White clover can be a viable wildlife food plot crop in wooded areas, say researchers who are halfway through a two-year study.
Researchers with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, cooperating with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Small Scale Farms Research Center in Booneville, began the study last fall.
“A recurring question from landowners who want to manage their property for deer and other wildlife is how to establish and maintain food plots,” said Dirk Philipp, assistant professor, forages, for the university.
The researchers, David Burner, a research agronomist for USDA, and Philipp, wanted to see two types of clover, white and arrowleaf, which grow best in open areas, fared in shaded areas. Clover was chosen because of its high nutrition value.
The researchers set up their study in a stand of 15-year-old pines, with rows whose widths varied from 12 to 32 feet. For comparison, the researchers also planted clover in open areas near the pine stands. The plots were lightly disked with some potassium and phosphorous added and light and soil temperature meters were installed to record and compare growing conditions over the next two seasons.
Preliminary results from early June showed that “arrowleaf yielded about 5,000 pounds per acre in the open area and about 3,000 pounds per acre in the most narrow alleyway between the trees,” Philipp said. “White clover yielded about 3,500 pounds per acre in the open area and 1,500 pounds in the 12-foot alleyway.”
The yields in the alleyways between the trees were higher than expected, he said, because yield is usually proportional to the amount of sunlight received.
“Solar radiation in the 12-foot row was only about 20 percent of that in the open area. In the widest alleyway, 32 feet, solar radiation was about 75 percent of that recorded in the open area,” he said.
The drought provided researchers their biggest surprise though, Philipp said. “When drought set in during the middle of the summer, white clover essentially disappeared from the open area and weed pressure became very high. The weed pressure was less for the arrowleaf clover. When the arrowleaf clover plants died, they provided a dense thatchon the alleyway surface that prevented weeds from growing.”
The drought made the white clover struggle, and even though there were so few leaves that yields could not be measured, the clovers remained green. And although clovers typically don’t like shade, “white clover clearly benefited from shade that reduced soil temperatures, that were about 10-15 degrees lower in the alleyways than the open areas.”
The researchers also gauged how much of the plot was eaten by deer; caging off some areas as a control, noting that deer did graze the clovers in the alleyways.
Even though the alleyway yields are lower, “clover growth in shaded areas is sufficient to attract deer.”
For more information about wildlife food plots contact your county agent, or visit www.uaex.edu.