Are you tired of cursing at crabgrass and dueling with unwanted weeds? Do you dream of a beautiful yard that doesn't suck up hours of your precious spare time? It may be time to turf out that grass and put in a beautiful field of clover. Clover is a low-cost, low-maintenance field crop that's perfect for lawns, especially lawns in shady, poorly-drained and other problem areas. It chokes out weeds, thrives in dry conditions, puts nitrogen nutrients back into the soil, and most importantly it feeds the bees! So, don't cut it too soon, if at all!
1 Buy some clover seeds at your local nursery or lawn-care store. About $10 worth will be just enough for the average suburban lawn. Dutch clover is the more common type and has little white flowers. Because it is relatively low-growing, it is ideal for lawns. (Many people even find that repeat mowing during the season cause the flowers to simply grow shorter.) You may also be able to find red clover, which has red flowers ranging from light pink to shocking scarlet but tends to grow taller than white clover. Ask someone at your garden center for more information on how tall the variety they offer can get.
2 As soon as the ground is thawed in the spring, rake it relatively flat. It doesn't have to be perfect; the clover will cover up minor bumps and valleys.
Because clover is so hardy and adaptable, it can be sown at most times of the year provided that it won’t be threatened with frost. Another particularly good time to start the process is at least six weeks before the first frost of the fall; the roots will establish before the cold kicks in and the plants will get watered all fall and winter without any extra work on your part.
3 In a wheelbarrow, mix the seed with garden soil or tri-mix. (Clover will grow in almost any kind of dirt, so any reasonably clean fill will do.) Try to have about four seeds per square inch of soil. Three will fail to germinate, so you'll be left with the ideal one plant per inch.
4 With a shovel, evenly spread the mix over the ground. Make sure there are seeds everywhere.
5 Go back to where you started and cover the mix with 1/4 inch (0.6 cm) of plain (unseeded) soil. Spread thinly, as clover shoots can't break through more than 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) of earth.
6 Water the area gently using a fine spray nozzle. (A hard stream of water will wash the tiny seeds away.) Keep it moist for a week (don't let it dry out at all) and don't walk on it. In about two weeks, you'll have tiny two-bladed sprouts everywhere. That's the beginning of a perfect clover lawn.
- Mature clover is drought-resistant, but it will grow much better if it's watered once a week or so.
- Resist the temptation to hand-sow clover seeds. You'll end up with an uneven lawn. If you must re-seed patches, use the planting method above.
- To pass the time, look for 'lucky' four leaf clovers! There are many stories of patches of them growing together and if you find loads, they make brilliant gifts!
- Soak the seeds for an hour or so before mixing them with dirt and spreading.
- Consider Microclover®, developed specifically for lawns. It grows shorter, has smaller leaves, and has fewer flowers that are less attractive to bees. It can be seeded into existing lawns.
- Clover is a short-lived perennial, meaning that it will only reproduce itself for about two or three years. If you haven’t allowed it to self-seed (i.e. if you mow it every time it flowers so that it never gets a chance to produce seeds), you'll need to re-seed after that.
- Clover flowers attract bees. That can be a problem if you have young children that play in the lawn or have a family member who's allergic to bee stings. Stings are most likely when running barefoot through the lawn. Keeping the clover cut short helps but some of the clover plants will flower even then.
- Don't fertilize your clover with nitrogen. It fixes its own nitrogen and doesn't need any extra from you. Herbicides will also kill it, so just leave it alone.
- Dutch white clover grows to about 8 inches (20.3 cm) tall and then stops. If this is too tall and you decide to mow your clover, be warned that the clippings stick to everything and make a terrible mess. It may be better to just let it grow.
- Clover is not very resistant to heavy foot traffic. Put down slabs or stone pavers for people to walk on.