Clover is a useful cover crop and companion plant that can provide many benefits to your garden or lawn. Knowing the best time to plant clover is key to getting it established and allowing it to thrive. In this article, we’ll look at the ideal planting times for clover according to your climate and goals.
What are the Benefits of Clover?
Before getting into specifically when to plant, let’s first go over why you would want clover in the first place. Here are some of the top benefits:
- Fixes nitrogen in the soil. The roots of clover form a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, taking nitrogen from the air and converting it into a form that plants can use. This can reduce or eliminate the need for nitrogen fertilizers.
- Weed suppression. Once established, clover forms a dense mat that helps block light from reaching weed seeds and smothers small weed seedlings.
- Attracts pollinators. The nectar-rich flowers of clover attract and provide food for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects.
- Erosion control. Clover forms a ground cover that holds soil in place and prevents erosion.
- Tolerates foot traffic. White clover in particular holds up well to foot traffic, making it a good option for lawns, garden paths, and high traffic areas.
Ideal Planting Times for Clover
For most climates, the spring is the best time to plant clover. This gives the clover time to get established before summer heat arrives.
Clover seed germinates best when soil temperatures are between 50-85°F. In northern regions, aim to plant clover 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost date. In warmer southern climates, plant clover in early spring as temperatures begin to warm.
If sowing clover with cool season lawn grasses like fescue, plant in early spring 1-2 months before the last frost. The grass and clover should germinate and establish together.
Planting clover in fall can also be successful in many regions. This allows the clover to take advantage of cool, moist fall conditions ideal for germination.
In northern climates, plant clover in early fall, 6-8 weeks before the first expected frost date. In southern climates with milder winters, plant clover in late fall or early winter. Make sure there is enough time for the clover to become established before cold winter weather arrives.
The benefit of fall planting is the clover will be ready to thrive and fix nitrogen early in the spring. Time fall clover plantings so that the plants have 4-6 weeks to germinate and grow before growth slows for winter.
Tips for Planting Clover
Here are some tips for getting your clover crop off to the right start:
- Prepare soil by removing existing weeds, tilling if needed, and raking smooth. Clover needs direct contact with the soil to sprout.
- Amend soil with compost or fertilizer low in nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium promote root growth.
- Sow seeds 1/4-1/2 inches deep. Newly seeded clover needs consistent moisture to germinate. Water gently daily if rainfall is lacking.
- If overseeding, use a dethatching rake to disturb the soil surface before broadcasting clover seeds. This improves soil contact.
- Inoculate clover seed with the appropriate rhizobium bacteria for optimum nitrogen fixation.
- Seeding rates vary by clover type. Check suggested rates on the seed package or with your local extension office.
- Keep seedbed consistently moist until clover is 3-4 inches tall and well established.
With proper timing for your climate and good soil preparation, you can expect healthy stands of clover that will thrive and provide abundant benefits to your garden. Clover is one of the easiest and most useful cover crops you can grow, so don’t hesitate to add it to your lineup.
Fall vs Spring Planting: Which is Better?
When comparing spring vs fall clover planting, spring planting will lead to faster germination and establishment since temperatures are warming. However, fall planting can work very well in mild climates and ensures plants are ready to thrive early in spring.
Here are some factors to help decide between spring or fall clover planting:
Spring planting pros:
Faster germination with warmer soil temperatures
Clover establishes quickly with summer moisture
Synchronize planting with cool season grasses
Fall planting pros:
Avoids hot summer temperatures
Takes advantage of fall rains for germination
Less weed pressure in fall
Well established before winter dormancy
In most regions, spring planting is preferable for starting new clover stand s. Fall planting works well when filling in thin lawns or gardens that already have some clover established. Overseeding in either spring or fall can be effective.
The Takeaway on Clover Planting
In summary, clover is a versatile cover crop suitable for gardens, lawns, pastures, and fields throughout many climates. For most regions, the ideal time to plant clover is spring, once temperatures have warmed and danger of frost has passed. Well-timed fall planting can also be successful, especially for overseeding existing stands. Prepare soil well, inoculate seed, and keep the seedbed moist for successful clover establishment. With proper planting care, clover will thrive and provide ongoing soil nitrogen along with other benefits.