Saving the planet, one clover seed at a time


I am perennially perplexed about my lawn.

The more I read about lawn, the more I have thought that getting rid of it might be the environmentally responsible thing to do. But I like it a lot, especially now, when it’s lush and green.

Fortunately, there’s not much of it; I can mow it all in 25 minutes.  I use only an organic fertilizer now and then, and some years a top dressing of manure. I have given up trying to keep it green from mid-July until the rains return in September. I pull weeds with my handy Grampa’s Weeder tool and never use herbicides.

Still, I keep trying to find ways to make it friendlier to bees and less of a habitat dead zone. A few years ago, I asked a couple of “experts” if it would work to replace the grass with a planting of clover. “No one does that,” one of them said dismissively. So of course I had to try it.

A friend helped me dig out a test plot in the turf between the sidewalk and the street. Then we dug in some fresh topsoil. The clover seed came up and thrived. Many bees were very happy, and so were a few deer. I mowed it rarely, at the highest setting on my electric lawnmower. Because it is deeply rooted, I watered it only twice a summer, and gave it no fertilizer, since clover fixes its own nitrogen.

But by the third year, the grass was back. Apparently it is necessary to dig halfway to China to get rid of all the grass roots. Other interlopers also appeared: buttercup and various unfamiliar weeds joined the party. By last year, I felt defeated. I went back to treating half of it like the rest of my lawn, because that’s mostly what it was.

On the other half though, I stubbornly replanted clover. Once again, it failed to overcome the grass, though what has survived has grown quite tall and is blooming nicely. But now I have had such a prolonged episode of indecision and head-scratching that it looks like a miniature vacant lot, full of tall grass and clover, two varieties of poppies, larkspur, feverfew (small white daisies on tall plants), a patch of violas, and miscellaneous local weeds.

It’s getting mixed reviews in the neighborhood, but two friends have implored me not to cut it down until the poppies have finished blooming.

Another strategy has actually worked a little better. In the rest of my front lawn, I scattered clover seed just to see what would happen. Now the lawn is about 25 percent clover, and it’s gaining ground. I mow high enough that there is always at least a scattering of clover flowers for the bees.

I’m not sure whether this will be enough to satisfy my yearning to be environmentally guilt-free, and that’s why I’ve told you about my half-baked efforts.

How good do you suppose is good enough? How are you, dear readers, managing your lawn, or what are you replacing it with? These are questions that deserve conversation and creativity. We all want to do what’s right for our planet, but none of us is perfect at it.

If you have ideas, experiences, or advice about lawns, I’d love to hear from you, and to revisit this topic soon.

Jill Severn writes from her home in Olympia, where she grows vegetables, flowers and a small flock of chickens. She loves conversation among gardeners. Start one by emailing her at jill@theJOLTnews.com


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