The Ultimate Guide to an Eco-Friendly Yard
There’s a new trend in lawns geared toward eco-friendly landscaping, and it’s quickly becoming the go-to option for many homeowners. However, if you’re looking for a lawn that requires less maintenance and is easier on your pocketbook, look no further than a clover lawn.
Clover vs Grass: Understanding the Differences
If someone asks you how “green” your lawn is, they might not be talking about the color. Lush green lawns are the ultimate goal of most homeowners, but they can be hard on the environment.
Like many, you may be considering switching to a clover yard because it’s more eco-friendly. Before you decide, it’s important to understand the differences between grass and clover lawns.
Grass Lawn Basics
Grass lawns are a popular choice because they enhance the appearance of outdoor spaces. They prevent dust and erosion, keep your yard cool in the summer, and provide a soft place for children to play.
Grass lawns require regular care to stay healthy and lush, including regular mowing, watering, and fertilizing, and they are the most common types of lawns.
Clover Lawn Fundamentals
Like grass lawns, clover lawns keep your yard cool and provide a place to enjoy outdoor activities. They are becoming increasingly popular because they are low-maintenance.
Clover as a ground cover requires less watering and mowing than traditional grass lawns.
Key Differences Between Grass and Clover Lawns
Your personal values and how you use your yard will help determine which type of lawn is right for you. Grass lawns hold up better to heavy traffic, and some people consider them more attractive.
Clover yards require less maintenance, less water, and fewer chemicals than traditional grass lawns, and they are more resistant to pests, weeds, and drought.
Why a Clover Lawn is Better Than a Grass Lawn
There are many reasons to love clover lawns, including environmental benefits, maintenance advantages, and aesthetic appeal.
Clover lawns shine when it comes to the environment.
While grass lawns require harsh chemicals and fertilizers to stay lush and green, clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant that pumps nutrients into the soil. So instead of competing with the other plants and trees in your yard, clover helps them grow.
Clover yards are better for the environment in almost every respect. They attract wildlife and beneficial pollinators, and because they take less water and energy to sustain, they are quickly gaining popularity as an eco-forward lawn choice.
One of the biggest advantages of clover lawn maintenance is that it doesn’t grow as fast as grass, which means less mowing. As a result, clover lawn care requires less water and fertilizer, and clover yards are less likely to be affected by pests and diseases.
In addition, clover as a ground cover doesn’t require chemicals, which saves time, money, and labor.
Clover lawns grow low to the ground and can make a neat, tidy lawn that’s aesthetically pleasing. Clover as a ground cover blooms when it’s not mowed during the summer, adding to its visual appeal.
The Many Benefits of a Clover Lawn
If lawn maintenance is a huge chore for you, learning about the benefits of a clover yard can be pretty exciting.
Grass lawns require an inch of water each week, usually spread over two to three waterings. Lawn clover requires far less water than grass, which translates to savings on your water bill and less time spent watering.
Grass lawns must be mowed every 4 to 10 days, but clover lawns only need to be mowed a few times a year.
The best clover variety for lawns is white clover, which grows about 2 to 8 inches tall. It is usually mowed mid-summer to deadhead the blossoms and then again about 4 to 6 weeks before it freezes.
Like all legumes, the deep root systems of clover plants enrich the soil with nitrogen , making them a great choice for organic lawns.
Legumes draw nitrogen from the air and pull it down into their roots. Their deep roots also help break up heavily compacted soils, benefiting your yard’s surrounding plants, trees, and shrubs.
Like grass, clover ground cover is less likely to be removed by weeds. As a result, you’ll spend less time and money using herbicides, which is better for the environment.
Attraction of Wildlife and Pollinators
Clover is an excellent forage crop, attracting wildlife to your yard, including deer, rabbits, and turkeys. Small rodents may choose to eat the clover in your grass rather than snack on the expensive plants in your flower bed.
Beneficial pollinators like bees, butterflies, and wasps love clover, so it’s particularly helpful when you have fruit trees.
Is a Clover Lawn Right for You?
For some people, moving from a grass lawn to clover ground cover is a big decision. How can you tell if a clover lawn is right for you if you’re on the fence?
Assessing Your Lawn Goals
Before the 1870s, lawns were only grown by wealthy people. That changed when the Industrial Revolution made lawnmowers available to everyone, and today, people typically grow lawns for their visual appeal.
However, lawns are important in other ways, like controlling dust, preventing erosion, reducing noise, and keeping yards cool in the summer.
If you’re considering switching to a clover yard, examine your reasons for growing a lawn. If clover can solve the same problems for less money, time, and resources, switching makes sense.
Switching to clover can have a big impact on the world around you.
With a clover lawn, you’ll use fewer resources, and you can eliminate harsh chemicals and fertilizers. In addition, your clover lawn will provide a habitat for wildlife and beneficial pollinators, which is something you can feel good about.
Budget and Maintenance Preferences
Your budget could be the biggest reason to switch to a clover lawn, especially if you are paying a lawn care service to mow your lawn every week. Consider these lawn maintenance savings:
- Switch from weekly mowing to less than four mowings per year.
- Zero fertilizer costs.
- Lower water bill.
- No chemicals and pesticides.
With clover, you get all the benefits of a lawn without harming the environment, and it will cost you less money.
How to Plant a Clover Lawn
The good news is that clover is easy to grow, germinates quickly, and thrives in poor soils.
Selecting the Right Clover Variety
There are over 250 species of clover in the Trifolium genus. While you can grow any type of clover in your yard, two popular varieties are used for their short-growth habit.
- White clover (Trifolium repens)–Also known as Dutch clover, white clover is the best clover variety for lawns. It is a short-lived perennial native to Europe and Asia that has naturalized in many parts of the United States. It spreads quickly via rhizomes and reseeding.
- Microclover (Trifolium repens var. ‘Pirouette’ and ‘Pipolina)–A smaller variety of white clover has become trendy. With dainty leaves and small delicate flowers, microclover is less aggressive than Dutch clover.
Both of these types of clover for lawns are low-growing and require less frequent mowing than grass. Microclover does better in sunny areas, produces fewer blooms, and can be mowed shorter, but it turns brown in the winter.
They are best grown in combination with turfgrass to provide better ground cover that can withstand heavy foot traffic.
Choose a Planting Method
Transitioning to a clover lawn is easy using one of these methods:
- Overseed an established lawn–Planting clover in existing grass is the easiest way to add clover to your lawn. Mow your lawn short, remove excess thatch, and throw seed on your lawn.
- Plant a new clover lawn–Once you plant clover, you won’t be able to use broadleaf herbicides, so it’s best to get rid of as many weeds as possible before planting a new clover lawn.
Preparing the Soil
To plant a new clover lawn, till the soil at least 4 to 6 weeks before planting. Water to encourage weeds to sprout, and a day or two before planting, rake it smooth and remove any weeds.
Seeding and Establishment
Clover seed is very small, and mixing it with something is helpful to ensure even distribution. You can mix it with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, compost, sand, sawdust, or lime.
When seeding clover in large areas, choose a broadcast or hand spreader with very fine settings. Consider spreading it by hand or using a small condiment shaker for small areas.
Before planting, inoculate your clover seed with Rhizobium bacteria to ensure it can fix nitrogen in the soil. Some brands of clover seeds are pre-inoculated, but you can also purchase an inoculant and do it yourself.
Care and Maintenance Tips
Clover sprouts quickly, usually within 2 to 3 days. Keep it moist by watering lightly. You want the ground to be wet, but you don’t want the seed to wash away.
Your newly planted clover ground cover may only need mowing for a few weeks. Continue to provide moisture as needed, and wait until your lawn is at least 3 inches tall before mowing.
Some clover varieties do not flower until the second year, and it’s helpful to allow your clover to go to seed so it can remain established in your lawn.
The Pros and Cons of a Clover Lawn
When it comes to clover in your lawn, you have three choices, and each option has advantages and disadvantages.
- Treat clover as a weed in your grass lawn and try to eradicate it,
- Grow clover instead of grass, or
- Grow a combination of grass and clover.
Advantages of Clover Lawns
Up until the 1950s, it was common to have clover in your lawn mix. However, with the advent of broadleaf herbicides, many people started treating clover as a weed instead of taking advantage of its benefits.
Clover and grass make excellent companion plants. Clover in lawns benefits grass by adding nitrogen, improving the health of the soil, reducing water requirements, providing shade, and loosening compacted soils.
Potential Drawbacks and Solutions
There are a few disadvantages that you should know about if you’re trying to grow a 100% clover lawn.
First, you’ll have a battle on your hands because grass and weeds will still try to show up, and you can’t use broadleaf herbicides. Clover is less tolerant of foot traffic than grass, and if your clover fails, there isn’t anything to fall back on.
It can be just as challenging to grow a clover monoculture lawn as it is to grow a grass lawn without any clover. White clover lawns often die in the winter, exposing your ground during heavy spring rains.
Because it’s less aggressive than grass, a Dutch clover lawn can become patchy and clumpy. Grown together, both plants benefit.
Clover as an Eco-Friendly Landscaping Trend
Municipalities all over the United States are struggling with a water crisis. In many regions, it’s no longer possible to grow large expanses of grass lawns.
Clover has become a preferred option as people continue to look for eco-friendly lawn alternatives.
The Rise of Sustainable Gardening
More people see the value of sustainable gardening and environmentally friendly lawn care practices.
Not only are grass lawns expensive to maintain, but they contribute to greenhouse gases, pollution, and decreased biodiversity. Sustainable landscaping with clover solves problems like water shortages, pesticide use, and lawn pollution.
How Clover Lawns Support Eco-Friendly Landscaping
The problem with grass lawns is that they reduce biodiversity. In ecology, biodiversity helps sustain the delicate balance of nature.
Growing clover grass supports the environment by providing wildlife habitat and promoting soil health and fertility, allowing a diverse population of species to thrive. It also means you can stop using pollutants like herbicides and fertilizers.
Other Environmentally-Friendly Lawn Alternatives
Reducing the amount of space in your yard dedicated to grass lawns can mean big savings for your pocketbook and the environment. In combination with unique clover lawn design ideas, consider these eco-friendly alternatives to grass lawns:
- Ground covers
- Native plants
- Vegetable gardens
- Rain gardens
- Artificial turf
- Ornamental grasses
- Perennial flower beds
With the right landscaping design, creating an eco-friendly yard that’s just as inviting as a large expanse of grass is possible.
Frequently Asked Questions About Clover Lawns
Is Clover Invasive?
Clover is an invasive plant that spreads through seeds and rhizomes. While some clover species are more invasive than others, it has been declared an invasive species in some parts of the United States.
How Long Does It Take for a Clover Lawn to Establish?
Clover germinates more easily than grass, and within two to three days of planting, you’ll start to see clover sprouts. How long it takes to fully establish will depend on several factors, including the weather, soil pH, water, and the time of year.
However, you can usually start mowing newly planted clover grass within six weeks of planting.
Can I Mix Clover and Grass in My Lawn?
Grass grows well mixed with clover; both plants benefit when grown together. Clover adds nitrogen to your soil and won’t choke out your grass.
Do Clover Lawns Attract Bees and Other Insects?
Clover attracts bees, wasps, and other insects, which can be a drawback if you are allergic. However, many of these important insects are facing declining numbers due to reduced habitat and pesticide use, making lawn clover an eco-friendly alternative.
Are Clover Lawns Pet-Friendly?
There are several reasons why clover lawns are a pet-friendly alternative to grass lawns. Clover is non-toxic and requires fewer harsh chemicals.
Because it has deep roots, clover as a ground cover will stand up to pet urine better than grass.
Can Clover Lawns Handle Foot Traffic?
Clover doesn’t tolerate foot traffic as well as grass, but it can still handle moderate activity. If you plan to use clover for your lawn, consider having well-defined paths. Use mulch in high-traffic areas, like around play structures and outdoor furniture.
How Do I Control Weeds in My Clover Lawn?
It’s best to kill weeds thoroughly before you plant clover by properly preparing the soil. Because of its vigorous growth and deep roots, clover competes more successfully with weeds than grass, but if they become a problem, use a selective clover as a ground cover herbicide that won’t kill the clover.
What is the Best Time to Plant a Clover Lawn?
Clover germinates in very cool soils, 38°F to 42°F (3°C to 5°C), and the best time to plant is in the early spring.