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Best way to transition from grass lawn to clover lawn?  RSS feed

 
Andie Carter
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To be to the point, both of us are allergic to grass, although it usually only bothers us when we mow, or when the grass gets so tall that it flowers (ok, that's not actually true- it itches any time bare skin comes in contact with grass, with the exception of the soles of the feet). We have about a quarter acre suburban plot, much of which will be built into gardens, however, we do like to entertain outside, have picnics in the back yard, etc, and so some space will be left resembling a lawn-type area.

The soil seems decent, not wet, with a strong southern exposure for most of the area (we live in zone 8, the wet side of the Cascade mountains). I would like to transition from grass to a predominantly clover lawn (with stuff like English daisies, yarrow, sheep sorrel, violets, crocuses, etc mixed in)- what is the best or easiest way to do this? It doesn't have to be fast, but I would like to have the process started before the summer. I work as a teacher, so I don't have oodles of time to spend on this, unfortunately. Pie-in-the-sky-amazing would have a good sized patch of clover lawn established and ready for use by June.

Here's my thoughts so far:
- Borrow/rent a rototiller (Cons: have to wait for the soil to dry out, costs money, messes with the soil structure, spreads any tenacious weeds that are started from roots, unpleasant smells and noise and sight until the clover starts to cover. Pros: done in all in one go, or as close to one as I can manage)

- Solarize the lawn one patch at a time (Cons: slow, tedious process, have to buy plastic, ugly, pita, kills bacteria/fungi as well? Pros: Cheap, physically easy, quiet, no noxious fumes, can start soon.)

- Dig a patch at a time (Cons: Labor intensive, takes a lot of time, also disturbs the soil structure, only giving the clover a head start because it's not actually killing the grass. Pros: No new purchases, quiet, will intimately know yard by the time I'm done, can start soon.)

- Sheet mulch a patch at a time (Cons: will take forever, will have to hunt down a lot of mulch, might be considered ugly, lots of physical labor. Pros: Probably very cheap, increases the organic material content of the soil, no awful smells or sounds, can start soon. )

Thoughts and ideas? Anyone with advice who has done it before?
 
Casie Becker
garden master
Posts: 1470
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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forest garden urban
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What kind of grass are you competing with? In my area (Zone 8 also) nearly all the lawn type grasses (both those seeded and those where native grasses are mowed and so only the lawn appropriate native survived)) would only be multiplied by a tilling unless you sieved out the root pieces. They also have root structures deep enough in the ground to survive solarization in most cases.

When I need to kill a patch of grass I've always done it with sheet mulching and patience (takes a full year to kill most of a patch of our grass) but I've also started encouraging one of the few native plants that can out compete the grass. It's a slow process that I don't expect to every actually finish.

Most of my families successful picnics happened; not on grass, which harbors ants, stickers, little gnats and other irritants; but on top of large rocks. Sometimes these were surrounded by grass. On a couple of memorable occasions we swam to the  middle of creeks or ponds and had our picnic there. The key to having it feel like a picnic was combining the packed food with our thick quilted picnic blanket. In our current yard when we entertain, having enough seating has been far more important than having the grass. No one ever spreads out to use the grass. They congregate around the table and chairs.

That's not to say you can't manage a non-grass lawn. In addition to clover, frog fruit, horse herb, thyme and roman camomile are just a few of the many successful alternatives I've heard of. Frog fruit is the native I'm encouraging in my own lawn.

Maybe there is some reason you didn't list why you need that lawn space. Maybe you just like the aesthetic. I just wanted to suggest the possibility in case such nontraditional yards aren't as common in your area as they are here. I'm sorry I don't have any good tricks for eliminating grasses. Even in my deeply mulched gardens I spend a lot of time pulling grass out of the edges.
 
Andie Carter
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I appreciate the feed back! I actually do have a coupe reasons for wanting the lawn type area. First off, we do partner acrobatics outside as one of our favorite summer time activities. It's much more pleasant to do this on some sort of lawn area than rocks or sand (softer, no sand falling in eyes, etc). Other hobbies include slack lining, yoga, etc, some of which work ok over rocks and some of which definitely should not be practiced over hard areas.  The second reason is to serve as a source of composting and mulching material to enrich the soil of the edible gardens.

I don't really know what kind of grass I'm dealing with, I guess I should figure that out first! Maybe I'm lucky and it's an easy to kill kind.
 
Jeff Wesolowski
Posts: 39
Location: nw ohio
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I haven't planted in large areas of sod but one way to really stun an area is too put chickens or rabbits in tractor in the spots and let it get eaten to bare soil.  I've had really good luck planting in hard soil with a lawn plugger. I put in mixed grass seed and clover in swale. The sat for a bit and the clay became really hard.  The lawn plugger did a great job of having a spot for the seed to drop into and get covered with a bit of soil with the next rain.  The seed came up nice and even, better than one could expect and some hard clay with a little bit of slope.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9715
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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Jeff Wesolowski wrote:I haven't planted in large areas of sod but one way to really stun an area is too put chickens or rabbits in tractor in the spots and let it get eaten to bare soil.  


This may not always work.  I had chickens on a grassy area and left them there until it was apparently bare earth.  After removing them and a good rain, the grass has grown back from seed and looks fabulous.

Here's my supposedly dead as a doornail grass:
P1060607.jpg
[Thumbnail for P1060607.jpg]
 
Casie Becker
garden master
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Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Tyler, if that's the same type of grass as in my yard (and it's likely, mine's native grasses) it's very possible those came back from roots buried several feet under ground. I've pulled grass from 8 foot deep mulch piles and had to follow the runner all the way to the ground. There's records of the roots going much deeper.
 
Troy Rhodes
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I have an alternative lawn experiment going on my steep bank.  You can mow it with a rider, but it's a pain in the neck.  And who like mowing really?

So, I tilled up a patch last fall in september, and then seeded the relatively new variety of clover called Durana.  This was bred to produce about double the number of runners or stolons compared to normal white clover.

It's supposed to be one of the lower clovers.  It competes well with kentucky bluegrass and other forbes ("weeds"), although it will never become a monoculture.  It fixes nitrogen, so no more fertilizing.

Makes nice blooms for the bees.  Rabbits love it.  Deer love it (it was developed for people who put in low maint. deer plots.)

I'm hoping it needs mowing 2 or 3 times a year instead of 15 or 20.

It is neither super cheap, nor super expensive as far as clover seed goes.


So far, it has looked noticeably greener than the surrounding grass.

 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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I'd broadcast Dutch Clover seed and keep that grass mowed short until the clover grew above it. Grasses generally need full sun or part sun to grow, so when the clover is shading it out, the grass should cease to grow.

Normally I like to broadcast seed at least three times as I establish an area, this gets lots of plants growing and helps shade out what I am planting over so it ends up not growing because it has been dominated by my selected plants.

Redhawk
 
Dan Boone
gardener
Posts: 1776
Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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I've been making a start using the "patch method" by following my dogs and gophers.  When one or the other (or both together) makes a bare dirt patch or a dug hole, I scatter clover seed all over the disturbed area and then (to prevent ankle breaking) fill any holes up with woodchip mulch.  If you seed them heavily each of those disturbed patches comes back as  lush clover patch.  My hope is that eventually I'll have more clover than grass, and it seems to be working so far. 
 
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