oats, etc. will only grow one season (with the exception of volunteer plants the following season) and do not need to be mowed. If you plant in the Fall, rye will only get a few inches tall, and maybe a little taller if it has not been grazed hard. It will continue to grow the following season (Spring) and will head out and get brown just like wheat would. Perennial rye grass will grow for several seasons and will need to be mowed. Some areas use this in lawns or golf couses. If you do not mow this, it will become very tall (I have seen it almost 5-6 feet tall) and the deer usually will not eat it (except for last resort in the dead of Winter). They will eat it if it is kept mowed however. In my expereince, we are talking about two completely different beasts here. Annual cereal rye is much more paletable (sp?) to the deer and this will draw in deer from all over. I have never had this kind of luck with perennial rye grass but it will draw deer in if kept mowed. If you want a Fall food plot, ask for cereal rye! Good luck!

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Definately go with annual grains, not perenial. Personally I think the deer prefer oats over rye, but oats will be the first to freeze out. A lot of guys mix oats, rye, wheat and even triticale together for a fall cereal grain food plot. All of them or any of them are great, as long as they're planted in the fall.

The problem with perennial grains, like jlm said, is the deer will not eat them unless you keep them mowed, and even then they probably won't eat them. The deer want young, tender, nutritious growth, not something that's tough and mature (which is another reason to mow your clover).

I would strongly urge you to avoid planting any grass in a food plot. Definately do not plant a perennial grass. It's the same deal as the cereal grains - the deer only like it if it's young and tender. When it matures it becomes tough, bitter, less nutritious, less digestible. The other problem with perennial grass is it will form turf or sod, which makes it that much harder to get rid of and that much harder to get anything else started. The first year I did food plots someone talked me into planting a mix with perennial rye grass in the fall. The deer ate it that fall, but not at all the following year no matter how much I mowed that jungle. And the grass starting choking out everything else in the plot. Yuck. I haven't made THAT mistake again.

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So would you guys says that since I can only mow at 4" for the highest setting on my mower would I be better off just fetilizing and letting it go.

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Its hard to say, 4 iches might be just fine. I worry about cutting the plant too low, particularly with the hot weather. However, what I would do is mow part of the plot and see how it responds (give it a week or two). If it works ok, mow the entire plot a little later. If it is hard on the plot, you have only ruined a small section. By the way, if you have a tractor, you can by an old sickle mower pretty cheap. Its not the best way but it is better than nothing!

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