Crimson clover: sowing, sprouting & more


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Crimson clover not only looks beautiful – it has many beneficial properties and is even edible. Learn here how to grow crimson clover yourself and what you need to know.

Crimson Clover
It is very apparent where the name ‘crimson clover’ comes from [Photo: CarlosR/]

Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum) is also called rose clover or Italian clover. It belongs to the butterfly family (Faboideae) and is related to our native and universally known meadow or red clover (Trifolium pratense). However, the herbaceous plant with its blood-red flowers is much more than just a weed. The clover is not only beautiful to look at, it also improves the soil and is edible. Find out here how you can grow the rose clover in your own garden, use it in the kitchen and propagate it yourself.

Crimson clover: origin and properties

Why the crimson clover is also called ‘Italian clover’ can be explained by its origin: the herbaceous plant is originally from Southern Europe and is native to the Mediterranean region. However, through its use as a fodder plant, clover has been taken to other parts of the world and has become wild. In our country, too, crimson clover was introduced as a neophyte, i.e. as an alien plant, and can be seen in meadows or along field borders. However, its distribution is not considered problematic.

For a clover, the annual plant can grow amazingly tall: the hairy stems shoot up to 50 cm in height. In addition to the typical three-parted and obovate leaves of clover, the plant also produces magnificent red inflorescences that can grow up to 6 cm long. Like all clover species, crimson clover also forms a legume at the end of the flowering period that contains a large number of small, yellowish seeds.

Crimson clover as green manure

Rose clover is typically grown as an intercrop in fields. Like all clover species, the herb can bind nitrogen from the air with the help of a symbiosis with specialised bacteria, making it excellent as a green manure. So, in the vegetable garden, crimson clover can be used to boost the nutrient content of the soil. You can sow the clover after the vegetable harvest and simply leave it over the winter. Alternatively, it can be harvested and used as feed for livestock.
Apart from its practical use, the plant is often found in ornamental flower bouquets because its bushy growth and blood-red butterfly flowers have something striking and extravagant about them.

Field of crimson clovers in bloom
Crimson clovers are truly an impressive sight [Photo: Sergey Fedoskin/]

Note: Crimson clover flowers also produce abundant nectar and pollen, making them very popular with bees, butterflies and other small beneficial insects.

Crimson clover varieties

Crimson clover also has several varieties that can be used differently depending on their use. For example, the ‘Linkarus’ variety quickly forms a lot of mass and has a high protein content. Therefore, it is often used as animal feed. The ‘Contea’ variety, on the other hand, transports nutrients from the deeper soil layers upwards through its up to 90 cm deep root system and is therefore often planted as a preceding crop. ‘Heuers Ostsaat’ is a particularly fast-growing variety that is typically planted as an intercrop and also provides good fresh fodder.
However, if you want to spread crimson clover in the garden as an ornamental plant or as a bee-friendly plant, you do not need to pay attention to the variety. From a purely visual point of view, there are no major differences between them.

Growing crimson clover

The plant can be grown both in the kitchen and in the garden. Whether in a sprouting jar or vegetable patch – we show you how it succeeds.

Sowing crimson clover seeds

Crimson clover is quite easy to sow in the garden or in a large pot. The best period for this is from May to July. The herbaceous plant does not place any special demands on its substrate, but sandy loamy soils with good water drainage are best suited. Very heavy or dry soils, on the other hand, are less suitable. The seeds should be placed in the soil about 2 cm deep. 30 g of seed per square metre is plenty.

Close-up of bee on crimson clover flower
Insects are also big fans of crimson clovers [Photo: Jan Stria/]

In its function as a green manure, crimson clover can be used as both a preceding and succeeding crop of many vegetables. However, clover is not compatible with other legumes (Fabiaceae), such as beans or peas. Before sowing vegetable plants, clover should be mowed and incorporated into the upper layers of soil. If you are using crimson clover as a subsequent crop, you can safely leave it over the winter and mow and incorporate only in the spring.

Grow sprouts

Cultivating crimson clover sprouts works similarly to other sprouts. Wash the seeds and place them in a suitable germinator or sprouting jar. Then, rinse the seeds with fresh water twice a day and make sure the ambient temperature is around 20 °C. After about a week, your seeds should begin to germinate.

Conventional crimson clover seeds are not suitable for pulling shoots. Therefore, be sure to purchase special seedlings for this purpose. These are specially selected for growing sprouts and have a particularly high germination rate. Conventional seeds have a slightly higher percentage of poorly germinating seeds that can be prone to mould in the warm, humid environment.

Tipped over glass full of crimson clover sprouts
To grow crimson clover sprouts, you will need special crimson clover sprout seeds [Photo: Inna Dodor/]

Propagate crimson clover

Although crimson clover is quite hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as -10 °C, herbaceous plants usually live only one, at most two years. So that you can always grow new crimson clover, it is worth harvesting the seeds at the end of the year. The seeds are ready for harvesting when the legumes are brown and have dried up.

Tip: Store the seeds in a dark, cool and dry place. For this purpose, an opaque storage tin is suitable, which is best kept in the basement.

Alternatively, you can simply let nature take its course and wait for the legumes to break open on their own. The seeds then spread in the immediate vicinity, and if the location of the plant suits, you will see crimson clover growing again in the same place the following year.

Crimson clover uses

Crimson clover is also edible for humans. For this purpose, the seeds are most often used. These can be roasted and used as toppings for salads or other summer dishes. However, the shoots and flowers are also edible and can be used for the same purposes.

Crimson clover as edible decoration on dish
Italian clover sprouts are great in salads and vegetable dishes [Photo: Kolpakova Svetlana/]