This page gives instructions on growing birdsfoot.
Birdsfoot, Lotus corniculatus, is a perennial legume native to the grasslands of Eurasia and northern Africa. It looks a little like clover and grows distinctive yellow flowers in circular clumps that attract bumblebees and other pollinators. When left to grow naturally, it will reach a height of 12 to 24 inches. However, it often invades grass, and will bloom even at a height of only two inches when mowed. It blooms from April to mid September.
While it is a little difficult to cultivate initially, it’s hardy once established. It is frequently used as a substitute for alfalfa in places where the soil is not suited for growing alfalfa. Birdsfoot makes a great cover crop, livestock forage or beautiful addition to flower beds or wildflower gardens.
Birdsfoot can be planted any time of year, but for best results, begin planting in early spring when the soil has warmed. If this is the first time you’re growing Birdsfoot or another legume in this area, you’ll want to treat the seeds with an inoculum, which will allow the roots to fix nitrogen, or use pre-treated seeds. The inoculum is a helpful bacteria, which will grow in the soil, so you won’t need to do this in subsequent years. You can soak the seeds in warm water for a day before planting to improve germination speed and rates, but it not required.
Birdsfoot prefers loamy soil, so you can mix in
some builder’s sand, but it will do well in a variety of soil
conditions, including poor and somewhat acidic soils. It will grow in soil with a pH as low as 4.5, but does best in a pH of 6.0 to 6.5. As you would before planting grass, you’ll want to firm up the soil with a roller to help improve germination rates. Broadcast the seeds over the desired area. Do not bury the seeds, but you can cover them with a light sprinkling of soil (no more than ¼ inch). Keep the soil moist. Birdsfoot should germinate within 7 to 14 days of planting.
Before it has become established, you’ll want to pay close attention to weeds, as birdsfoot will not be able to compete. Once it has become established, birdsfoot requires very little care. It will add nitrogen to the soil, so you won’t need to worry about that, but it can benefit from some phosphorous. If flowers are allowed to fully mature, birdsfoot will self-seed. Deadheading will encourage denser growth and create smaller clumps. Birdsfoot matures in 90 to 100 days.
To harvest Birdsfoot as hay, begin when about 10% of the plant is flowering. You can harvest again in mid to late August. But it is important not to harvest or allow grazing in September through the first frost so that the plant can store an adequate amount of energy in its roots to survive winter. Birdsfoot can tolerate continuous grazing until September.
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