Why choose to add clover?
Clover is a great choice in Manitoba because it thrives in the clay and silt based soils present here. It is well adapted to the climate here and will take to your yard readily. You can add seed over your present lawn and let it take over gradually (you may also simultaneously reseed the grass if you want), achieving a mixture of grass and clover, or you can tear up the existing grass and have a full clover lawn. Below is a summary of the benefits adding clover to your lawn will provide:
- Low maintenance alternative to grasses
- Fixes nitrogen into the soil, reducing need for fertilizer and increasing the health of the surrounding soil and plants
- Flowers are very beneficial for local bee population
- Grows slowly and requires less mowing (sometimes none depending on your preference!)
- Outcompetes other less desirable broadleaf plants and keeps your yard more naturally weed free
- Attracts bugs that eat common pests like aphids
- Once established, stays green longer in drought conditions
- Helps to break up compacted soil, reducing the need to manually aerate, and allowing air, moisture and beneficial microbes to penetrate deeper, keeping your yard nice and healthy.
- No more dog spots! Clover doesn’t react to dog urine like grass does.
- Hours of enjoyment looking for four leaf clovers!
For best results a mixture of grass and clover is ideal. If you go with a pure clover lawn it will not be as long lasting and you will have to reseed more often, in order to get the cover and density that you want. As a general rule, the more biodiversity in your lawn the better. Look for grass seed that is native to Manitoba, this will include varieties of fescue and ryegrass. Eco Lawn is an excellent locally produced option that uses grasses that are well suited to the climate and will be more drought resistant than non-native varieties.
White clover is the most commonly used type of clover in urban yards. It grows 4-8 inches when left uncut. Generally, when mowed, its maximum height will get gradually shorter, reducing the need to mow as the season goes on. It also tends to grow at a slower rate in the summer time so you can just sit back, relax and enjoy. The seeds can be found at most basic garden centers and tend to be very inexpensive.
Another option, popular in Europe and gaining popularity in North America is Microclover. Microclover is a newly developed type of white clover that has been bred to grow much shorter, reaching a max height of only 4 inches and tending to flower far less. This is favoured in lawns using a mixture of grass and clover seed as it blends in better with the grass and can tolerate being mowed shorter. This tends to be harder to find as it is a relatively new concept in lawn care. As a result it is generally more expensive than normal white clover seed however, if you’re eager to have as close to a traditional looking turf as possible this may be worth it.
How to seed:
The best time to seed is in the early spring, after the last frost. You can prepare your lawn by raking up the thatch layer and getting rid of all the dead grass blocking the soil from getting water and sun. When raking you want to be as aggressive as possible, scarring the earth and loosening it up. Late summer or early fall is also ok, but some of the less established plants may not be hardy enough to survive the winter. In this case you may end up having to reseed in the spring to see the cover you desire.
If you’ve chosen to go with a mixture of grass and clover its best to sow them separately, to get a more even distribution of clover amongst the grass. Most seed bags will come with instructions but generally you need about 1lb of white clover seed for 1000 ft sq.. You’ll get a more even distribution if you seed by hand but this can be tedious, depending on the size of your lawn. If you are using a broadcast seeder to spread the seeds you’ll want to mix them in top soil and distribute that way. A recommended ratio is 1 part seed to 10 parts soil, evenly mixed and distributed over the yard. Clover seeds do best in ¼ inch of soil, so aim for that thickness when applying to your yard. Make sure to use a topsoil that is not fertilized with nitrogen as clover provides that all on its own.
After you’ve seeded you want to keep the ground moist for 7-14 days, or until they’ve germinated and emerged from the soil. For this reason it is not ideal to seed in the middle of summer, as a lot of the water will evaporate and you will end up using far more than would be necessary in spring or fall.
Watering – After the seedlings have established you can water your lawn 1-2 times a week, making sure to water early in the morning and let it get fully saturated. Generally it will require about 3 inches of water per week. Always water deep, this means watering less frequently but for longer periods of time. This allows water to sink further into the soil and encourages the roots to push deeper down, leading to a more resilient plant.
Mowing – Let the newly established plants grow to at least 4 inches before mowing, the longer you let it go the better the plants will establish. Depending on what you want from your yard you can let it flower or cut it before it buds. If using white clover you should be able to mow it every 2-3 weeks and achieve a consistent length, even less if using microclover.
Remember when you do decide to mow make sure your blades are sharp, never cut more than 1/3 of the plant, and always leave the clippings! Also, using a push mower is the ideal way to go.
Other things to remember:
Clover can be quite aggressive and it will spread if not contained. Make sure you either get your neighbours on board with introducing some clover into their yards or put up a barrier separating your yard from theirs. It is recommended that edging be put in that is at least 10 cm below and above ground, the deeper into the soil the better. Clover produces runners that allow it to spread above the soil.