Can I use white clover to keep down weeds?

Credit: Hyougushi

Q: I have a large area (more than 1,000 sq. ft.) of bare soil that cannot be planted until at least next year. To keep the weeds down, I had considered applying 2″ of mulch, but that much mulch is far too expensive.

Sheena Adams’ article about green manure mentions red clover. Can white clover be used as an alternative?

The main difference between crimson and white Dutch clover is that crimson grows as a hardy annual, whereas white Dutch is a tough perennial that is winter hardy to zone 4. White Dutch is a real workhorse – it’s low growing, it can stand up to mowing, it’s easy to till under, and it fixes a great deal of nitrogen in the soil. Left to grow on its own, it will choke out nearly all of the common lawn weeds, and will begin blooming in mid-summer, feeding honeybees and many species of wild pollinators. Its Latin name, Trifolium repens, translates nicely as “three leaves and creeping,” which it excels at. Depending on where you are located, you could sow in spring or at the end of summer. Here on the West Coast it can go down from mid-August to around the first week of October. For an area of 1000 square feet, you’ll need 115 g (1/4 lb) of seed. Using a lawn roller over the seeded area helps, as the seeds germinate best at 5 mm deep.

White Dutch clover is easy to till under. After one pass with the rototiller, the roots will be sufficiently disturbed that the plants will die, adding organic matter to the soil, and generally loosening the soil structure. Otherwise it is a very long-lived perennial.