Alsike Clover: A High Quality Forage Legume for High Elevations
There are many legume crops that can be used as important forage legumes. Alfalfa, the queen of forages, is one of the best legumes, and it can be grown in every state of the U.S. Alfalfa is the number one crop in Wyoming and contributes hugely to the nation’s economy.
However, there are some areas in Wyoming, especially at high elevations, alfalfa does not perform very well in grass mixtures. So, what are other alternatives? Alsike clover is a forage legume that can potentially be used in this scenario.
Alsike clover, also called Swedish clover or hybrid clover, is a short-lived, perennial legume. It is well adapted to southern Canada, the northern U.S. and, importantly, the higher elevations of the western U.S. Being a cool-season crop, alsike clover prefers relatively moist habitats and cool environments. It has good acid and alkaline tolerance and performs well in low fertility and poorly drained soils. However, it does not have tolerance to drought.
The growth of alsike clover is intermediate compared to alfalfa. It has an upright growth habit; hollow, branched stems; and a short taproot. The leaves of alsike clover are a little wider than alfalfa, with toothed leaf margins and prominent veins. The flowers have a small head with beautiful white- to pink-colored petals.
Like alfalfa, alsike clovers can be planted in spring or late summer. The recommended seeding rate is eight to 10 pounds per acre when planted alone and four to six pounds per acre in a mixture. The seed size of alsike clover is very similar to alfalfa, so it should be planted 0.125 to 0.25 inches deep. If the soil is light and sandy, it can be planted 0.5 inches deep. There are a few varieties available in the market to purchase, such as alsike clover 98/85, Aurora and Dawn. It is highly recommended that seeds should be inoculated with alsike clover-specific Rhizobium bacteria for proper nodulation and nitrogen fixation.
Alsike clovers can be used for hay and pasture. It performs better in mixtures with grasses and other legumes, such as red clover and white clover. It is also used for soil improvement. The forage quality of alsike clover is high and comparable to alfalfa. In general, for hay, only one cutting should be made at near full bloom.
Alsike clovers should not be harvested four to six weeks before hard frost. Another side note is that, being a clover and similar to alfalfa, it also has potential to cause bloat problems and may be photosensitive to cattle.
As always, if you want to learn more about alsike clovers or have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me.
Anowar Islam is an associate professor and the University of Wyoming Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He can be reached at 307-766-4151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.