Cool-season legumes grow during the late fall and spring. During winter the warm-season perennial grasses go dormant making cool-season legume and grasses a helpful source of forage for livestock operations.
Soil characteristic that are most desirable for growing cool-season legumes are soils that contain organic matter and clay. Clay and organic matter hold soil moisture making the Panhandle of Florida the optimal environment for growing cool-season legumes. Most legumes are small in seed size and planting near the surface of the soil is essential for germination. In others areas of the state like Central Florida, the soil drains well and does not hold soil moisture. In South Florida the environments productive period for cool-season legume is much shorter which can limit the use of cool-season legumes. Seed size is an important factor for establishment. The small seed size makes cool-season legumes slow to establish. Larger seeds will establish quicker. Crimson clover has the largest seed size of all of the clovers making it establish fastest. Cool-season grasses and cool-season legumes should be planted together to be productive in the early fall and spring extending the grazing period. If livestock consume large amount of legumes it can cause bloat in ruminant animals which is a result of excess gas in the rumen. To help prevent bloat, legumes and cool-season grasses should be planted together. Planting legumes with cool-season grasses with help decrease the nitrogen fertilizer needed because legumes will fix atmospheric nitrogen and provide nitrogen for cool-season grasses. Nitrogen fertilizer is needed in late fall to increase growth of cool-season grasses before cool-season legumes become productive. Providing 40 lbs. to the acre of nitrogen is recommended.
Winter legumes can be very important to production systems in Florida. Cool-season legumes can supply nitrogen for their own growth, to promote growth of cool-season grasses planted with the legumes, and benefit soil for future forage crops.