Clover is easily established by broadcasting seed.

Is Clover an Alternative Ground Cover?

by Brian Barth

Clovers (Trifolium spp.) are a large group of annual and perennial plants that includes the small, white-flowered species commonly seen in lawns. This variety, known as "dutch white" clover (Trifolium repens) is an excellent ground cover and lawn alternative for U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 9. These are the plants that occasionally produce the lucky four leaf clover.

1. Clover Lawns

Dutch white clover grows to only 4 to 6 inches in height and tolerates moderate foot traffic, making it a suitable alternative to grass lawns. It can be mowed for a more close-cropped appearance or left to grow as a lush ground cover. The fragrant white flowers bloom throughout the growing season, but they do attract bees, so caution is in order for children playing or going barefoot on a clover lawn.

2. Mixed with Grass

On its own, clover does not form a uniform lawn like grass, but naturally develops thicker clumps in some areas and may thin out altogether in others. However, it is commonly planted in combination with grass seed, which evens out its appearance and provides a pleasing contrast to the round clover leaves. Clover is also incorporated in lawns because it has the ability to accumulate nitrogen and make it available to the grass, reducing or eliminating the need to fertilize.

3. Ornamental Varieties

Beside the common white clover, there are ornamental cultivars that can be grown as a small-scale ground cover. "Dark Dancer" is a selection with chocolate-colored foliage on greens stems. It grows 2 to 4 inches in height and 10 to 12 inches in diameter. "Dragon's Blood" has green-and-white variegated foliage with splatters of deep red color along the leaf veins. These grow well in full or partial sun and can be massed to from an extensive carpet or used singly to provide contrast in a flower bed or rock garden.

4. Planting

Ornamental varieties can be purchased in the bedding plants section at garden centers and planted in spring. They perform best when planted in beds amended with compost and grown in the same way as annual flowers. Dutch white clover is best grown from seed, which needs to be planted in fall or spring when daytime temperatures are in the 6- to 75-degree range and nights stay above freezing. If kept moist, the seed germinates easily in seven to 10 days and can be seeded directly into an existing lawn or into soil that has been tilled or loosened by hand.

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