My falling out with clover – a sad but true story

Susan Harris’s blog about eco-friendly and urban gardening, plus the adventures of a DC-based garden writer, coach and occasional rabble-rowser.

Clover and creeping sedum in happier times

Well, this Lawn Reformer has a confession to make.  At first I swooned about clover –  in this post and then in this post, and frankly all over the damn Web.  I bragged (I confess) about having replaced my tall fescue+weeds with glorious White Dutch Clover mixed with the vigorously spreading Sedum acre.  And from the looks of these photo taken in the second year for this plant combo in my back yard, they’re a match made in heaven.

Until they stopped getting along.  And that’s a euphemism for: Until one of them killed the other one, and guess who turned out to be a companion-killer?   This eco-savvy gardener’s favorite plant of late – Dutch white clover.   And sad to say – get ready for another confession – I didn’t even notice the killing until the poor Sedum was almost all gone.  (Bad gardener!)

My Problems with Clover

  • On its own, clover looks great, as you can see in this video made by a permaculturist who made the transition from tall fescue to all-clover.  But we’re all for biodiversity these days and I thought clover would be even better mixed with another plant loved by pollinators – the unlucky Sedum in question.  And as terrific as they looked together, now in year three the clover towered over the sedum, shaded it completely, and killed it.
  • Not only did the clover kill the Sedum, but in the absence of supplemental watering most of it proceeded to die over the last month or so.   So while clover certainly needs less water than tall fescue, it’s not a succulent and it does need watering eventually, or it shrivels up and dies.
  • As if that weren’t enough, my garden is now deer-damaged as never before because the hungry mammals are lured into my garden by the clover.  Who knew?  Not me, but obviously lots of hunters know the way to attract deer is to grow some clover because Googling “clover” turns up a few hunting websites, like this one.

How to Remove?
Oh, you’re not going to believe I’m actually doing this – removing it by hand, so I’m spending lots of time on my kneeling pad, cursing the stuff.  Plus the kneeling-pad time spent digging up little clumps of Sedum from other parts of the garden to replace the clover.  I figure it’ll take me a couple of months to accomplish all this, and maybe until next summer for the Sedum to cover all the bare patches.

Why am I Doing This?
Yes, I’ve asked myself that and my answer usually involves some pretense at science  – I’m “trialing” this plant combination – and my mission to find as many low-maintenance alternative lawn types as possible.   After decades of gardening on the same one-third acre it’s good to have a mission.  And seriously, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about how easy it is to replace lawn with such-and-such and I’m hoping to give readers a bit more guidance than that.   Some more helpful anti-lawn articles do make a point of telling readers to choose plants that mix well together but I’m concrete proof that following that advice is easier said than done.

My falling out with clover – a sad but true story.