The ideal “monoculture” lawn, sparkling with dew. Photo: J. McInnis

Lawns are an American obsession, and the most common form of garden activity in the U.S. Even yards with no trees, shrubs or flowers almost without exception have some form of lawn. And they are big business:

+ As of 2004, the annual value of the U.S. turf grass industry was $35 billion.

+ Total acres of turf in the U.S. is estimated to be 46.5 million acres.

+ Over 25 million acres of lawn are tended in the US equals a land mass greater than that of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

+ As a seed crop in the U.S., turfgrass ranks # 2.

+ Nationally, homeowners spend $6.4 billion per year on lawn care.

(Source: The Lawn Institute)

As is evident from the numbers above, the turf grass industry has done a superb job of capitalizing on homeowners’ quest for that perfect expanse of lawn.  It has also been instrumental in shifting fashion to a high-maintenance, intensively managed landscape.

Dutch White Clover Photo: J. McInnis

This wasn’t always so. Before WWII, Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens) was a staple component of lawn seed mixes. As a member of the legume family, clover possesses that clan’s unique ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen to the benefit of the surrounding turf. At the urging of the companies who produced chemical fertilizers and other lawn-care products, tastes began to trend toward the more uniform look of a grass-only monoculture that we see today.

DWC is now generally regarded as a weed, and most literature available discusses its eradication. Maintenance of a monoculture lawn, with heavy applications of nitrogen and broadleaf-weed herbicides, is incompatible with the cultivation of clover. The lawn-obsessed may be disappointed that with a clover-mix lawn there is less to do!

Clover In Lawns

Clover performs best in a pH range that is compatible with the cultivation of turf grasses (6.2-6.8), but withstands New England’s acidic soil conditions very well. Tolerant of diseases and insect pests, it withstands foot traffic and mowing. The relatively weak stolons of clover combine with the roots of turf grass in a symbiotic relationship that stabilizes soil and prevent erosion in poorer soils. Clover will grow in shade and may dominate where lawn grasses struggle. Once established, it is fairly drought resistant. It’s tough.

White clover is classified into three growing types: low, intermediate and large.  ‘Wild White’ or ‘Dutch White’ are best for lawns, with their ability to tolerate foot traffic and mowing. (The taller varieties are used in agriculture as cover crops, living mulch and forage.)

Benefits of Clover

For those who prefer the easier care of a clover-turfgrass mix lawn, there are benefits in addition to nitrogen fixing. Clover is an excellent forage for pollinators, providing both pollen and nectar to bees. Fruit growers report increased production in crops grown in proximity to or with a groundcover of clover. (In agriculture, the taller types of clover are used.)

Aesthetics

Environmental and cultural advantages aside, the decision to include white clover in a lawn is a matter of individual taste. The bands of creamy-white blossoms, buzzing with the activity of bees, that appear in spring are a welcome sight to some gardeners, who may even go one step further and introduce bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), adding a dash of blue to the mix. For those who wish for a lawn maintenance regime that consists of nothing more than mowing, white clover is definitely the way to go.

J. McInnis