Common Questions - Straightforward Answers

By Jon Cooner

Q: We are planning to plant two acres of Imperial Whitetail Clover on an open ridge top this spring. Our soil test showed that the soil pH is 5.4. This is a new plot site that is currently covered with fescue. I have a friend with a seed drill. He says he can plant the clover in May and that we can add lime in June. Does this sound like a good plan in Kentucky? 

A: To answer your question in a word, “No.” The good news, though, is that I can give you a plan that will work. Let's start with the problems I see.   
First, a soil pH of 5.4 is too low to sustain Imperial Whitetail Clover, and it is too low for you to lime and plant in the same planting window (this spring). It will take some time for the lime called for in your soil-test report to raise pH sufficiently. That means you need to plan on planting next fall instead of this spring, and use the interim time to get your seedbed ready.

Second, you should lime before you plant, not after. In order for lime to raise pH, it should be incorporated into the soil (disked or tilled in). That's because lime works in particle-to-particle contact with the soil; a piece of lime needs to touch a piece of dirt to neutralize that dirt particle's pH.  Lime won't “wash down into the soil” much as you hear folks say it. As I often heard Dr. Johnson say, "Lime pretty much stays where you put it," and you need to "put it" all throughout the top few inches of soil. You do that by disking or tilling it into the soil, which you can only do before you plant.

Third, you should try to control the fescue as much as possible with a herbicide before you plant. Fescue is tough stuff, and if it’s growing in a fallow site, it’s undoubtedly mature and has a dense root system. Because the roots will be holding the soil in tight clumps, you should kill it before liming so that the dirt will be freed from the grasp of the roots, allowing you to get a better mix (particle-to-particle contact) between the lime and the dirt particles.

To control the fescue, use a herbicide product whose active ingredient is 41 percent glyphosate. Such products include stronger versions of Roundup Weed and Grass Killer, Eraser, Gly-4 and many others. Also, add surfactant to the herbicide solution according to the herbicide label instructions. Again, fescue is tough, so although you will likely control a good bit of it with the first herbicide application, you’ll almost certainly have some remaining. Accordingly, you should plan on having to do multiple applications before you plant and in a certain order, which I'll get to in a minute.

Fourth, you mentioned that you will be planting on an open ridge top. Be sure that you have selected the correct Imperial forage for your soil type and plot slope. Our blends are designed for specific soil types and drainages. Imperial Whitetail Clover is designed for heavy soils that have good moisture-holding properties. So, the ridge top is fine for Imperial Clover only if the soil is that type. If not, you should select an Imperial perennial designed for the soil type of the plot.

Fifth is the matter of using a drill to plant small seeds such as Imperial Whitetail Clover. While small seeds such as Imperial Whitetail Clover can be planted with a drill in certain situations, we recommend using a shoulder-carried or hand-held broadcast spreader, not a drill. The main reason is that small-seed blends such as Imperial Whitetail Clover should be left on top of the soil when planted, that “can” be done with a drill in some cases by floating the drill or by reconfiguring the seed-drop tubes so that they drop the seed behind the drill’s packing wheels so that the seed is not buried. It also is helpful if the drill is equipped with small-seed components, which are sometimes referred to as “grass-seed planters.” These come standard on most hard-land drills but may not on grain drills. In any event, the key point is that whatever seeding implement you use, small-seed blends such as Imperial Whitetail Clover should be planted on top of the prepared seedbed, and certainly no deeper than 1/8th – 1/4th inch deep.

Now that we’ve covered the preliminary issues, here’s how I'd suggest you proceed to get your site ready for a fall planting in Kentucky. Remember, the time line below is for Kentucky, and in any particular year, the timing of these steps can fluctuate by a few weeks either way, depending on temperature and moisture levels. The timing of these steps may also vary for other areas of North America. Full planting instructions and dates for each area of North America are available on-line at

This Spring

1.  The first step would be to perform a soil test to determine what your soil pH and nutrient levels are. You mentioned that you have already done a soil test, though, so skip down to number 2. 

2. As soon as spring green-up arrives, spray the plot site with a 41% glyphosate herbicide + surfactant solution. Wait a couple of weeks for the herbicide to take effect. The herbicide label will tell you exactly how long you should wait, but two weeks should be sufficient to allow the herbicide to do its work. 

3. Two weeks after spraying the herbicide, spread the lime called for in your soil-test report onto your seedbed, and disk or till it thoroughly into the top few inches of soil. By having first killed the root systems of most of the fescue with the herbicide, you will be able to get a much better mix of the lime with the dirt particles. 

3A. Optional: You may continue to disk or till the seedbed a few more times over the next month if you want to. That can help reduce the amount of dormant weed seed in your soil. If you do so, though, be sure to disk to the same depth every time, for two reasons. First, if you disk deeper, you’ll be diluting the lime you added by mixing it with additional dirt particles. Second, you’ll bring up even more weed and grass seeds from underground dormancy.   

July - August

4. The fall planting dates for Imperial perennials in Kentucky are August 1 – September 30. About a month before you intend to plant, disk or till the plot again to loosen the soil. Again, disk only to the same depth to which you tilled earlier. THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME YOU DISK OR TILL THE SEEDBED BEFORE YOU PLANT.   

5. Immediately after disking or tilling, smooth the plot with a heavy drag or cultipacker. In other words, finish the seedbed as if you were about to plant, even though you will not be planting yet.   

6. Wait several more weeks to see if any grass and weeds have reappeared from seeds your most recent tillage brought up from underground dormancy. If so, then at least two weeks before you intend to plant, spray the seedbed again with the 41% glyphosate + surfactant solution. DO NOT TURN THE SOIL AGAIN AFTER SPRAYING. If you do, you’ll just bring up even more dormant weed and grass seeds and re-infest the surface of the seedbed. 

Aug. 1 – Sept. 30 (Fall Perennial Planting Dates for Kentucky)

7. Don’t plant until at least two weeks have passed since you last sprayed the herbicide solution. Again, the herbicide label will tell you precisely how long you should wait, but two weeks is a safe bet for glyphosate.   

8. When you are ready to plant, start by walking out into your plot, and observing how deep your boot tracks are. If they sink down about one-half to one inch, you are ready to plant. If you sink down less than that, then lightly drag or harrow the seedbed surface just to break the top crust. If you sink down more than that, roll the plot with a cultipacker or drag it with a weighted, fence-type drag until the seedbed is at optimum firmness. And remember, you should eliminate the cracks the seed might fall into and be buried too deep. 

9. Once your seedbed is at optimum smoothness and firmness, broadcast the fertilizer called for in your soil-test report onto the surface of your seedbed. Then broadcast the seed onto the seedbed. Do not cover the seed. 

10. If you are planting Imperial Whitetail Extreme instead of one of the other Imperial perennial blends, follow this step: When the plants reach about 3-4 inches high, top-dress the plot with 100 pounds per acre of a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as 33-0-0 to further boost forage growth. This step is not necessary for Imperial perennial blends other than Extreme.