The Benefits of Clover
Updated: Mar 19, 2022
"You will hate it" he said. "Mark my words" he said. "In 5 years if you still love the weeds you planted then I will eat my hat". I only have 2 more years to go before I watch my neighbour eat the hat from his very own head.
I love my neighbours for a great many reasons, but when this crazy lady decided to plant a clover lawn and use clover as a cover crop through then walkways of her garden she was almost greeted with bottles of roundup from them. It was beyond mind-blowing to them why I would scatter seeds of what they considered weeds across a perfectly tilled soil landscape.
Did you know that clover was not always considered a weed. It was only given weed status in the early 1950's because it was killed off alongside dandelions with broad leaf herbicides. Before this point it was a very accepted and encouraged part of lawns. Lawn mixes would actually include clover because of the very benefits I have also discovered.
The first benefit that intrigued me when it came to clover was its ability to fix the soils nitrogen levels. Clover is actually a member of the legume family believe it or not and what they do is live in harmony with bacteria which together take the atmospheric nitrogen and make it available to both the clover itself and the surrounding plants. This in turn is going to build stronger lawns. As a result of building up a dense cover, the clover will actually crowd out broad leaf weeds such as dandelions.
There is lots of talk these days about how we can help our pollinators and a clover lawn can check this box off on its list of benefits. The only thing to consider would be to keep the clover mowed short in walkway areas or where children might be playing to avoid bee stings.
After years of having clover integrated into my lawns and as pathways for my garden I started to notice how early my lawn appeared green in the spring. It is very safe to say if you choose it as an option you will have a green lawn for the majority of the year. This also leads to the next benefit which is that clover is very drought resistant and requires little water. This was a huge factor for me as our water source other than our dugout involves hauling water. I became very water conscious and realized that I did not want to be watering a lawn.
The fact that the clover is a nitrogen fixer, drought resistant and stays green for the season reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. Once the lawn is cut if you leave the cuttings without bagging, then the slow release fertilizer from the mulch alone will keep your lawn green for the season. In my garden I will actually mow the walkways and allow the clippings to sit on the beds afterwards leaving behind a economic form of fertilizer for my crops.
There are some drawbacks to clover lawns to think about when you are considering choosing it. Clover does not stand up to foot traffic the same way that sod lawns do. Using clover in with a typical grass lawn mix would be a good option to maintain structure in high traffic areas. Clover also doesn't do well in overly saturated wet areas so if you have a section that typically holds more water or is close to a downspout you might consider planting more grass seed in this area.
Another thing to consider when choosing to plant or integrate clover into your lawn is that there are 250 species worldwide. Not all clover is the same and if you want to reap the benefits of it for your lawn you should choose a variety with this in mind. Choosing a variety with a low profile such as a white dutch clover will give you the desired effect you may be going for in a lawn. There is also a variety that has been produced called micro clover which is gaining popularity in recent years.
I for one am very excited about the renewed love of clover and after having weighed all its pros and cons I am happy to say I will be sticking with this "weed" for many years to come. Feel free to share your thoughts or ask any questions you may have regarding its application.
Here is a fantastic blog that discusses a variety of different lawn alternatives that you may or may not have thought about. Head over to My Green Closet and read Verena Erin’s fantastic article on the subject.