Seedlings need light, moisture, and nutrients to survive in the field. In most early-spring pasture over-seeding situations, the moisture and nutrients are probably not the major limitation to success. With rapidly growing perennial pasture plants, light often limits success, so it is important to monitor how the seedlings are doing. Periodically check several locations in the over-seeded area. Note the stage of development of the seedlings and the amount of competition they currently have; using a bit of mental extrapolation, keep in mind how much competition they will have next week or two weeks from now.
Initially, the seed has enough energy stored to germinate, put down a few roots, and expand the first leaves (cotyledons). With a little encouragement (light), the seedling can progress to maturity, but it needs light. Most farmers don’t have the luxury of focusing their forage harvest strategy on how best to get their red clover to survive, but where harvest manipulation is an option, it can help. Every dairyman and most grass farmers want to take their first cutting early than they are usually able to, but if you need one more reason to do so, understand that the sooner the clover gets more intense light, the more likely it is to become an adult plant, contributing to forage quality, forage quality, and soil fertility. There comes a time when there is so much competition that the red clover seedling will die from the lack of sunlight.
The picture below shows the stage of the clover seedlings at Kinship Farm in South Kirby. The ‘unifoliate’ stage will be followed by the ‘first trifoliate’ stage. A ‘trifoliate’ is the typical three-leafed clover that we are used to seeing.
Healthy dandelion plants, dense ladino clover, and Kentucky bluegrass seem to provide so much competition that it seems doubtful that the clover seedlings will survive in areas where these plants are thriving, but only time will tell.