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Saturday, April 20, 2024
Growing Together: How one nuisance weed makes a great lawn substitute
For homeowners seeking an alternative to high-maintenance grassy lawns, white clovers require little or no mowing. RICHARD HARLEY/FIREFLY SUPPLIED

Have you ever wondered if there is a better substitute for our lawns?

When you think about it, our lawns are one of the highest maintenance parts of our gardens.

From fertilizing, watering, mowing, raking, seeding, dethatching and aerating, lawns require constant care.

There are a lot of possible plants that can replace the lawn. In this article, I will be looking at one of those possibilities: white clover. 

I know what you are thinking: “Clover – are you kidding me? I spend hours just trying to get rid of the clover in my lawn. Why would I ever want to do that?”

 It does take a bit of rethinking to embrace this idea.

We have been programmed to believe that one must have a perfect lawn, with every blade just growing perfectly, whereas clover, in our minds, is just a weed.

Let’s look at some pros and cons of replacing your lawn areas with white clover.

White clover (Trifolium repens), considered a legume, is a type of clover that is both hardy and low-growing (two to six inches tall).

Generally speaking, white clover grows quickly and spreads fast. It’s also classified as a perennial, meaning you won’t have to replant it every year.

It’s important to note, however, that this type is best suited for cooler climates such as ours.

It can be used purely on its own or used along with fescues, ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass. 

Mixed grass-clover lawns, which are best for playing fields and other high-traffic areas.

Pure clover lawns are best for areas with low or moderate traffic.

Clover lawns can be established by encouraging existing patches in your landscape or by seeding.

Sometimes, a combination of both methods works best.  If you choose the latter option, clover is best seeded in early spring, from mid-March to mid-April.

It can also be seeded in fall. The seed will usually start germinating in as little as two to three days.

Just keep in mind that clover seeds are difficult to sow evenly due to their small size.

One way to improve your distribution is to mix them with some soil, sawdust, or sand.

You should also add a bacterial inoculant to encourage growth: if you already have clover in your lawn, though, the inoculant is likely present in the soil.

After planting, ensure that your clover receives adequate water.

For best results, use a misting attachment on your water hose, as this will gently soak the ground without disturbing the seed.

Continue to water daily until the seedlings emerge from the soil.

In contrast to grass, clover requires only minimal effort to maintain.

To keep it looking great year after year, though, you must ensure that it receives adequate water (especially in dry spells).

Also, be sure to avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot and a yellowing of its leaves.

Once established, white clovers are low-growing and require little or no mowing.

Some will mow clover periodically throughout the season to keep it a bit tidier.

Some homeowners may prefer to mow in midsummer to deadhead old blooms. In general, you should mow with the blades set at 1.5 to two inches.

Just make sure that you stop cutting around mid-summer, as this will encourage your clover to flower and seed.

Clover does best in sandy, loamy, or infertile soil with a pH between six and seven.

Keep in mind that clover prefers full sun. Although it will grow in light shade, its growth will be much slower.

It’s also worth noting that clover doesn’t grow well in full shade. Homeowners should perform hand-weeding every few months to prevent unwanted growth.

Once your lawn is established, never apply herbicides, as this can kill your clover. 

Here are some additional advantages of white clover:

  • Stays green all summer, with little or no watering. 
  • Requires very little maintenance.
  • Can take light to medium foot traffic.
  • Attracts beneficial insects (like bees) to your yard. 
  • Never needs fertilizer.
  • Never needs herbicides. 
  • Out-competes other weeds. 
  • Grows well in poor soil.
  • Feels great on bare feet.
  • Is immune to “dog patches.” 
  • Is inexpensive. 

Clover offers a wide range of benefits to homeowners seeking an alternative to grass.

Definitely something to consider!

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca

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