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red clover mistake!!!? help!

 
Heather Alison Cook
Posts: 11
Location: Western Cascades Lowlands & Valleys, Oregon-Zone 8
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Hi all I hope you can help with your experiences! I have "accidentally" planted red clover in my entire garden. My garden is an experimental area for mainly organic herbs as I work for an small organic medicinal herb company. The area is quite large maybe nearly the size of a football field. The beds are different sizes, circles, long beds, a heart shaped bed, a keyhole bed design, etc. However, because I did not do enough research when first hired, I asked for some red clover to cover crop the beds, as most if it had nothing in it and I needed something to control weeds and build soil fertility. They brought me abag of red clover Trifolium spp. I planted buckwheat and red clover at the same time, last May-June. The buckwheat did great, insects galore! I chopped and dropped just before it went to seed. Many of the beds had random medicinal biennial and overwintering annuals along with perennials that I just let go. I was picky but that picky. I let most "weeds" live in the garden as I am fond of those hardworking plants and appreciate their presence. We actually use many of what people call weeds for medicine. So the red clover did great, established itself and kept out weeds all summer and fall. It Went dormant this winter and is now starting to grow. I had planned to kill it with chopping and or pulling it up and letting the waste decompose BUT However, I JUST realized that I should have selected a different variety of clover like crimson, with a less rhizomatous root system. I have heard now that I must till it in to kill it. I planned on not ever tilling this area. There are worms and critters and healthy soil!!! I don't wanna till!!!.... I am very disappointed that I might have to till!!! I have heard of planting within the clover.Masanobu Fukuoka did it with white clover. But he didn't prune or try to really tame anything. I am worried about competition among the plants and the red clover completely taking over the garden. Also I would have to keep it cut back to not let it go to seed. If I don't till will it take over the entire garden I should have used a tap rooted/shallow rooted cover crop that kills easily like crimson or vetch instead. I can still keep the clover on the edges and in the walkways but how to now control this Oh the regrets!!! Please help!
 
Jd Gonzalez
Posts: 207
Location: Virginia,USA zone 6
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Have you thought of doing lasagna gardening? Cover the clover so it dies and adds nutrients to the soil. For larger planting mow/scalp it and then plant?
 
james Apodaca
Posts: 57
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How tall does red clover get? I've no experience with it. Is there a chance you could plant seedlings in it once they are tall enough to compete?

The main reason for no-till is to eliminate soil solarization.. If it's short enough could it not be the ground cover?

I would invest in a grass hook and chop it down where I plant seedlings and leave the gaps to the clover. Works with planting in Wedelia.
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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I have done similar in a lot of my garden but had not considered it a mistake at this point. it does have a hefty root mass but it does not really spread like other agressive ground covers. to plant into it I just pull a few of the clover plants out and clear any loose roots out of the area.
 
Joshua Finch
Posts: 64
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In my experience, red clover does not spread by rhizomes and rather forms a sturdy crown with a taprooot. Those are also the plant characteristics given by Edible Forest Gardens vol 2. It will spread by seed, if you let it go to seed. The individual plants don't live more than 2-3 years (at least in USDA zone 7). We use red clover extensively.

If you really want to kill them, cut the plants before they flower this spring- that is, when they have the most compact herbaceous growth. Depending where you are, that could be late April. They will resprout, but cut them again at the same growth density. Do this all summer and gain valuable mulch material. If you cut them when they are in flower, be sure to do so just as they open their flowers. It is possible that if they will have enough energy in their stems to produce viable seed if you cut them at the wrong time. If they aren't allowed to gather enough nutrients, they will probably die by the following year.

Then you best be ready to seed with what you have planned, or else other more undesirable species are going to fill those gaps. That is for certain.

Still, I would imagine that if you are working for an herb company that it wouldn't be so difficult to continue chop and dropping where they are near plants (if you don't sheet mulch somehow). I wouldn't say this is a problem.
 
chip sanft
Posts: 354
Location: 18 acres & heart in zone 4 (central MN). Current abode: Knoxville (zone 6 /7)
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Joshua Finch wrote: They will resprout, but cut them again at the same growth density. Do this all summer and gain valuable mulch material.

...

Then you best be ready to seed with what you have planned, or else other more undesirable species are going to fill those gaps. That is for certain.

Still, I would imagine that if you are working for an herb company that it wouldn't be so difficult to continue chop and dropping where they are near plants (if you don't sheet mulch somehow). I wouldn't say this is a problem.


I second the suggestions to not view this as a problem but rather a nice chop-and-drop situation.

Red clover is a nitrogen fixer and a very nice way to produce quantities of organic matter. If you remove the clover, won't that just leave you more space to weed or mulch some other way? I'm not all against weeds and let lots grow in my garden as sunlight catchers, but something really useful like clover seems very much preferable to, say, creeping charlie or whatever aggressive spreading plant that grows in your area.
 
Tim Wilkinson
Posts: 16
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I work for a company that does a lot of weeding, and we do it all by hand/ hand tools. I highly recommend these tools. They are hand forged in sanfransico. A little pricey but will last forever. Several gardening sites sell these but I got mine at http://sustainableseedco.com/tools/
I use the weeding and digging knife for just about everything.. But scratchers are great for getting all the stringy red clover roots.. If you leave roots in the ground they keep coming back.
Good luck
Tim
 
Tim Wilkinson
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I also recommend hiring a helper or two. Weeding is tedious and mundane.. Having help makes it go a lot faster.
Tim
 
Matt Smaus
Posts: 37
Location: Minneapolis, MN
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Mow it, weedwhack it, scythe it, or chop it with shears as close to the ground as possible once it is well into blooming but not making seedheads yet. This may not take it all down but will seriously weaken it and take out much of it. Next year should take care of the rest. The energy is all up in the blooms at this point, not in the roots. By waiting until its second year, you have inadvertently allowed it to accumulate its peak amount of Nitrogen. Good work!
 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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To add another possible solution, I will suggest chickens like I always tend to do. I have one bed on a slope facing east planted with red clover. The fencing around it came loose and I kind of let the chickens keep visiting over the winter. They love to eat around the roots and destroy the clover and eat it some too. I had to redo the fencing around this bed so the clover could recover, and now it is significantly behind on growth compared to the other clover in the forest garden. This is always an option for anyone with extra clovers, of course they make a great medicine if you have the room to let them grow out too.
 
Heather Alison Cook
Posts: 11
Location: Western Cascades Lowlands & Valleys, Oregon-Zone 8
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Thanks everyone, I am feeling a bit better and confident in my original plan of not tilling. I did want to chop and drop this but then found out about the root system. I am hearing different things even with you all! Some say it is not that bad, more of a tap root, some say its more rhizomatous. My experience is that regular red clover is more creeping than tap root and takes a few cuttings to kill it IF it dies at all. The scalping then planting sounds good though. Yes, I was also thinking about the lasagna!! I have started that in a couple of the beds of clover already thinking the clover will just die and create fabulous nitrogen rich soil. Also, yes I might just try to plant in it, pulling the clover out? I spaded a good size area about two weeks ago to see what would happen but the I see what ever I missed is definitely growing back, but the roots seem easier to pull up. But today I noticed where I did spade and mix up the soil the plants I did not get to are growing back already. Ive read that in order to get full N out of the clover, like other leguminous plants you must kill it and turn into the soil. This is typically done 2 weeks before you would plant. In the past, I would have not even thought twice about tilling. This "problem" would have been an excellent situation and still is for most farmers/gardeners. BUT with new light shed on permaculture style farming/gardening this garden would not benefit from tilling. Last year when I first arrived I tilled two of the many beds. Those two beds had more weed seed germinate than any of the others and the clover and buckwheat had a difficult time establishing. I regularly "weeded those beds of amaranth, thistle, and other things I can't remember now. So I decided then, No more tilling. In all the other beds I did not till, and the clover and buckwheat did fantastic job of covering the beds. I was able to easily select more useful "weeds" like mullein, calendula, plantain, dandelion, and other volunteer herbs and flowers from years past. I am still worried about keeping it cut back (not letting it go to seed) because that might be all I will do all summer! This is an experimental garden and it does need ground cover. I just need to figure out how to manage it properly. I am however still concerned with it competing with certain herbs. I am going to try a few different things.... Thanks!!
 
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