Best nurse crop for new clover?


Active Member
I'm about half way through setting up a new plot in a recently logged cutover. I've thrown the sticks off it, raked it as clean as needed, got the bags of lime all stacked and ready to spread. I'll disc and till next week and drop the lime onto it. Now, one more decision to be made. I've already settled that it will initially be a white clover plot but I've read that new clover should be planted with a nurse crop. Nurse crop? I'm guessing that this is an edible crop the deer will munch and spare the newly emerging clover? In any case, what I'm asking for is recommendations on what to use for a nurse crop and why. And is a nurse crop a one time deal or do I continue to sow into my clover?
Oats are what you seek. I’d plant at least 100# per acre. In addition, I like to let the oats mature the first year as it gives more protection. Finally, my most successful plots are a mix of red and white with 1# of chicory mixed in.
I’ve had several successful white clover plots without the need of a nurse crop. However, I have planted wheat several times in the fall and planted medium red clover on top. The clover does pretty well with our normally mild weather but the promise of a lush clover plot in the spring never materializes. I think the deer eat the clover after the wheat has lost attraction, but I don’t know that to be true.
A nurse crop is a "one time deal" per your question. Most people will use a grain like oats, wheat or cereal rye. I personally will mix oats and wheat. The purpose of a nurse crop is to provide the deer with another food source to keep the clover from being grazed so much that clover establishment might be hindered or stopped.

However, it's not uncommon for lots of us to come back in an established clover plot and overseed with grains in the fall once the clover has been established. In that case it is no longer a nurse crop, because the clover is already established. It would be more for increasing fall attraction by providing diversity and filling in small spots where weeds might otherwise grow. Also, any fresh, new tender growth of a species that deer browse makes a food plot much more attractive.

Finally, overseeding with grains in the fall provides another benefit. The grains will use up the excess nitrogen that results from a pure clover stand. Of course, chicory planted with clover will do that too, and I've never seen deer eat anything better than they do chicory. I won't hardly plant any plot without it - and as elkaddict mentioned, medium red clover is like deer candy as well.
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Any grain that grows well in your area is a good nurse crop for clover, and oats are easier to grow than most grains, hence the popularity of oats.
In perfect conditions clover grows like a weed and no nurse crop is needed. But how often do we have perfect conditions, and how will you know this when you plant?