{Food & Gardening} The Case for Clover

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! In honor of this day, I thought I’d start us off with a photo of some clover, though it’s no lucky 4-leaf variety. Just ordinary clover. You know- that pesky weed that pops up all over our pretty lawn, ruining the infinite landscape of tall grass blades that most American homeowners try to maintain. But did you know that there was a time when the most desirable lawn seed mixtures were those that contained a high percentage of clover seed? When herbicides came onto the market they killed off clover along with the unwanted weeds and our monoculture lawn was born.

Photo by Flickr user iantmcfarland

Let’s talk about lawns for a minute. By some estimates, there are over 40 million acres of lawn in America alone. Why do we have them? They’re nice to lay in and it’s good for kids to have a soft place to run around but daydreamers and kids survive in all parts of the world with our without a sea of green in the backyard. Did you know that:

Lawns take a lot of water to stay green. According to U.S. Lawncare Facts between 30 and 60 percent of urban freshwater (depending on city) is used just to water lawns! And much of that is wasted by overwatering or setting sprinklers to “water” the sidewalks and streets.

Americans spend billions of dollars on fertilizers and herbicides just for their lawns. Think of all we could do if we redirected just part of that money elsewhere! All those chemicals amount to homeowners using 10 times more chemicals per acre than farmers do on crops. Many of those chemicals are wasted because they’re applied incorrectly or excessively and that can  negatively affect water quality.

What about the positive effects of plants? Those 40 million acres of American lawns should help air quality by removing carbon dioxide from the air and giving us clean oxygen in return, right? Not necessarily. A 2010 study found that in southern California “mowing and other lawn maintenance emit almost as much or more greenhouse gases than the well-tended grass extracts from the air.”

What should we eco-minded people do?

  • Consider having less grass. Replace all or part of your lawn with a vegetable garden, native plants, a patio or path (like I just did a few weeks ago!)
  • Be smart about watering. Water during cooler times of the day to reduce water lost to evaporation. Don’t do what the photo below shows. Water just the plants, not the sidewalk. Consider getting a rain barrel and using water you collect to water the lawn.

Photo by Flickr user Jasmeet

  • Mow less often. Besides using less energy, it’s good for your grass. Longer grass blades create more shade and your soil won’t dry out as quickly. Your grass will be healthier and you’ll be able to water less too.
  • Make peace with weeds. Don’t use chemical herbicides and you can eat your dandelion greens! And that clover? Consider encouraging it to take over your whole lawn! It’ll stay green even if you don’t water often. It stores nitrogen in the soil, benefiting other plants, and it’s low growing so it doesn’t need mowing often. If you don’t want all clover, consider an eco-lawn like this one that mixes slow growing, drought tolerant grasses with low-growing herbs and flowers.

Now that spring is just around the corner here in the northern hemisphere and our lawns are coming out of winter dormancy, let’s talk. What do you do to “green” your lawn? Do you have any eco friendly lawn care tips? Do you love grass or hate it?





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  1. Those are well maintained patches of grass. They look lovely to the surroundings. I plan on keeping up Bermuda for years to come.

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  4. great post! Don’t even get me started about dandelions – I LOVE those bad boys! They are so pretty and the green are delish! Who gets to decide they’re a weed?

  5. I remember when we removed our back lawn, how nice it was to have birds back in your yard. It was wonderful having a food forest with pathways and even my cat liked hanging out in the backyard. I really enjoyed your post. Your yard looks great!

  6. Good tips. I think we follow most of them pretty well.

    We live in Connecticut and we very rarely water our lawn. If we do it’s only after a prolonged dry spell and only in a couple of small areas that get sun all day long and will completely die if we don’t. We don’t currently have any rain barrels, but are seriously considering getting a couple.

    Also, we fertilize the lawn maybe once every couple of years with an organic, natural fertilizer. We don’t use pesticides on the lawn. A point I don’t see mentioned much in regard to using pesticides is that where pesticides are used, 60 – 90% of the earthworms are killed.

    Our grub population has grown to a size where we’ve had to start using milky spore to try to get them under control.

    We’re considering a vegetable garden this year which will probably increase our water usage – we hope to make up for this with the use of rain barrels.

  7. I am so happy to read this post! My gardening guru in Canada is Larry Hodgson, the lazy gardener. His motto about gardening is, “Grass is what you have while you are making your flower beds!” He has been an advocate for replacing grass with clover for over twenty years! The golf green lawns are unfortunately a big part of suburbia in North America, but the more we talk about alternatives and show people that they can be just as, if not more, attractive than grass, the more people will be willing to change their habits.
    Thanks so much for this great post!

    • Larry Hodgson sounds like a great gardening guru! How cool that he advocates for a clover “lawn.” I’m embarrassed to admit that when I first became a homeowner I hated seeing clover pop up in my nice lawn but I’ve come to like it more than the grass itself now.

  8. Beautiful, a whole lawn of clover, what a concept! While I do not have a lawn, many a lawn and yards I have admired for supreme and conscious overgrowth.

    • I used to be a “typical American” and covet neat, weedless lawns but now I’ve changed and love the lawns with clover, yarrow, thyme, and low-growing flowers, and realize just how many chemicals go into the average grass lawn. I sure don’t want that in my yard!

  9. Really great post!! Terrific GREEN tips and facts!! The photos are perfect and lend wonderfully to the story!! Looking forward to more articles Sesame Seed Designs!!

    • Aw, thanks Nichole! I’ve really enjoyed putting together the couple of articles I’ve written for EcoEtsy and look forward to more in the future! The first photo is actually my front yard. My 4 year old was really interested in why I was taking pictures of the grass. lol