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Ohio State University Extension


Red Clover as a Cover Crop in Ohio

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Sarah Noggle; Educator; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County
Rachel Cochran; Extension Associate, Water Quality; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County

Information gathered from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) was used to compile this summary on how to use red clover as a cover crop in Ohio. For more information, see the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and the Cover Crop Selector Tool found at:, hairy stems with three leaflets per stem. Two flowers with a whitish pink color growing from separate stems.


  • Hairy leaves and stems
  • Three leaflets per leaf
  • Pink or lavender flowers
  • Fibrous taproot

Cultural Traits

  • Short-lived perennial
  • Minimum germination temperature: 41 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): Mar. 29–Apr. 28
  • Upright growth habit: 12–36 inches
  • Preferred soil pH: 6.2–7.0
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop red clover.
Heat tolerance Very good
Drought tolerance Good
Shade tolerance Very good
Flood tolerance Good (once established)
Low fertility tolerance Good (once established)
Winter survival Expected


  • Drilled at ¼–½ inch
    • 8–10 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 9–11 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast without incorporation
    • 10–12 lb./acre (pure live seed)

Additional planting information:

  • 272,200 seeds per lb.
  • Inoculation type: red clover, white clover.
  • Red clover may also be frost-seeded.
  • When planting on slopes or using for forage/grazing, increase seeding rate.
  • Broadcasting without incorporation is usually less dependable than drilling or broadcasting with incorporation.

Disclaimer: Rules for Financial Assistance Program Recipients
Individuals participating in financial assistance programs are required to follow Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Appendix A regarding seeding rates and dates. Failure to do so will jeopardize payments. Appendix A can be found in Ohio’s Field Office Technical Guide, Section 4, Ecological Sciences Tools:


  • Dry matter = 2,000–5,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.
  • Total nitrogen (N) = 70–150 lb. of N per acre (not fertilizer replacement).
    • Nitrogen release can vary considerably, depending on stand density, growth, soil temperature, and moisture after clover has been destroyed.

Additional performance information:

  • Red clover is an excellent forage, although it is a bloat hazard, it may cause slobbers in horses, and phytoestrogens may adversely influence sheep fertility during breeding.
  • Red clover is easily established, widely adapted, and grows best where corn grows well.
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop red clover.
Nitrogen source Excellent
Soil builder Very good
Erosion fighter Very good
Weed fighter Very good
Grazing Excellent
Quick growth Good
Lasting residue Good
Mechanical forage harvest Excellent
Grain seed harvest Excellent
Cash crop interseed Very good


  • Tillage
    • If terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Chemical

Additional termination information:

  • Winter conditions and snow cover may affect winter survival.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop red clover.
Soil Impacts
Subsoiler Very good
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Very good
Compaction fighter Very good
Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds) Good
Chokes weeds Very good
Attracts beneficials Very good
Bears traffic Good
Short windows Good

Potential Disadvantages

Delayed emergence: could be a minor problem

Increased weed potential: could be a moderate problem

Increased insects/nematodes: could be a moderate problem

Hinders crops: occasionally a minor problem

Establishment challenges: could be a minor problem

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a minor problem


This publication was adapted with consent from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) with content from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and Cover Crop Selector Tool ( It was created under a joint project with MCCC to produce customized introductory guidance about cover crops for all member states/provinces. Ohio cover crop recipes can be found at

The Midwest Cover Crops Council ( aims to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest by providing educational/outreach resources and programs, conducting new research, and communicating about cover crops to the public.

Funding for this project was provided by the McKnight Foundation.

Red rectangle with white lettering spelling McKnight Foundation.



Originally posted Apr 6, 2023.