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Cornell University

Cover Crop Guide for NY Growers

Dr. Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, Cornell AgriTech

Red Clover

Medium red clover is a workhorse cover crop in the Northeast. This short-lived perennial is used to supply nitrogen. Unlike other legumes, it fixes a lot of nitrogen even when the soil has high nitrate. It is shade tolerant so it can be overseeded into small grains and incorporated in May of the following year. Since red clover seedlings tend to be slow growing, it benefits from a nurse crop. It forms tap roots and is useful for remediation of compacted soils. Red clover can be used for weed suppression with timely mowing.

Land Preparation

Medium red clover prefers cool weather. This crop is well-adapted a wide range of soil types and conditions. Medium red clover tolerates wet conditions better than vetch. It can be overseeded on small grains. Tf the soil is not crusted, it can be overseeded in vegetable crops with no additional preparation to the land to provide post-harvest cover.

Seeding Rate

Drill or broadcast at 10 lb/ac. For a nurse crop, mix 2/3 annual ryegrass with 1/3 medium red clover, sow 20-25 lb/ac. After seeding, roll the ground to improve seed-to-soil contact but do not break up soil aggregates.

Seed Cost

2007 price: $2.50/lb

Seeding Dates

February–March for frost seeding. April–September. Clover can be seeded with turf grass or small grains.

Time Until Control

Flowering (May)

Seed Suppliers

Local farm seed dealers, AgriCulver, Seedway, Lakeview Organic Grain. Good varieties of medium red clover include Redland III, Cinnamon Plus, and Bulldog. Do not substitute Mammoth red clover for cover crop use.

Management Tricks

The best for overseeding. Has shade tolerance.

Unavoidable Problems

Retains root rot in legume rotations.

Avoidable Problems

Slow to establish, use nurse crop.

Classic Uses

Frost seeded over small grain, plowed down following spring.


Mow medium red clover during the summer of the first year. It can be seeded between established rows, reducing soil compaction in well-traveled areas.


Control blossoms by May, incorporate when flowering.


Red clover supports aphid predators such as ladybeetles, green lacewing larvae. and hoverfly larvae. Purchase a seed lot with high germination. To use as a nurse crop, seed with annual rye in June-July, buckwheat in August, and oats in September. Medium red clover is also discussed in the articles on late summer legumes and early spring cover crops.

All uses for Red Clover
Management Goal Planting Time
Attract Beneficial Insects Late Summer
Attract Beneficial Insects Winter
Break Up Deep Compaction Late Summer
Break Up Deep Compaction Winter
Nitrogen Fixation Late Summer
Nitrogen Fixation Winter
Nitrogen Scavenging Winter
Reduce Weeds Late Summer
Reduce Weeds Winter
Winter Erosion Protection Late Summer