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updated: 5/14/2014 7:32 PM

Clover could be your lawn's secret weapon

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By Mary Boldan

Q. How do you get rid of clover?

A. Clover (Trifolium) is a perennial legume, commonly found in lawns throughout the country. Some folks love it; others hate it. Because clover produces its own nitrogen, it thrives in lawns that are low in this nutrient. This is also why some people are happy with clover. It was common in lawns before the introduction of broad-leaved weed herbicides in the 1950s. The most common targets of these herbicides are dandelion, broad-leaved plantain, plantain and other broad-leaved weeds. However, white clover is also either damaged or killed by these applications.

The most effective method of controlling clovers and other broad-leaved weeds is to maintain a dense and healthy turf area. Often weeds can be easily kept out if a lawn's pH and nutrients levels are optimum.

Nitrogen is one of your lawn's greatest needs, and clover provides it. Because it is so nitrogen rich, it helps your lawn grow lush and full. Microclover (Trifolium reopens L. var. Pirouette) is a selection from white clover that has smaller leaves and a lower growth habit. When seeded at an appropriate rate, it mixes with most turf grass species better than common white clover without forming clumps or excessively competing with desirable turfgrasses. Thus, the lawn also tends to have a more uniform appearance. Using microclover is one of the best management practices for reducing fertilizer runoff from lawns and reducing fertilizer uses.

Every time you mow your lawn, you are adding the clover clippings back into the ground and spurring growth. In fact, some lawn-care manufacturers are now including clover in lawn mixes. The manufacturers realize that clover helps the lawn grow healthier and more pest-resistant, and it reduces the amount of fertilizer required.

The sweet smell of clover attracts bees during the spring and summer months. More bees on your lawn mean that there will be an increase in cross-pollination of flowers, which is beneficial to your garden. Clover actually crowds out a lot of the other weeds that are more harmful to your lawn. It's a very hardy plant. If your lawn is a high-traffic area, clover is very resistant to foot traffic.

Q. I plan to order some plants from a mail-order catalog. How should I handle them when they arrive?

A. Before they arrive, have an idea where they will be planted. This is particularly important to remember if you are creating a new bed. You don't want to keep the plants waiting while you take a whole weekend to carve out the bed and prepare the soil.

As soon as the plants arrive, open the box and remove any plastic wrappings from leaves and stems. Read and follow any instructions about unpacking, caring for and planting that may have been included with the order.

If the plants are in pots and in active growth, water them immediately and put them where they will receive the very bright light and temperature that they require. If the weather is good and temperatures are suitable for the type of plants you have, they can be placed outdoors during the day and brought indoors at night if temperatures get cold.

Keep them watered until you can get them in the ground. Continue to monitor their water needs as they become established in the garden.

If the plants arrive as dormant plants or bare roots (no soil around the roots), open the package and inspect the shipment. If you cannot plant them immediately, put the plants into a cool area (40 -- 45 degrees) and keep the packing material that is around the roots moist. This keeps the plants dormant and in good condition for planting. If needed, they can be held like this for about two weeks.

Just before planting bare-root plants, soak the roots in water for a few hours and then plant them.

If you don't have a cool area indoors to hold the plants, you can also dig a shallow trench in a shady spot outside and temporarily "plant" them there until you are able to move them to their actual location in the garden.

• Provided by Mary Boldan. Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, open 9 a.m. to noon on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Call (847) 298-3502 or email

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