The effects of nitrate (NO3–) supply on shoot morphology, vertical distribution of shoot and root biomass and total nitrogen (N) acquisition by two perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) cultivars (AberElan and Preference) and two white clover (Trifolium repens L.) cultivars (Grasslands Huia and AberHerald) were studied in flowing nutrient culture. Cultivars were grown from seed as monocultures and the clovers inoculated with Rhizobium. The 6-week measurement period began on day 34 (grasses) and day 56 (clovers) when the NO3– supply was adjusted to either 2 mmol m–3 (low nitrogen, LN) or 50 mmol m–3 (high nitrogen, HN). These treatments were subsequently maintained automatically. Plants were harvested at intervals to measure their morphology and N content. Cultivars of both species differed significantly in several aspects of their response to NO3– supply. In the grasses, the LN treatment increased the root : shoot ratio of AberElan but did not affect the distribution of root length in the root profile. In contrast, this treatment changed the root distribution of Preference compared with HN, resulting in a larger proportion of root length being distributed further down the root profile. The morphology of white clover Grasslands Huia was for the most part unaffected by the level of NO3– supply. In contrast, AberHerald exhibited different growth strategies, with LN plants increasing their stolon weight per unit length at the expense of leaf production, leaf area and stolon length, whereas HN plants showed reduced stolon thickness, greater leaf area production and stolon length per plant. Cultivars with different morphological/physiological strategies in response to NO3– supply may be of value in the construction of ‘compatible mixtures’ aimed at reducing oscillations in sward clover content by extending the range of conditions that allow balanced coexistence of species to occur.