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Gardening

Forget planting grass seed for your lawn, and plant this instead

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: April 18
  • Published April 18

Has clover taken over your lawn? Be grateful! The plant lends your lawn a nice natural look, and provides as much natural nitrogen fertilizer as your grass needs.

It happens every spring. People freak out over their lawns.

Frankly, I can’t figure out why lawns are on so many of our minds, other than that they have been missing from our lives all winter. Seems to me that most folks profess to dislike mowing, dandelions, watering, feeding, moss, mushrooms, annual poa and all other things lawn related. So why do we have them?

We have them because it is easier to build a house or condo complex after the property has been stripped of obstacles like trees and boulders. You remove all the vegetation and when done simply seed the soil or sod it over.

We keep them because they were already there when we bought our houses (though who among us came to Alaska to live in a yard that could just as easily be in Levittown on Long Island?). And, trust me on this, unless you resort to carpet-bombing with dangerous herbicides, you will, without out a doubt, definitely get dandelions. And, sooner or later, you will start seeing moss in your lawn.

My advice on lawns is simple. Water it. When you mow it, leave the clippings. If you have dandelions, mow them down as they flower. Rejoice in the appearance of moss (and, wait for it: plant clover, not grass seed).

The dandelion advice? It is simple. Mankind has lost the war against them. The minute you stop applying the poison, they move right back in. This tells me that these herbicides are not really working. If dandelions bother you, keep the yellow out by mowing them down, as noted. It is much easier and safer than the alternatives.

The moss? Great stuff that doesn’t need mowing. It is green and pretty and soft to walk on. It is easier to keep weed-free by hand-picking. Sooner or later, your lawn is going to revert to moss and tree seedlings. It is the natural course of things here.

The clover? Why, it used to be a standard component in lawn seed mixes. You wouldn’t buy a seed mix without it. Why? Because it is a legume and it fixes atmospheric nitrogen and puts into into the lawn for free! However, the herbicide industry mounted a campaign in the 1950s (that continues today) to eradicate it from lawns in order to sell product. What a crime.

The truth of the matter is that clover is green when grass is. It tends to smother out dandelions and other weeds, but at least makes them easier to spot and take out. It is drought-resistant. And it really only needs mowing if the white flowers are there, attracting bees and you don’t want them around. I might add that because of the nature of our soils, it is also extremely work-intensive to rid a lawn of it.

By all means, consider over-seeding your existing lawn with clover. (You mix it with grass seed, too.) Other than running a mower over the winter detritus and possibly aerating it, water is the only thing your lawn really needs to start looking better. Stop obsessing and pay attention to other spring chores.

Jeff’s Alaska garden calendar

Flowers to start from seed: Dahlia, schizanthus, nigella, phlox, portulaca, nemesia, marigold and nasturtiums.

Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes.

Gladioli: Lots of concern about the height some have reached. Not to worry as you bury them a few inches deeper when planted outdoors.

Nurseries: Don’t wait. Early birds do get the best worms.

Alaska Botanical Garden: Go to alaskabg.org for camp enrollment, hypertufa and gardening workshop, wild flower and plant ID course, plant sale, guided gardening and so many more things. It’s well worth the membership.

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