White clover serves as the premier living mulch system over any other legume. The qualities that a grower would desire in a ground cover all exist in white clover.
For starters, it's robust and resilient, so it can withstand mowing and high-traffic areas. Its extensive root system breaks up compaction, while the ground cover also keeps soil from running off while still holding key nutrients in place.
Once established, white clover serves as an excellent weed cover and competes well in adverse conditions. A good white clover stand will also produce 80-130 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
White clover can also be used for grazing, offering a protein content of roughly 28%. Growers do need to keep an eye out for bloat, though.
Managing White Clover
In order to allow maximum economic value from a living mulch system, management is key.
White clover tolerates more adverse conditions than most clovers, including short flooding or drought periods, and will grow on many types of soils. However, it grows best in clay and loam soils that have a pH of 6.2-7.0, but can grow in pH levels as low as 5.5.
White clover should be drilled at 3-9 pounds per acre, and broadcasted at 5-14 pounds per acre. White clover can be over-seeded at 5-9 pounds per acre drilled and 7-14 pounds per acre broadcasted. When mixing with another cover crop, drill at 4-6 pounds per acre.
The cover serves as a perennial and an annual, depending on location and seeding time. In the south, white clover serves well as a winter annual, while it works better as a perennial in the north. White clover can also be frost-seeded early in the morning when frost is in the soil. For late summer seeding, seed about 40 days before the first killing frost to allow establishment.
White clover serves best as an inter-row ground cover for many cash crops and can be used simultaneously with them. During early stages of development and growth, a grower needs to make sure the white clover is not outcompeting with any cash crops for light, nutrients and moisture. No-tillers can suppress white clover through mowing or herbicides. It should be mowed no lower than 3-4 inches, and 6-8 inches should be left to allow overwintering.