Once Lawn’s Ally, Clover Rebranded as Unwelcome Invader

shutterstock_257785771With winter’s grudging departure, the season when many homeowners quest for the perfect, uniform, green lawn — their own shimmering Holy Grail – has finally arrived! But what makes for a perfect lawn? What is it about grass that merits such reverence, such tender nurturing, such expense! And what makes a weed, a weed, and thus deserving of the ultimate punishment?

You may be surprised to learn that one of the most common of lawn interlopers — the Dutch white clover — was once intentionally mixed into grass seed mixtures. Not native to North America, clover was blended into seed mixtures because of the many benefits that it confers to a lawn. It does not outcompete grass for resources, is drought tolerant, grows well in heavy shade, provides nectar to bees, won’t easily succumb to brown spots where Fido did his business, and is even nitrogen fixing.

Yes, the clover you may have been trying to kill has actually been working away to fertilize
your lawn. As a member of the legume family, clover has nodules on its roots that play host to nitrogen-fixing bacteria in a symbiotic relationship. These bacteria take atmospheric nitrogen, the nitrogen present in the air around us, and convert it into a form that the plant can use.

Clover’s decline from helpful addition to pesky weed was no accident. Extensive research on defoliators during World War II led to advances in chemical technology and herbicides — technology that brought the advent of selective weed killers. 2,4-D was one of the potent products of these advances. 2,4-D is a synthetic plant hormone that only affects broad-leaf plants. It causes rapid, unsustainable growth, which exhausts the plant and propels its death, while having no effect on grass.

While 2,4-D was never used in WWII (though it was used during Vietnam as a component of Agent Orange), it did find a home in the suburban lawn, first, as Scott’s Killex and, soon after, in Scott’s Weed & Feed.

The only problem with this new product, which offers so much potential for great profit,
was that broad-leaf herbicides would kill clover. After such an application, lawns planted with grass seed, supplemented with clover, would be left with big, brown, bald spots. After years of selling clover and touting its benefits, Scott’s was faced with the task of rebranding clover as a weed.

To accomplish this Scott’s removed clover from seed mixtures, told homeowners that it was unnecessary and, even worse, that it would attract bees which would sting children. The rebranding worked! With clever marketing, and the sheer convenience of broad-leaf herbicides, clover became an undesirable and a pest to be terminated.

So perhaps, with clover’s many good properties the enlightened homeowner may choose to relent in their battle against clover. Instead, embrace this long besmirched ally. Even seek out opportunities to make a place for this worthy plant.

Images via Shutterstock.com 


by Katharine Galpin

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 at 08:39
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