Monday, September 23, 2013

Rolling in clover

It was early July when, after a week of steady work, we laid down the last paver of our new patio. It's now late September, and we're still in the process of trying to put the rest of the yard back together. First we had to clear the pile of leftover gravel and stone dust from our driveway (in the process giving ourselves the permanent surface for our garden paths that we'd been seeking for over a year); then we cleaned up all the leftover bricks and stashed them in the shed for possible future use; then we started the process of using the leftover fill dirt to smooth out the surface of the slope we'd built up around the patio itself, and we also transferred the pile of waste concrete from the middle of our yard to a less obtrusive spot in a back corner (where it will remain until we find either a use for it or a place to dispose of it). And finally, last weekend, we took the last major step required to restore normalcy: planting the dirt-covered slope with grass seed.

Neither of us has ever actually planted grass before (we've always sort of accepted as "grass" whatever mixture of weeds happened to be in our yard when it came into our possession), so my first step, naturally, was to do a bit of research. I was particularly interested in a seed mixture containing clover, since I knew that clover is a nitrogen-fixing plant that acts as a sort of natural, no-work fertilizer. I'd already filled in a few bare patches in the back yard with Dutch white clover, and it seemed to grow very well in our clay soil—a bit too well, in fact, since it quickly reached heights of six inches or more, which is a bit higher than most people would consider desirable for a lawn. So I did a little digging and found that a company in Denmark has developed and patented a low-growing variety of clover called microclover. If the manufacturer's claims are to be believed, this stuff blends unobtrusively into a grass lawn, crowds out weeds, requires little water, and stays green year-round. What's not to like?

Actually finding a grass seed mix containing microclover, however, proved a bit difficult. When I searched, I discovered a blend on the Home Depot website that looked ideal, but when we actually went to Home Depot looking for it, they didn't have any on the shelves. So we ended up having to special order it through the website and then wait about a week for it to be delivered to the store. We picked it up on Monday, and last weekend we got down to business planting it. First, we added a bit more dirt to the sloped area, smoothing it out as much as possible. Next, following the advice on the seed bag, we mixed in the last of the bagged compost we had left over in the shed (we'd already disposed of the bags that failed the compost test, so we knew this stuff wouldn't kill all our clover seed). We then watered it down thoroughly and left it to dry overnight, as the seed bag recommended. Unfortunately, it rained heavily during the night, so the dirt still wasn't really dry the next day, but we couldn't really put it off any longer, so we just went ahead and started spreading the seed. Since we had such a small area to do, we didn't bother buying or renting a seed spreader; we tried making a makeshift one out of an oatmeal box with holes punched in the lid, but it proved too awkward to use (the lid wouldn't stay put and had to be held on with one hand), so eventually we gave up on it and just spread it as evenly as we could manage by hand.

Once all the seed was down, Brian took the additional precaution of laying down some burlap over the part of the slope where water tends to run off during storms, in the hope that this would keep our seed from washing away downhill. Now all we have left to do is water it regularly for the next two weeks—aiming to keep it moist, but not soaked—and hope the birds don't decide to eat it all. (Since I haven't seen them swarming over the newly seeded area like it was the world's best salad bar, I think they must not consider it food.)

As I had suspected, the process of smoothing out the slope didn't use up all the remaining dirt left over from our patio excavation. Fortunately, however, we had another use for it: Brian discovered some holes in the back part of the yard, possibly left by our old nemesis the garden rat or some other burrowing critter. So between filling in the slope and filling up the holes, we managed to dispose of pretty much all the dirt left in the pile. The rest we simply raked smooth and covered with more grass seed. Unlike the area nearest the patio, it didn't get any compost, since there wasn't any left, but our soil is pretty rich, so I guess we'll just keep our fingers crossed.

Naturally, I'm hoping the grass will fill in both areas nicely, but I can't help wondering: if this stuff really does provide the kind of lush, green carpet advertised on the package, will it make the rest of the yard look bad by contrast? Will we need to start tearing up the rest of the lawn, a bit at a time, in order to replant it and bring it up to the standards of this newly seeded area? Or will the "very aggressive" microclover just spread on its own, gradually battling and defeating our existing lawn weeds as it works its way across the yard?

Or, given that not one of the seeds we just planted has actually sprouted yet, should I quit counting my chickens (or my clovers) before they've hatched?
Post a Comment