28 May 1999

Do a little digging to give white clover a chance to thrive

DIG up some white clover before June every year to check plants are not breaking up into too many smaller plants which will not survive as well in a sward.

At Grassland 99, IGERs Mick Fothergill said doing so could identify whether management changes will help maintain clover or a different variety may be better suited to that management.

"But you cant tell how well clover is growing without digging into the sward and understanding how it grows."

A young plant has a tap root which lasts 18 months, then the tap root decays and stolons provide reserves that feed the plant. Each node on the stolon can put down roots and produce a leaf and bud, so the plant can grow many strong branches. But when it grows a long line of small plants it is under stress, added Mr Fothergill.

"In a 25cm sq area you can have up to 300 small plants or one big one. There should be a few big ones and some small ones.

"Clover plants break up during winter and grow in summer; when management is right this can continue indefinitely.

"But when there are too many smaller plants, which it is difficult to see by just looking at a sward, plants are stressed and have broken up. This needs remedial action to prevent losing clover from the sward."

One option for remedial action is to take a late silage cut to check grass growth and allow small clover plants to increase in size, he advised. This may keep clover in a grazing sward for an extra two years.

But when management changes to keep clover in the sward are difficult, consider changing clover varieties grown, said Mr Fothergill. He suggested for sheep grazing ensuring small leaved rather than larger leaved clovers are chosen, and that the variety suits the farms needs for early season growth. &#42