The Clover Conundrum

When I was designing my garden last year, one of the easier decisions was to use white clover as a ground cover in the footpaths. There were numerous reasons why it was the logical choice:

-seed is readily available and pretty cheap
-it can withstand foot traffic
-it provides shelter for insects and other critters
-its flowers attract bees
-it fixes nitrogen (which admittedly isn’t a big deal for foot paths)
-since I cut it regularly to prevent it from taking over the yard, it provides a steady supply of green manure that I can use in my vegetable beds

I remember the early days when the clover was just germinating, when I worried if it was going to make it or not. Ha ha. A year later I’m wondering if, despite the aforementioned benefits, if planting clover was a mistake.

The main problem is that it so tenacious and invasive, creeping from the paths through the garden into all of the beds. One of the tenets of permaculture and forest gardening that I initially scoffed was that well-designed systems require little human intervention, i.e. weeding. But I love toiling in the sun and digging in the dirt, and this ideal seemed kind of lazy to me. At least as far as white clover is concerned, I’m changing my tune. This stuff is a major pain in the ass.

I’ve stunted its progress for the moment, but the weather hasn’t even gotten that warm yet and it’s already growing like, ahem, a weed. For now, I mow it with an electric mower every two weeks, which dices up the new growth for easy sprinkling into the veggie beds, while avoiding the roots, which would just dig an and start growing if I put them anywhere. I then go around the edges of all the beds manually, to the spaces that were too tight for the mower, and cut them manually.

It does look cool when it’s under control.

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Diced clover — does anyone know if just using the leaves will provide nitrogen to the soil, or do you need to get the roots with all the nodules on them to realise any benefit? At any rate, lots of green matter going into the soil.

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I’m letting it go to town around the pond for now. I’d like to plant something else there eventually, but the soil is pure clay and the clover must be helping improve it in the meantime.

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So the jury is still out on clover. I hope my current maintenance strategy works out because clover has a lot of upside. Another option is to put some kind of rhizome barrier around all of the beds…in the entire yard. The only thing that might be more of a pain in the ass than doing that is ripping up all of the clover to replace with something else. But I do like a good project, so catch me in the right mood and either of those options might be appealing.

For now, we’re edging towards summer and all the green, not just the clover, is taking over.

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2 thoughts on “The Clover Conundrum

  1. I will always remember what my parents told me when they did something silimar. Never use a ground cover which can take over the whole garden as the up keep is too much. There was a nice ground cover I found which was invasive but was hard to grow to get a nice even ground coverage.

    1. I’ve established a nice equilibrium using the electric mower and a weed wacker, so I’m back in the ‘pro-clover’ department now.

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