Plant Clover to Improve Soil Health
Soil health is one of the most important reasons to plant clover. Clovers produce a combination of tap roots and fibrous roots that help aerate the soil and improve friability, or the loose texture of soils. Clovers can protect soil from wind and water erosion. When used as a cover crop or green manure, decomposing clover adds large amounts of organic matter to the soil.
Clover is a legume crop, belonging to the bean and pea family of plants. Legumes perform a unique service among the plant world. They fix nitrogen in the soil, transforming nitrogen gas found in air pockets of soil into organic compounds that can be used as food by plants. They do this by partnering with beneficial bacteria in the soil called Rhizobia, which grows in rounded nodules along the plant’s roots. Once legumes fix nitrogen, surrounding plants can use the nitrogen compounds to fuel growth.
This process, called notrogen fixing, rejuvinates nutrient-poor soils and reduces the need for fertilizers, which saves money and protects waterways from being polluted by fertilizer runoff. Farmers have long used clover as a rotation among their crops. Gardeners can use clover as a green manure or cover crop, too!
Another way to gain the benefits of nitrogen fixation is to plant clover among other plants. This can be done by incorporating clover into lawns, mixed plantings, or sowing clover as a living mulch or groundcover (See the photo below of lupines and crimson clover planted together in a wildflower meadow.)
In addition to fixing nitrogen, a living clover mulch keeps soil moist and cool. Lush green cover intercepts the sun, which helps to moderate soil temperatures and reduce evaporation.
Clover's strong root system and dense groundcover will also suppresses the growth of weeds, reducing the need for herbicides.