The Humane Guide to Critter Control (Cool Springs Press, 2017) by Theresa Rooney helps gardeners keep way pests and critters from their precious gardens safely and organically, as not to hurt the critter or garden. In the following excerpt, Rooney discusses the benefits of adding white clover to your lawn.
Rethink Your Lawn
If you love your turf (and lots of people do), there are things you can do to minimize pest damage. Perhaps you thought I would say pull out all the turf and plant native plants and trees? If you have children or pets, you may need space for them to romp. A nice turf can highlight a beautiful garden. Turf can cool your yard and soften the sound of the neighborhood. Now, here comes the crazy idea—consider adding white clover to your turf.
We Americans have had a love affair with our turf for a long time. Before the 1950s, we allowed clover and dandelions in the grass. Mostly because we didn’t have all the herbicides we do now. But in the 1950s, herbicides became popular. The seed and chemical companies were pretty smart. If you kill all the broadleaf weeds—that may actually benefit the grass—you now have to fertilize the grass. If you cut the grass shorter you may need to water more and use more fertilizer and herbicides. Instead of a short manageable meadow we were to aspire to billiard table-flat green lawns.
If you add clover to your lawn, you may find the rabbits prefer it (and truly they do) rather than your lilies. Woodchucks too prefer clover—it is one of their favorites. Clover is also a great bee attractor and often found in “bee lawns.” Bee lawns are an alternative to traditional grassy spaces that include low-growing plants that flower and provide nectar and pollen for the pollinators. This may include creeping thyme, clover, low-growing sedums, violets, or Canadian ginger. Fescue is also the grass often used in these mixes, as it is a slower-growing grass and doesn’t need the fertilizers that Kentucky bluegrass does. Some of these plants can take a bit of foot traffic and others very little, so they need to be planned and planted according to how the area is to be used. You may find that as you increase the diversity in your landscape, your pest problems seem to lessen or even disappear entirely.
Clover is also a nitrogen fixer. The nodules on its roots allow the plant to pull nitrogen from the air and store it in those nodules. As the roots die, the nodules release that nitrogen back into the soil to the grass roots. If you use a 30-0-15 fertilizer on your lawn, that first number represents nitrogen, the very thing that clover provides free. The clover will not need to be mowed as often as your grass may need to be mowed. More time saved for you. As you add diversity to your turf grass you may notice it seems healthier. It is more able to grow thick and lush. More able to withstand some insect damage, or avoid damage altogether, because the soil is so healthy that none of the “bad” soil insects get out of control. Using products on your lawn that aren’t organic or natural may decrease the soil health and resilience of your lawn, forcing you to use even more products.
What about those dandelions? If you can, let them be! Just mow the flowers before they go to seed—it will keep your neighbors happier. The dandelions are an early flowering plant. They may be one of the few plants in flower when female bumblebees come out of hibernation and are starving. Just recently, the rusty patched bumblebee was put on the endangered list. Yes, a bumblebee is endangered. There may even be some already extinct, as they have not been seen in years. To me, the bumblebee is an iconic part of summer—hearing the lazy buzz and seeing that seemingly impossible-to-fly bee slowly fly past is a treat I enjoy every time.
Dandelions have a big, hardy, deep taproot that breaks up the compact soil and draws nutrients from far underground. As it is mowed and the leaves left on the lawn to decompose, those nutrients are available again for the grass. Even dandelions feed the turf grass for you, while they loosen the soil and mallow channels to be created so rain can be kept there and filtered back to the aquifers below rather than run off into our lakes and streams.
How can a nice lawn filled with clover help control pests? Remember, rabbits and woodchucks prefer the clover, so they may leave your plants and vegetable garden alone. Also, while the rabbits enjoy clover snacks, the hawks or owls on their perches high above are preparing to grab a rabbit or two to feed their own young.
A healthy, diverse outdoor space may entice some pests to areas where they do less damage. This outdoor space may be uncomfortable for many animal pests because you are outside in it more often because it is a wonderfully beautiful and energizing space to be in. Your healthy outdoor space may create barriers that some pests don’t want to cross (thick hedges) or too much cover—it could hide predators—or offer no space for pests to hang out. It may be so diverse that no one thing is in abundance enough to attract a pest—or if you do have lots of say, hostas, they are spread everywhere or tucked safely near your home, out of the reach of pests that love to nibble them.
Because your outdoor space is so full of bird life, the insects are kept in check. The birds have so much other food they don’t bother your crops. Doesn’t it sound like a paradise? And it can be your paradise if you wish.
Keep Things Tidy
The final aspect of a healthy garden can be simple cleanup and neatness. Store woodpiles far away from your home so mice and, perhaps, snakes will be far from your foundation. (If you build it, they will come.)
Compost bins and piles are great for creating your own compost, but if you put the wrong things in the pile, like meat or cheese or bones, you are inviting pests into your yard. Keep the compost piles clean and place them away from your home slightly—not so far; you want easy to access to them. Some locations may require you keep them covered. If this is the case in your town, watch to make sure they stay damp enough—when water is needed pull off the cover before a rainstorm.
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Reprinted with permission from The Human Guide to Critter Control by Theresa Rooney and published by Cool Springs Press, 2017.