I remember reading a few years back that grass seed mixtures, up until 50 years ago, always contained a percentage of white clover (Trifolium repens, also known as Dutch clover). The chemical companies that developed herbicides managed to persuade lawn growers that seeing white clover in their lawns was a bad thing, and consequently, the seed suppliers began to produce mixtures that had no white clover. Which of course made the chemical companies very happy, because now not only were they selling herbicides, because of course, white clover will inevitably invade your lawn without herbicides, but they also had a new target customer for their nitrogen-rich chemical fertilizers. As you will now see…
I’m sure you enjoyed reading my last post about legumes and nodules and nitrogen fixing. Well this post is Part B: the benefits of clover in your lawn.
Clover is a legume, and hence, its little rhizobiums (that would be “rhizobia”) are busy gathering nitrogen from the air (do you remember nitrogen accounts for 78% of air!) and transferring it in a plant-usable form to the soil. Hence nitrogen-fixing. Now you probably know that grass–that is, lawn turf–is hungry for nitrogen, as are most of our green leafy plants. So when we lost white clover from our grass seed mixtures, there was nothing to add nitrogen to the soil, and hungry little grass plants removing nitrogen from the soil. Nitrogen deficit. Not good. Now weeds really will love to invade, and we end up using either herbicides or elbow grease to get rid of them. But if we sow white clover in the lawn, we have nitrogen added, and a little apparently goes a long easy. I read that if you’re sowing a new lawn, your clover-to-grass ratio should be 1:15 by weight. That’s not much clover. Your grass doesn’t need added chemical fertilizer, they’re happy co-existing with the few clover plants, and because the soil is in better condition, (of course assuming you’re doing all the other things that make your lawn happy), weeds will find the environment inhospitable. (Weeds in general prefer poor compacted soil to rich airy soil.)
So that’s the first benefit–rich soil.
Green Green Green
The second benefit (and I’m sure there are a lot more, but I only know of these two) is that white clover is much more drought tolerant than grass. Which, face it, is a very thirsty plant (hungry and thirsty), needing at least 1″ of water once or twice a week. Or you can do as I do, let it go dormant in the summer drought months–usually late July to early September here in Metro Vancouver–and tolerate a brown lawn. Or you can sow white clover, and have a green lawn all summer long with little or no added water.
So get out there and sow some white clover! But a few important notes:
Clover flowers are very tasty to bees or all sorts, (another benefit!), so if you’re allergic to bee stings, I highly recommend mowing your lawn whenever there are flowers.
And your clover plants will die out after two or three years, so you’ll need to overseed from time to time. But you may already be overseeding every fall anyway, so just make sure you’ve got some Trifolium repens in the mix.