When petrochemical broadleaf herbicides hit the market after World War II, clover, previously a staple in well-maintained lawns, got relegated to the weed category. But now farmers and gardeners are wising up to the adverse effects of chemicals on health and the environment, and are once again embracing clover for its remarkable benefits.
Clover is a Nitrogen Fixer
As a legume crop belonging to the bean and pea family of plants, clover fixes nitrogen in the soil. That is, it partners with beneficial bacteria to transform nitrogen gas that resides in air pockets within the soil into stable organic compounds that nourishes surrounding plants.
Because of its manure-like applications, clover is often planted as a companion crop to rye, oat, wheat, and other grasses. Clover grows quickly and abundantly, making it an ideal cover crop or living mulch. Many species thrive in a variety of soils and climates, and can withstand winter conditions. Since clover has a long taproot, it can draw nutrients and minerals from deep in soil. And when planted in a ratio of 1:4 clover to perennial grass, it can reduce or even eliminate the need for artificial fertilizers.
Livestock Love It
Chock-full of nutrients, clover offers farmers a high-protein diet for their livestock and improves digestibility. This reduces mineral deficiency, which can lead to various diseases and disorders, and helps to produce leaner meat and more nutritious milk.
Clover can also be used in feed for chickens, geese and birds (and even humans - clover is edible and its colorful flowers can really make a salad pop).
Pollinators and Beneficial Insects Love it, too
Clover honey isn’t just a clever name - honeybees are attracted to the easily attainable nectar found within the short florets of white clover and crimson clover. Scientists have linked the drastic decline in bee populations to the eradication of clover, dandelions and other “weeds”.
But clover nectar also feeds butterflies, moths and other good bugs. And clover also supplies food, water and shelter to pollinator predators and parasites. Meanwhile, clover pastures nourish earthworms, important stewards of soil health.
In Review: Clover is Lucky
Clover fixes nitrogen that feeds grasses and reduces the need for artificial fertilizers. Since clover helps maintain soil moisture and suppresses certain other weeds, clover lawns require less water and herbicide: all good news for the environment. Clover nourishes healthier livestock, and keeps pollinators busy and thriving, which sustains our ecosystems. That’s a lot of luck to go around.