Clover as ground cover in Longmont?
Hi Tony, My home has about 2000 ft.² of front and back lawn which has effectively been destroyed by years of drought and lack of constant care (we’ve been dealing with medical issues that pushed lawn care to the bottom of the heap). We would like to do something with it that is as low-maintenance as possible without simply replacing it with rocks or mulch, and we are investigating the possibilities in native grasses or other ground cover that will require minimal watering and maintenance. Our soil is extremely compacted, almost clay, and what little grass we have left is fighting for its life against various weed species. Dandelions and bindweed are the ones that worry us the most. Recently we have taken an interest in a discussion of clover as ground cover. In many ways, it seems ideal, being a relatively aggressive weed that won’t need much cultivation, is easy to keep under control heightwise, lets us skip the herbicides, and feels and smells good underfoot. Being able to help support honeybees is a nice extra. However, we have a lot of questions about this approach. First and foremost, since clover is easily destroyed by herbicides, we have the potential for being overrun by bindweed, and we don’t have a good feel for whether or not the clover would be able to fight back against it. Dandelions pose a similar problem. On the one hand, we really hate how ugly our lawn is. On the other hand, doing a lot of weeding and pulling by hand throughout the hot months isn’t a good option for us. I realize there isn’t a magic bullet for this sort of thing, but would clover, native grass, or some combination of the two result in a lawn that would be relatively hearty and require little In the way of watering and weeding? Many thanks for any help you can give, from a pair of home owners with really brown thumbs! ;)
Boulder County Colorado
Yes, clover can work as an alternative lawn. I recently wrote an article on this topic, which you can find on page 4 of this online publication:
Before seeding, it will be ESSENTIAL to kill the weeds currently growing there. This can be done using glyphosate (Roundup) or via solarization (covering the area with clear plastic and "baking" the soil and weeds for 4-6 weeks). After the weeds have been killed, do NOT stir up the soil before seeding the clover - because this will create an entire new crop of weeds by stirring up the weed seeds in the soil.
Let me know if you have any other questions.
Thank you so much for the response, Tony. I am now wondering if clover is the best choice for our lawn, as we have some of the right conditions (e.g. direct sun blasting down) but not others (we were hoping that something that didn't need very much watering). Also, I'm still wondering about what to do if other weeds like bindweed or dandelions get established alongside the clover... I assume they'd need to be pulled by hand since we can't just spray those?
As with any lawn grass or ground cover, you will need water to get it established. While clover has fairly good drought resistance, a complete lawn of contiguous (as opposed to isolated, sporadic patches) cover will require supplemental irrigation.
And, yes, as you suggest, weed management will be difficult, if not impossible in a clover lawn (bindweed, dandelions, thistle) because the herbicides that you would use for the weeds will also kill the clover. Grassy weeds are easier to control in a clover lawn.
If it's a hot, sunny area, then buffalograss might be a better choice. It is native to here, so can do well with minimal irrigation AFTER it has been established (yes, takes a lot of water that first year as well). Send me an email and I can send you information on starting a buffalograss lawn, if interested. This AaE system won't allow me to attach documents - so I would have to send to an email address.