On the virtues of Clover....and hand weeding

Author: Susan Harris

clover as fertilizerYou may be surprised to learn that not long ago, most commercial lawn seed mixes included a healthy proportion of clover seeds. Why?  Because clover is a source of fertilizer, transforming nitrogen that's in the air into nitrogen that plants can use.  It was also prized for its pretty white or purple blooms that feed pollinating bees and small, non-stinging, aphid-eating wasps.  Not to mention that four-leaf clovers are icons of good luck.

Then in the 1930s the U.S. military developed the weedkiller that's now the bestseller worldwide - 2,4-D - as a method of starving enemy troops.  The lawn-care company Scotts then discovered that it kills broadleaf weeds like crabgrass but not turfgrasses, so they acquired it and promoted it heavily as the key to weed-free lawns. Trouble is, it also kills clover, so Scotts turned on a dime and declared clover to be an unsightly weed after all.  Before long that attitude became conventional wisdom and perfect, single-species lawns came to be regarded as the ideal.

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These days organic gardening experts like TV's Roger Swain are singing the praises of clover.  He urges readers to add clover to their lawns, and to use an old-fashioned, time-proven technique for removing unwanted weeds - by hand.

So what about hand-weeding?  I actually enjoy the time I spend hand-weeding, especially if my MP3 player is loaded and ready to go.  And wow, what a difference a little bit of weeding can make in a garden's overall appearance.  I'm no fan of back-breaking labor though, and one way to protect your back is to use another old-fashioned gardening tool - the hoe.  Hoes make quick work of weeds, and you can even avoid bending down by simply leaving the plucked weeds on the ground to dry and compost in place.  But if you do weed down at ground level, take a break after 30 minutes - or call it a day, like I do. 

Clover as turfgrass replacement?
The people at Less Lawn.org are also big fans of clover and even suggest it as a replacement for common turgrasses like tall fescue and bluegrass.  They note that compared to traditional turfgrasses, clover needs far less water, stays green during hot dry spells, and needs no mowing at all.  And unlike thymes and other plants suggested as lawn replacements, clover is super-cheap, costing only about a dollar to cover 1,000 square feet.  It can even handle some foot traffic and play, though not as much as turfgrasses can handle.

Any down side at all?   
If you've got kids, or you're a grown-up who still loves walking barefoot on the grass, there's just one down side to clover - getting stung by those wonderful pollinating bees.  So for the few weeks of bloom, step carefully or wear your garden clogs.

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Susan Harris

Susan is a Gardening Coach, GardenRant blogger, Master Gardener, garden writer, and activist for urban and suburban greening. She is an active writer and contributer to the gardening community.
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