Your Yard’s Best Friend – Clover

Rough Draft 1.0 10/5/2020


Clover or trefoil Trifolium plants consist of “300 plant species of flowering plants in the legume or pea family Fabaceae. Several species are cultivated as a nutritious livestock feed. A prime benefit is that it fixes nitrogen in the soil which reduces the need for fertilizers. It can be grown in a variety of soils and climates.

Modern Lawns need clover.

There is no denying the aesthetic value of a monoculture lawn. A rich green lawn, neatly manicured definitely improves curb appeal. The downside, and it’s millions of tons worth, are the chemicals used to keep lawns green. In the U.S. alone we use:

  • 80 MILLION TONS of chemical pesticides
  • 90 MILLION TONS of chemical fertilizers

It’s important to be aware of how these affect the flora and fauna as unintended consequences. Honey Bees, birds, squirrels, deer, etc., are all ingesting these. I’ll forever not understand how a Saturday morning can start with a neighbor applying “weed and feed” to his lawn and shrubs and then in the afternoon see their kids running around barefoot in the same recently treated yard.

On the other hand, homeowners can convert to natural lawn care methods. In our yard, where we’ve lived for close to 10 years, we’ve never put any chemicals / fertilizers of any type on our small patches of lawn. Instead, we’ve always mowed with a mulching mower and overseeded with clover. We have soil that drains too well. It’s hard to keep moisture in the soil but over time we’ve increased the organic matter to a point where it has made a difference. The real benefit to the soil development is the growing patches of clover. An important side benefit has been the flowers feed our honey bee colony and other pollinators.

Here’s a quick list of key benefits:

  • It stays green throughout the summer as it is drought tolerant.
  • No mowing required, although we do mow about 3 times a year.
  • It attracts beneficial insects.
  • No fertilizer or herbicides needed.
  • It displaces other weeds.
  • Grows well in poor soil.
  • It’s inexpensive.
  • It’s beautiful.

One effective way to convert lawns to clover is to cover areas with black plastic or straw until the underlying grass dies back, then rake in the clover seeds lightly and cover again until the clover seeds start sprouting.

Another is to simply overseed existing grass and make sure to keep moist until seeds germinate. We’ve used both methods where practical. Note that when we overseeded existing grass, clover didn’t show up in any significant way until the following year.

Our guiding rule with lawns is that if it’s green and growing, we’ll mow it. One year we let our lawn go fallow and were surprised by dozens of walnut tree seedlings. The squirrels were busy! We potted these up and are just waiting for the right space opportunity to grow a small walnut grove.

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