Valley Permaculture Alliance

Growing a clover lawn from scratch

My husband and I bought a 1926 house a few years ago and are finally getting to landscaping the backyard. It had been used mainly as a parking lot for the last 10+ years before we bought the house and was a dusty lot with chain link fences and a wobbly block wall on one side. We planted a tree in the back when we first moved in, but it wasn’t until November that we decided to take the plunge into trying to do something with the rest of the parking lot. I wanted low-water use landscaping (despite my choice of a Ficus tree – that is for big shade, eventually), so I decided to try out a clover lawn. Clover is a legume (nitrogen-fixer), so it won’t require fertilizer if we mulch the clippings into the lawn. There is a fair amount of information on growing clover in more temperate parts of the country, but not too much for the low desert, so it was a bit of an experiment.

I decided on using strawberry clover, which is more drought and heat tolerant than the white clover that is used for lawns in most of the rest of the country. Since we were starting with a completely barren area, it was also going to need inoculant to provide the bacteria that live in the roots of clover (rhizomes) and actually do the nitrogen-fixing. I ordered the seed and the inoculant from Peaceful Valley (www.groworganic.com) – about $10 for the seed and $5 for the inoculant.

My husband did most of the actual work to prepare the area for planting (he’s an archaeologist, so fairly experienced with a pick and shovel…). First we cleared off the pea gravel, then he used the pick to break up the compacted ground to a depth of about 18 inches and turned it all over. (Just one sentence, but it took him about 5 whole days of hard labor! Thanks honey!)


Next we got a couple pick up loads of OMNI compost from Gro-Well/Western Organics, Inc. near the 27th Ave. Transfer Station in Phoenix (they make the compost from green waste from the transfer station) – about $40-$50 per load (http://www.dexknows.com/business_profiles/gro-well___western_organics-b635292; 866-968-2203). Josh rototilled the compost into the soil and leveled the area, then used a roller barrel to compact it and leveled it again.


I mixed the seed with the inoculant. I used a mixture of water and corn syrup 1:10 to help with this, but since the seed was already “rhizocoated” – coated with a mixture of clay and inoculant, it got pretty messy. The corn syrup is supposed to provide food for the bacteria while the seeds germinate. When I added more seed later, I just mixed the seed and inoculant without any liquid and that worked fine. Then we added the seed-inoculant mixture to a half wheelbarrow of compost and added some sand. The sand is important because it lets you see where you have put the seeds – otherwise they just blend into the compost and you can’t tell how evenly you’ve spread them. Clover seeds are really small, so it’s important to mix them into some soil or compost or they will spread really unevenly and give you a really patchy lawn. We divided the wheelbarrow of seeds and compost roughly into quarters to put it on the lawn area. After the seed mixture was spread, we went back and covered it with a light layer of compost (1/8” to 1/4”).


When the seeds started to germinate, we saw that the lawn was pretty patchy despite our best efforts. We were using sprinklers to water it every morning, but it turned out that it needed more than 20 minutes of sprinkling each day to get good germination. It took about 1 week to see the first seeds germinate and about 3 weeks before all of them had started. They were also germinating more in slightly lower spots in the soil (you could kind of see the rake marks). The seeds had clumped together from being mixed with the water/corn syrup and we got some really dense little “bouquets” coming up. (Please ignore the half falling down block wall and trellis in the back of the photo – that wind storm in December took it out. Guess what our next project is…)


After 4 weeks, we realized that we needed to add more seed to get an even lawn. Josh had sculpted the dirt under the tilled part to make a bit of a bowl shape to encourage water to run into the area with the tree roots and to make a bit of a retention basin in the yard. The rototilled soil had settled with the watering – not too much clover was growing in the slightly higher areas. I decided to order a few different types of clover to mix in to see if some of it would be happier in those areas. I got a different variety of strawberry clover (Palestine instead of O’Connors) and New Zealand white clover this time and another packet of inoculant (just in case). That cost another $30. We raked the bare areas and planted the new seeds, this time supplementing with hand watering in the higher areas. It worked! We now have a fairly dense lawn of clover with just a few bare spots left that I am sure will fill in now that they have clover growing all around them.


We got a push mower on Craigslist ($25) and Josh mowed the lawn – he said it was pretty tough the first time when the clover was taller, but easier when he did again a couple days later. Since the clover had grown so densely in some places, there were a lot of stems showing after that first round of mowing (yellow instead of green), but after a week or so, leaves were growing back in those areas and it has turned into a nice, fairly even green lawn that our dogs are loving (sorry, forgot to take the last picture)! And a lot less dust is coming off the old parking lot. Now we just need to get a new fence, a couple brick paths put in, and a ramada, and we’ll have a finished back yard .


I have heard that clover can be seeded into Bermuda grass lawns and it will eventually overtake the Bermuda. The strawberry clover varieties I used were developed for sheep grazing and cover crops in orchards that are mowed occasionally – they are supposed to develop roots up to 5 feet deep! That is deeper than Bermuda grass roots, so it can outcompete the grass over time. I heard that with 2 years of just broadcasting seed into the Bermuda lawn, a woman was able to mostly replace the grass with clover without doing the work of removing the grass first.

Project cost:

2 loads of compost $90
1 lb. O’Connors strawberry clover 10
1 lb. Palestine strawberry clover 10
1 lb. New Zealand white clover 10
2 packets clover inoculant 10
Shipping 10
Renting rototiller and barrel roller 90
Mower 25
Water ?
Total $255 plus about 12 days of labor
(including all of the weekends in November)

Views: 15913

Comment

You need to be a member of Valley Permaculture Alliance to add comments!

Join Valley Permaculture Alliance

Comment by Kris G on November 14, 2013 at 6:57am
Update: the lawn is still going strong. It stays green but growth slows a lot in the winter so it doesn't need mowing. We added in-ground sprinklers and had to reseed where the trenches were dug and we've added a little seed and topdressed with compost every other spring. Our dogs did start to wear a path in it at one point so we blocked that area off to let it recover for a couple months. I still highly recommend it! A landscape architect I know is looking at adding clover or Mimosa strigillosa (another legume with pink flowers) as a nitrogen fixing ground cover in a rose garden.
Comment by Charles Lucking on November 13, 2013 at 3:37pm

Soooooooo - any updates on the clover?  Did it last the several winters and summers since it went in?

Comment by Leanne de Guerrero on September 4, 2012 at 11:23pm

Thanks for all the detailed info on your project.  You inspired me and I spent 5 days digging over my garden and sowed the seeds yesterday. 

 

Now that your clover is established how much water do you have to give it? Do you have to water it every day?

Comment by Heather Green on August 24, 2012 at 7:38am

This might be a silly question, but is clover safe for cats? My cat likes to eat grass in the morning. 

Comment by Kris G on June 7, 2012 at 9:48am
The strawberry clover and white clover we used don't produce burrs (the little sticker balls). They are both species of Trifolium. We used one called Palestine Strawberry clover (http://www.groworganic.com/palestine-strawberry-clover-rhizocoated-...) and New Zealand white clover (http://www.groworganic.com/new-zealand-white-clover-rhizocoated-lb....).
Comment by Clay Emrick Frankel on April 13, 2011 at 11:24pm
Question.. does clover always seed into those spurry balls that stick onto my dog?
Comment by Rose Ann on June 4, 2010 at 5:54pm
Well, perhaps clover is not a good replacement for the grass. I didn't want to mow it. Don't want gravel, want to keep it the coolest and comfortable. Any suggestions that are better? I am new to this blogging and the site, and I am loving all of the wonderful exchange of such good information. Thanks so much.
Comment by Monica on June 4, 2010 at 1:18pm
We planted red clover in December and it did grow. I didn't realize it would create painful stickers though. THis is the first summer and so far the clover all died and the bermuda did not come back. So, now we have dirt with burrs. I am thinking of trying to replace the red clover with white clover. Does the white clover have burrs?
Comment by Rose Ann on June 4, 2010 at 12:04pm
Great Post and Info. I have been considering something called "Walk on Me" clover. I'm wondering how it would do here in Phoenix. It is supposed to be stronger than the bermuda, and will take over. I thought that it would be good in my garden paths. Supposedly don't have to mow, and smells nice when walked on. Good to know of the deep roots.

As for dog urine, I am told that putting about a tablespoon of tomatoe juice in the dog food daily would neutralize the urine. I don't know, as I have 3 large ones, and just accept it.
Comment by Kris G on June 3, 2010 at 9:02pm
Update on over the winter: the clover did great. It slowed down a lot; I think we only mowed it once or twice between November and February, but it stayed nice and green. We saw more white flowers in the cooler time of the year and more red in the hotter time, but now there are a lot of pink flowers and only a few white or red. We haven't added any fertilizers and it is still going strong. Forgot to take a picture before it got dark tonight!

© 2014   Created by Valley Permaculture Admin.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service