Crimson Clover

Now blooming in the lawn/meadow is crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum, also known as Italian clover. It is a species of clover in the family Fabaceae, native to most of Europe. The species name incarnatum means “blood red”.

Crimson clover is widely grown as a protein-rich forage crop for cattle and other livestock. It can typically be found in forest margins, fields and roadsides. Seed can be found at local Co-ops and farm supply stores, sold by bulk or in larger packages. It is often used for roadside erosion control, as well as beautification.

After much trial and even more error, this has been found to be the perfect filler to join the lilies, Verbena bonariensis, various wild asters and fleabanes planted along with the existing lawn grasses and weeds. There was no prep, no raking, no amendments added. The seed was tossed by handfuls in areas around the perimeter of the two island beds with some in the center. Next year I will concentrate more of it at the front, where the lilies will not hide it so much when viewed from the walkway.

Home gardeners will be interested to know that clover makes an excellent cover crop and soil builder during the winter months, returning large amounts of nitrogen to the soil through fixation and as the clovers are cultivated under as green manure. Crimson clover will reward the flower gardener with a sea of bright red flowers if soil tillering is delayed until plants reach bloom stage. Clover’s advantage is its economical price, and fast growth in cool weather.

In areas affected by severe cold weather, crimson clover can be planted in early spring and still attain desired growth and flowering, although maturity will be later. I scattered the seed on February 2, 2012 and it began blooming the same year in mid May. It favors a neutral soil, but tolerates medium acidity. An early planting in the northern part of the U.S. (no later than August) allows establishment before extremely cold weather sets in. A fall planting is usual for most other areas.

I will try the later sowing this year, after the lawn/meadow gets cut down in early winter. It thrives in a mixture with grasses and is a good, if short in stature, colormaker, so is perfect for the lawn/meadow. It has average water needs and likes well drained soil. As the photo above shows, it doesn’t exactly stand out as a sea of red with all the other garden elements going on. Perhaps if it bloomed sooner…

And now, for folks of a certain age, the thought of crimson clover can only mean one thing, and it has nothing to do with gardening. Please feel free to sing along with Cindy and Gail, their eyes aiming towards the heavens and their voices ringing like angels…the words are fairely easy to follow…

“Crimson and Clover” is a 1968 song by American rock band Tommy James and the Shondells, written by the duo of Tommy James and drummer Peter Lucia Jr. The title actually has no special meaning other than it was a favorite flower and color of the lyricists.

“Crimson and Clover”

Now I don’t hardly know her
But I think I could love her
Crimson and clover

Well if she come walkin’ over
Now I been waitin’ to show her
Crimson and clover
Over and over

My mind’s such a sweet thing
I wanna do everything
What a beautiful feeling
Crimson and clover
Over and over

Crimson and clover, over and over (repeat ad nauseum)

Recorded by Joan Jett, among others


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17 Responses to Crimson Clover

  1. Sue Ellen says:

    The fields around our home are planted in crimson clover which was seeded about three years ago. We let it go to seed and then cut the fields and bale them. Because we have rented most of the farm for crops and we don’t have livestock we compost it all and add the compost to the garden. We just finished cutting and baling ours for this year.

    Hi Sue Ellen, thanks for adding in here. I was hoping the crimson clover would seed itself and I might just wait a year to see if that works before buying more seed. Love the color of it.

  2. Frances, you never fail to surprise and delight me. I have seen crimson clover in great swathes of gorgeous red in the medians of our Georgia highways but it never occurred to me that it could work in a garden setting. I like the idea of mixing with lilies to soften the line of those stalks. Singing along now. 🙂

    Thanks so much, Georgia. I have seen this clover in Southern Georgia and Florida, used as cover crop and loved that sea of red. Mine is not exactly a sea since there are so many other things growing in there, but it can be considered a success.

  3. gail says:

    Frances, “Ahhhh…I don’t hardly know her” I love the Joan Jett version better than Tommy’s! I may have to try this clover in the Garden of Benign Neglect lawnette…Nice color and you can’t beat a perennial that blooms the first year you sow seeds. Thanks for the lovelink! xoxogail

    Hi Gail, thanks! You and Cindy made me laugh so hard, thanks for being the perfect guests, entertaining with singing in the garden. I have been thrilled with this clover and highly recommend it.

  4. Looks like your lawn/meadow area is really coming into it’s own. Having the clumps of tall lilies is quite striking. Is this their first year planted in this area? Do you do a formal mowing down of all the plant material in the late fall? Is anything that self seeds in this part of your garden welcome or are some things shown the door by pulling or spraying. Hmmm, I would feel compelled to stage an intervention if Canadian thistle started popping up although I know it has its defenders because of its striking architectural shape.

    Hi Michaele, thanks so much. The larger lilies have been in the ground three years. After they did so well I have been spreading the bulblets and they are now blooming size. I mow the whole thing down to 4 inches in December. The Verbena bonariensis, fleabanes, asters and daisies all self sow. I will allow ONE thistle, and not let it set seed, but the butterflies adore it so I will let it flower and be vigilant with deadheading then pull the whole plant out when it is done blooming.

  5. Linda says:

    The very first time I saw crimson clover was in a beautiful condo in downtown Chicago. A prominent decorator had 3 beautiful pots with 3 different clover, on his dining room table. I loved how they looked. He said the crimson was his favorite and he managed to slip a plant, in a pot, into all his clients homes. (Odd and sweet, at the same time…)
    Then I moved to Northern California, Sonoma County, to a cute little town called Cloverdale. Truly the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived………and the crimson was everywhere…….

    Hi Linda, what a wonderful story! The crimson clover plant is lovely, if short lived. I am hoping for reseeding. I love it!

    • Jane says:

      Hi Linda, I’m hoping that crimson clover will work as an annual cover crop here in coastal Alaska (zone 3-4) and not reseed. I didn’t like hearing that it had escaped with you, since I thought it was going to be the solution to drawing pollinators into my high tunnel! Do you live in northern US? Do you think seed will overwinter in zone 3-4?

  6. It’s good to read about someone that’s enjoying crimson clover, and finding it useful. Honestly, this was the first mistake I made here. We’d cleared a slope, and were concerned about erosion over winter. We planted crimson clover as a quick ground cover to curb erosion, and figured the bees would enjoy it too. Trouble is, here, it tends to escape, and now I’m finding it in all sorts of places I didn’t intend. I did succeed in banishing most of it from the orchard last year by tearing out plants as they emerged in December. It is beautiful, and the bees really do love it, but for here I’m going to try something a little different so it doesn’t escape. I am torn though, it did look lovely. Now the question is what to do with the leftover 5lbs of seed I have! 😉

    Hi CV, thanks for the warning. Since this is in a lawn/meadow, where the perimeter is kept mowed, I think it will be okay about the clover getting into flower beds. At least I hope so, but there are worse weeds than this, anyway. If I lived close, I would take that seed off your hands!

    • Jane says:

      Hi CV, I meant to leave this response for you, but posted it to Linda, above! I’m hoping that crimson clover will work as an annual cover crop here in coastal Alaska (zone 3-4) and not reseed. I didn’t like hearing that it had escaped with you, since I thought it was going to be the solution to drawing pollinators into my high tunnel! Do you live in northern US? Do you think seed will overwinter in zone 3-4?

  7. My Kids Mom says:

    I must know a remake as I admit to being too young for that version. But I had “over and over” in my head before even reading this post. .. over and over and over. I know where to place the blame!

    Hi Jill, you are probably too young for the original Tommy James version, this is a cover that appealed to me. There were lots of covers to chose from, but the song itself is fairly well known. Over and over….

  8. I love the end…I was thinking of the song the whole way through…I have read about this but not seen it…seems like it may be a nice crop to try in some spots to nourish the soil…will keep this on the list!

    Thanks Donna. This is a beautiful plant, the crimson clover and just the touch of color I was looking for in the lawn/meadow.

  9. Haa hahahahaa, i was singing it before you said anything about singing. Some years I have seen tons of Crimson Clover here in my little corner of the world. This year was a light year. Makes me wonder. I do think I need to add some in my meadow/septic field. will have to check the local co-op for seed.

    HA, Janet, I knew you would be! I didn’t have any idea it would be such a cheap addition to the lawn/meadow. A very pleasant surprise. It would be even better if it will self sow, too.

  10. Rose says:

    Lol, I love that last shot of Cindy and Gail:) I can just hear them singing; the song was running through my head the minute I saw your title, Frances. I always wondered if there was some symbolism to the words; glad to know I can just enjoy the song without worrying about that:) Your crimson clover really is a lovely groundcover. I have whatever is the common variety growing everywhere this year–I have pulling it out of the garden by handfuls. Not to worry, though, we have plenty of it everywhere else, so the bees have lots of treats to feast on.

    Isn’t that great, Rose? I love it! Don’t worry about the meaning, I had to check into that before posting the video and words, and it seems it really is just harmless rhyming. We have the Dutch white and the so called red clover that is really pink all over here. The white can be a nuisance because it runs so much. But the bees adore it.

  11. Lovely. I saw some blue flowers in one of the pics. Are those Love-in-a-Mist? Just wondering. Thanks

    Thanks Paisley Carrot, great name, btw. Yes, that is Nigella, Love in a mist. It self sows all over the place here and I let it.

  12. Cute post! The Crimson Clover flowers are pretty and the idea of using them for a cover crop makes sense. I love the landscape scene of your lawn/meadow. It looks so peaceful.

    Thanks Plant Postings. This is the best year yet for the lawn, meadow. The crimson clover really helped brighten it up and will improve the soil for the lilies, as well. The whole garden has a zen quality that helps soothe any troubles, for certain.

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