A Yard Full of Clover
By: Julie Day
There’s a patch of clover in my parents’ yard that has been there as long as I can remember. It’s proved impossible to kill, although I don’t think any of us have tried too hard. You see, this special clover patch is legendary for its production of four-leaf clovers, and we all think it’s more fun to find them than it is to have a perfect lawn.
While visiting this past Mother’s Day, my mom quickly spotted these with her eagle eyes – the same eyes that always caught me thinking about misbehaving and always spotted my lost hair barrettes when I was late for school. She’s always been the best at finding them!
Even in my own yard, it’s really hard not to like clover. It doesn’t need much mowing and makes a great low-maintenance ground cover. It’s soft as velvet, attracts bees (not so good if you walk barefoot), has pretty white flowers, and is responsible for yummy clover honey.
Up until the 1950s, clover seed was a standard addition to lawn grass seed. It’s only recently that we started viewing it as a problem in the yard, although it’s enjoying a growing popularity as an organic lawn alternative.
Don’t Lose Sleep Clover It
If you don’t want clover in your yard, rather than seeking out the right thing to kill it, your best defense is to understand why it’s there. Clover grows in nitrogen-poor soil. Like other legumes, clover absorbs nitrogen from the air, so it doesn’t need it from the soil. Lawn grasses do need nitrogen from the soil, so clover is a red flag letting you know your lawn grass is starving.
In your yard, low nitrogen levels might be caused by:
- Poor soil: Do a soil test to determine levels of nitrogen and other nutrients. Improve your soil quality by aerating and top-dressing with good-quality compost mix. You may need to repeat this for a few years until the soil is in better shape. Be sure to test different areas of soil, since the clover patch may be different from the rest of the yard.
- Low Nutrients: Feed your lawn with an organic slow-release fertilizer that will improve your soil as it breaks down. Chemical fertilizers quickly leach away and eventually make the problem worse.
- Over Irrigation: Water leaches nitrogen away, so heavy rains, overwatering, and overlapping sprinkler patterns can create inviting spots for clover.
- Cool Temperatures: If spring weather has been cool, soil microbes might not be active enough to move available nitrogen into your lawn grass, giving clover a head start in the growing season.
Do what you can to correct these problems before putting much energy into removing the clover. You can then pull it by hand or choose a weed killer labeled for clover.
Research has shown that regular applications of corn gluten meal can significantly reduce clover infestations. The corn gluten prevents new clover seeds from germinating while also breaking down to add nitrogen to the soil. While not as fast as a commercial weed killer (it won’t kill the existing clover), this organic choice feeds your lawn grass and discourages the clover at the same time.