Crown Vetch is a cool season, hardy, perennial legume. Crown Vetch is not a true vetch, although it resembles common and hairy vetch. Crown Vetch spreads from rhizomes and will form a dense cover. It has been used for soil stabilization and as an ornamental landscaping for many years.
Crown Vetch has a wide range of climatic adaptations, but its performance has been superior on well-drained soils. It is tolerant of both low pH and low fertility soils. However, it is highly responsive to lime, phosphorus and potassium. Crown Vetch is particularly adapted to road bank stabilization and erosion control. At the present time, this seems to be one of the best uses for the plant. In recent years, Crown Vetch has been considered as a source of forage for livestock.
Acceptability and Nutritive Value as a Forage Crop
Information about the acceptability and nutritive value of Crown Vetch is still limited, and there is not enough evidence to make a dependable statement as to its merits as a forage crop. It is a non-bloating legume. Some research has indicated that the young growth is palatable but that more mature growth is not readily accepted. In other grazing trials, animals were slow to accept it, but after a few days, their performance on Crown Vetch was comparable to that of other common grass-legume pastures. Chemical analysis of Crown Vetch hay has shown that its crude protein and crude fiber content is similar to that of other legume hays. Digestible dry matter of Crown Vetch hay was below that of other grass-legume hays harvested at the same stage of maturity. Crown Vetch hay is often difficult to wilt and cure.
Crown Vetch has not been extensively grown, and seed should always be inoculated before seeding. A specific strain of bacteria is required for proper inoculation of Crown Vetch. This can usually be obtained at the source where seed is obtained. Crown Vetch seeds are very small and smooth. Take special care to be sure the inoculation adheres to the seed. Water sweetened with sugar will make the inoculum mix more adhesive.
Once the seedlings are established, relatively few Crown Vetch seedlings per acre will result in good stands because of its spreading habit due to the strong, vigorous rhizomes. Crown Vetch will persist under hay and grazing conditions if soil drainage and fertility is adequate. Its slow recovery after hay harvest suggests that it should not be overgrazed. A 3- to 4-inch stubble left after harvest is desirable to keep it in a productive state. Crown Vetch grows best on well-drained soils that have been limed as for clover. Hay yields have been less than alfalfa, so potash and phosphate should be applied as for red clover. Crown Vetch is toxic to horses because of the presence of nitroglycosides. If consumed in large amounts, it can cause slow growth, paralysis, or death.
The usual seeding rate is 5 to 15 pounds per acre. Seed prices are high, so you will want to keep seeding rates low. If low seeding rates are used, techniques designed to ensure maximum plant establishment are of the utmost importance. These techniques include the use of a seed inoculant, chemical weed control and special seeding equipment. If possible, apply lime, phosphate and potash based on red clover requirements. Do not use nitrogen because it will stimulate weeds more than the young Crown Vetch plants.
1. Spring seed on a prepared seedbed from March 15 to May 15. If possible, the sod should be fall plowed to control weeds and provide a firm seedbed.
2. Seed on a litter or mulch from dead Sudan grass from October to April.
3. Seed in early spring on a prepared seedbed. Prior to seeding, incorporate either 2 to 3 pounds of EPTC or 1 to 1-1/2 pounds of Benefin or 1/2 to 1 pound of Trifluralin into the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil with a disc and harrow. Take care not to mix the chemical too deeply in the soil because it may result in poor weed control. Chemical weed control is perhaps the best way to ensure a stand of crownvetch.
4. Broadcast Crown Vetch seed and roll or pack the soil. You may also seed in rows and cultivate to control weeds. The creeping ability of Crown Vetch will enable it to fill the rows.