Establishing clover

Read our top tips for establishing red and white clover, and managing fertility and weeds.

Establishing white clover

In a rotational system, grass/clover leys may follow cereals, roots or brassicas; these crops reduce nitrogen (N) levels in the soil, which encourages clover establishment.

Sowing essentials

  • A clean, firm seedbed, ring-rolled prior to sowing
  • Soil pH of 6.0–6.2. If ground conditions permit, apply lime 2–3 weeks before spring nitrogen application to fields destined for silage
  • Apply up to 50 kg N/ha and phosphate (containing phosphorus, P) and potash (containing potassium, K) if soil indices are below 2. Do not apply nitrogen during establishment – clover is sensitive to nitrogen application during this time
  • Optimum seed depth is 5–10 mm, sown into a warm soil between April and August
  • Broadcasting is the most reliable method of establishing a clover-based sward
  • In mixtures, aim for a clover seed rate of 1–4 kg/ha (0.5–1.5 kg/acre)

Introducing white clover into existing swards can be done by:

  • Slot seeding/direct drilling
  • Broadcasting following scarification
  • Hoof and tooth, i.e. using animals to trample seed in and graze grass tight, if 20–40% bare soil is visible

Top tips

  • Minimise competition from existing plants before sowing by heavy grazing or harrowing to open up the sward
  • Ensure soil is sufficiently disturbed to allow seed-to-soil contact and coverage
  • Sow when grass is least vigorous; for example, after flowering in July, as long as there is sufficient soil moisture. After a silage cut also offers a good opportunity
  • Use a higher seed rate (4.0 kg/ha or 1.5 kg/acre) than conventional sowing to compensate for greater seedling loss
  • Lower seed rates (2.5 kg/ha or 1.0 kg/acre) may be used for a periodic top-up in long-term swards
  • Use slug pellets
  • After sowing, graze hard in short, intensive 3–4-day periods every month, until clover is well established, to reduce competition from other plants

Some seed merchants supply white clover seed that has been coated with a material to absorb water and aid establishment. It is also inoculated with rhizobia (bacteria that fix nitrogen). Research has shown that rhizobia must be matched to the variety to derive maximum benefit from using inoculant in coated seed.

Establishing red clover

Red clover can be drilled, broadcast, or undersown to an arable silage crop in April. It can also be introduced into an existing sward.

Sowing essentials

  • A clean, firm seedbed, ring-rolled prior to sowing
  • Soil pH of 6.0–6.2. If ground conditions permit, apply lime 2–3 weeks before spring N application to fields destined for silage because it can take several months to increase pH throughout the topsoil
  • Apply nitrogen fertiliser on soils with low nitrogen status, but only up to 50 kg N/ha
  • Apply phosphate and potash if soil indices are below 2
  • Optimum seed depth is 5–10 mm, sow into warm soil from April to late July
  • For monoculture swards, use 15 kg/ha (6 kg/acre)
  • For mixed swards, use 7 kg/ha (3 kg/acre) of red clover and 22 kg/ha (9 kg/acre) of grass

Under the greening rules of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a monoculture or mixture of legumes can also be grown on farms with more than 10 ha of arable cropping.


Researchers across Europe are exploring the benefits of using multispecies mixtures that will improve livestock performance. In the MULTISWARD project, ryegrass, tall fescue or chicory were compared with swards containing two grass species and around 33% legume (white clover or red clover).

Under both cutting and grazing management at all sites, the swards containing red or white clover outperformed yields of grass in monocultures at the same nitrogen fertiliser level and produced the same yield as the high nitrogen grass monocultures. Animal intake and milk yield were compared between swards containing perennial ryegrass only and a mixture of four species: perennial ryegrass, white clover, red clover and chicory, at two different nitrogen levels. The multispecies sward promoted higher forage intake across all livestock and better output per hectare.

Dealing with weeds at clover establishment

See our advice on weeds and complying with spray legislation.  

See how to deal with weeds at clover establishment

Undersowing clover

Find out the benefits and drawbacks of undersowing clover.  

Learn more about the benefits of undersowing clover

Useful links

Establishing grassland reseeds

Learn more about grass and forage management

Find out more about managing clover

Clover species for grassland reseeding

Read the Establishing and growing clover guide

If you would like to order a hard copy of the Establishing and growing clover guide, please contact or call 0247 799 0069.

The information in these web pages was sourced from Germinal, Grassland Development Centre (IBERS, University of Aberystwyth) and Charlie Morgan (GrassMaster Ltd).