Be in clover with new take on lawn care

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES -

SIXTY years ago, a pris­tine blue­grass lawn was not the norm.

Her­bi­cides were only just be­ing de­vel­oped and home­own­ers were be­ing en­cour­aged to rid their gar­dens of so­called weeds (clover be­ing one of these) with these heav­ily mar­keted chem­i­cals.

In fact, the num­ber of her­bi­cide prod­ucts used in Canada and the United States from 1950 to 1969 rose to 100 (ac­cord­ing to F. L. Timmons in A His­tory of Weed Con­trol in the United States and Canada, 1970) and in 2005, the pro­fes­sional jour­nal Weed Sci­ence cited 184 new chem­i­cals had come onto the mar­ket to fight weeds since 1970. That’s a lot of weed killer.

Would you be sur­prised to hear that in the old days, the quan­tity of clover in grass was the mark of a healthy and well-main­tained lawn? In truth, white clover con­trib­utes much to a lawn. Its roots cap­ture ni­tro­gen and make this im­por­tant nutri­ent avail­able to it­self and nearby plants; clover re­mains fresh through the worst heat of the sum­mer; it doesn’t need sup­ple­men­tal wa­ter­ing or fer­til­iz­ing and it col­o­nizes a large area quickly. Fi­nally, its flow­ers pro­vide nec­tar for bees.

The trick to es­tab­lish­ing a clover lawn is to weave it through the grass rather than sim­ply re­ly­ing on it alone. Seed­ing clover into your ex­ist­ing lawn in early spring, ei­ther be­fore the ground has com­pletely thawed or soon after­ward, is the best strat­egy to en­cour­age strong early-sea­son growth.

David Pa­triquin, a re­tired pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Dal­housie Uni­ver­sity in Hal­i­fax, writes that a strong clover/ grass lawn usu­ally re­quires suc­ces­sive ap­pli­ca­tions of seed for two or three years un­til the pop­u­la­tion of clover has be­come es­tab­lished.

He en­cour­ages the use of in­oc­u­lants (you can buy this where you buy clover seed) where there is no pre-ex­ist­ing clover to kick-start its abil­ity to con­vert ni­tro­gen into a form us­able by plants. He also sug­gests clover is best grown on a sunny or at least par­tially sunny lo­ca­tion, or it may flag late in the sea­son.

Pa­triquin’s in­for­ma­tive web­site (www.ver­si­color.ca/lawns) was set up in 2004 as a tool for home­own­ers in Hal­i­fax when their cos­metic pes­ti­cide ban went into ef­fect from 2000 to 2003. Orig­i­nally con­ceived as a site that pro­vided or­ganic op­tions for those still re­ly­ing on chem­i­cals to con­trol chinch bug (a com­mon lawn pest), it also con­tains de­tailed in­for­ma­tion to es­tab­lish your own clover lawn.

If you’re look­ing for a care­free grass to com­bine with clover to make a vir­tu­ally main­te­nance free lawn, try EcoLawn. This grass seed is a mix of seven va­ri­eties of fes­cue, which is a fine, shade-tol­er­ant and rel­a­tively low-grow­ing type of grass that ap­pears drought­proof, as well as pest and dis­ease re­sis­tant. It was de­vel­oped in Cold­wa­ter, Ont., and a five-pound bag can be pur­chased at Home Hard­ware stores for about $35.

Should you em­brace a mixed lawn of fes­cue and clover, you’ll have both time and money to en­joy do­ing ab­so­lutely noth­ing dur­ing your sum­mer hol­i­day.

— Canwest News Ser­vice

Re­tired bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor David Pa­triquin sug­gests weav­ing clover through grass to get your low-main­ten

ance op­tion es­tab­lished.

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