Clover in the lawn: is it good or bad as a lawn substitute?

The lawn in the backyard – that controversial piece of green that is adored by some and avoided by others. On the one hand, lawns need large amounts of water to survive. On the other hand, these are monocultures that bring only minimal benefits to nature. Not to be forgotten is the annoying mowing of the lawn. However, you can make your lawn more sustainable by considering clover. The clover stays green longer and needs less water than conventional grasses. It also has many advantages as a food for small animals and insects. Before there were chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, the humble clover was a common resident of backyard lawns across the country. But why do you want to fight clover in the lawn today and remove it permanently? Whether you’re starting a new lawn or looking to maintain an old one, there are good reasons to grow clover.

Clover as a useful plant and alternative to conventional lawns

Klee as a substitute for lawn feels good

The many plants that we consider weeds are hated by gardeners if only because they grow where they are not wanted, and they do so with considerable strength and tenacity. Typically considered a weed, the clover is fought with herbicides and other means by homeowners in search of a perfect lawn made entirely of lawn grasses. However, a little thought and botanical knowledge can show you that white clover can have many beneficial effects on soil.

The clover as a victim of bad branding

clover is good for lawns and bees

In fact, prior to World War II, clover was an intentional part of lawn seed mixes, along with fescue (fescue), ryegrass, and meadow bluegrass (Poa pratensis). Because of its ability to thrive in poor soils, fix its own nitrogen, and survive in periods of drought, clover was intentionally added to grass mixtures to encourage the growth of the surrounding grasses.

It was not until shortly after the Second World War, with the emergence of the suburbs and the naivete about the new world of chemicals, that the clover was stigmatized. While it’s different from other types of weeds like plantain and dandelion, it wasn’t long before chemical manufacturers were able to convince everyone that the clover was harmful too – just another weed that the search for the perfect lawn eliminates had to become.

The clover in the profile

Leaving clover in the grass is good for the soil

The most widespread clover for lawns is the white clover (Trifolium repens), which can be found in fields, along roadsides and everywhere else where it has established itself. Typical of the clover are its three-part leaves and the white or pink colored flowers. The white clover is low growing and only about 10-15 cm high. It spreads over aboveground stolons, which form a dense, robust plant cover even when cut low.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense), named after its dark pink flowers, is also abundant in the wild, but less desirable as a lawn substitute because of its height (up to 35 cm).

Another variety that has been gaining popularity recently is the micro clover (Trifolium repens var. Pipolina). This variety has leaves half the size and half the height of common white clover. This results in an ideal look that homeowners expect from a well-tended green space.

Red clover Trifolium pratense has dark pink flowers

Here’s what you need to know about the two most commonly used strains:

White clover (Trifolium repens):

– Usually needs to be re-sown after 2-3 years.

– Remains green all year round (in warm climates).

– Blooms between May and October and can feed bees.

– Requires 4-6 hours of sun a day.

– Seed rate: 5 g / m²

Micro clover (Trifolium repens var.Pipolina):

– Is fairly shade tolerant, but works best in sunny locations.

– Can be mowed shorter than white clover.

– Can handle more pedestrian traffic.

– Forms around 90% fewer flowers than white clover.

– Turns brown in winter due to the rest period.

– Seeding depending on the method: 2 g per square meter

Agricultural uses for clover

White clover is important to many pollinators

Several species of clover are widely used as fodder crops for domestic animals and as soil-improving crops in agriculture. The clover is easy to grow in a variety of conditions and is rich in nutrients. It is an ideal forage crop for livestock and other grazing livestock. With its root network, it collects considerable amounts of nitrogen from the air, enriches the soil and improves it for the subsequent harvest.

White clover is ideal for organic and natural gardens because it provides an ideal source of food for bees and other pollinators. A lawn teeming with bees may not be for everyone. Many homeowners are cautious about planting clover lawns because they are afraid of bee stings. If you are allergic to bees or have young children, you can discourage the bees by regularly mowing and removing the flowers during the summer bloom. However, unless you are allergic and have older children (or none at all), your best bet is to let the clover bloom. Honey bees are the main pollinator for a third of all crops that we as humans depend on.

Lay clover lawns to provide food for bees

Bees around the world are threatened by a mysterious condition known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). When a bee colony is hit by CCD, the worker bees spontaneously leave the hive and disappear, starving the queen, some larvae, and immature workers. The cause of CCD is still unknown, but it is believed that bee colonies stressed by habitat loss, parasites and pesticide use are most severely affected. However, homeowners can help by stopping the use of chemical pesticides and insecticides and just allowing their clover lawns to bloom.

Reasons FOR using clover in your lawn

White clover provides a lot of nutritious food for small animals such as forest hares

In recent years, clover has been re-examined and many plant scientists and some homeowners are recognizing its benefits as part of lawn grass mixtures – or even as a lawn substitute.

  • The clover stays green all summer, with little or no watering. It is one of the first plants to turn green in spring and retains its lush green mass even under drought conditions.
  • It only needs to be mowed a little or not at all. The white clover is only 10 centimeters high and needs little or no mowing. Some homeowners still prefer to mow in midsummer to prevent flowering or to remove old flowers.
  • Attracts beneficial insects (such as bees, bumblebees and butterflies) to your garden, which in turn contribute to the pollination of your vegetable garden. The flower-rich carpet of plants also attracts parasitoid wasps, which feed on aphids and whiteflies. These wasps are tiny, harmless to humans, and will be your avid allies in controlling pests in your kitchen garden.

Deer and roe deer like clover lawns very much

  • The green matter also provides plenty of nutritious food for small animals, such as forest hares. They are also very fond of deer and roe deer.
  • Never needs fertilizer. The clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant from the legume family and can itself be used as a valuable green manure. Grass mixed with clover is healthier, greener, and requires less maintenance than traditional lawn.
  • Overgrows other weeds. As a dense ground cover plant, white clover displaces other weeds like dandelions that populate the lawn. This saves weeding and the need for expensive herbicides.
  • Clover also grows on poor soils. Since the clover can get its nitrogen from the air, as already explained above, it survives much better than grass on low-nitrogen soils.
  • It feels good on bare feet. Soft and cool – walking barefoot on a clover lawn is a pleasure. The leaves and flowers also have a mild, pleasant fragrance.
  • No more dog pee spots. Yellow spots from dog urine can make a lawn quite unsightly, but the clover stays as green and lush as ever.

White clover tolerates dog urine - this is how you can prevent yellow spots

Clover lawns also have some disadvantages:

  • It stains clothes more easily than grass.
  • It’s not tough enough for playing fields or areas with heavy traffic unless it’s mixed with grass.
  • The white clover is hardy and perennial, but rather short-lived. Ideally, the clover reproduces by self-sowing; it is usually necessary to re-sow the clover lawn from time to time.
  • It is very humid under the small clover leaves and snails like this very much. Here we have listed 10 home remedies for pests in the garden.

Creating clover lawns – this is how it works:

Clover does not harm the lawn but provides valuable trace elements

Clover is best for clay or sandy loam soils with a pH between 6 and 7. Use a soil test kit or pH meter to find out the pH of your soil. If your soil is not in this desired range, you can adjust the pH of the soil with lime (to make your soil more alkaline) or peat moss (to make your soil more acidic).

The best time to plant clover is after the last frost in spring, from mid-March to mid-April. Then spring rain will also help the new plants to establish themselves. At that time, the competition, i.e. the grasses, did not yet have the nutrients they needed. Fall planting may also be possible if you live in an area with mild fall weather. Temperatures should stay above 4 ° C to allow the clover to set before winter.

As mentioned above, lawn specialists recommend using both clover and grass seeds to keep the lawn as healthy as possible. However, don’t spread these different types of seeds together because clover seeds are so small and usually clump together easily. Instead, determine the desired ratio of clover to grass and distribute the seeds separately.

Use clover for overseeding

Shortly mow clover in the lawn to remove old flowers

To add clover to existing greenery, first mow the lawn as short as possible and then rake off the clippings. At the same time, remove old, dry lawn. If your lawn needs airing, now is the time to do it. The ventilation vitalizes the lawn, counteracts waterlogging and helps loosen compacted soil.

Mix the clover seeds you have chosen with fine sand, sawdust or earth and spread it over the desired area. Clover seeds should not be planted deep. During the germination period, you should always keep the seed well moist and avoid stepping on the soil.

In order for clover to grow stronger than the competing grasses, avoid using nitrogen-based fertilizers. Because clover binds its own nitrogen, it will thrive even when that nutrient is lacking (whereas grasses usually don’t). However, phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are important. Therefore choose a fertilizer with a low nitrogen content (N) in favor of (P) and (K).

Create a new clover lawn:

White clover - Trifolium repens

When starting a new lawn, prepare your soil a few weeks in advance by removing weeds, stones, and root debris. Rake the top layer of soil to loosen the substrate, then water the area to allow any remaining weeds to sprout. A day or two before planting your lawn, remove any newly germinated weeds and level the soil.

Mix your clover seeds with sand, sawdust, or finely crumbled soil to make it easier to spread. For a shady location, double the amount of seeds. Rake the planted area to lightly cover the seeds with soil. They won’t sprout if buried too deep. Now you can also add grass seeds. The floor may not be stepped on afterwards. Water regularly until the seeds germinate.

Before mowing your lawn for the first time, wait for the clover to drop its seeds (after the flowers have wilted), then cut the stalks fairly short, about 2 inches above the ground. This will help the clover plants establish their roots. Leave the clippings on the lawn (they are valuable mulch). Once the clover starts to flourish, you can cut down on mowing by growing your clover lawn to three inches. You can always re-sow the clover lawn.