Friday, May 27, 2016

Daylily Companion Plant White Clover

Daylily Companion Plant
White Clover 
Trifolium repens

This section has had the clover pulled from around the plants and then spread around the plants as mulch, but the clover has been left growing through the path to reduce mud and create soft pathways.

White Clover
Trifolium repens

A Green Mulch while growing, helping to retain topsoil and soil moisture.

 A Nitrogen fixing Legume that adds nitrogen to the soil while growing. 

Releases nitrogen and other organic nutrients when cut and used as a mulch.

Depending on the type of White clover used, plants may mature at 12" down to 6" with Dwarf types of White clover.

Dwarf types may be preferred in display beds or visible/ornamental gardens, however, they also produce less organic matter through the lower volume of leaf and stem produced.

A perennial that survives cutting and produces abundant growth.

Abundant growth results in large amounts of organic material (cut clover leaves and stems) to use as mulch.

Abundant growth also fixes nitrogen into the soil while holding topsoil in place.

As Hemerocallis are monocots, they tend to like nitrogen and respond well to the presence of nitrogen in their soil.

A nitrogen fixing legume that doesn't outgrow the daylilies through outcompeting them is a valuable companion plant to the daylily indeed.



The areas of the gardens where I am using green mulch from growing clover, which I periodically cut and use as organic matter mulch, are my hybridizing gardens. I started cutting clover yesterday, working in small sections and cutting or pulling the clover leaves. I have generated a huge amount of mulch for free this way that produced nitrogen while it was growing and will now release nitrogen and other organic nutrients as it decomposes.

I have been interested in permaculture for many years, so creating this natural nitrogen-additive, soil improvement program that reduces erosion, soil drying and weeds while retaining moisture is just so exciting to me. It is also very low input and very high output at the same time. The areas of the main hybridizing garden where I have been doing this for the last few years have gone from orange/peach sand and clay blend with minimal topsoil to rich, heavy brown to black soil with lots of earthworms. 



By being forced to allow the clover to grow longer due to circumstance (rain and a stiff knee), I have been able to see the interaction, competition and cooperation of the clover with the daylilies. The daylilies have flourished as has the clover, and the Daylilies with the most clover around them seem to look the best. This is regular white clover (Trifolium repens) growing to about 12" tall at maturity. I took some pictures today as I was working, of before and after shots of the garden, with 'before' uncut white clover and 'after' of the cut clover spread around the plants as mulch.

The roots and main vining stems of the clover are still in place, so they will continue to produce nitrogen as the leaves regrow. I also have produced a large amount of mulch for free that is nutritious to the daylilies. This ground-cover/mulch combination is great for me because it continues to generate mulch but even when it isn't cut for long periods of time, daylilies grow well in it as the clover does not out-compete the daylilies while the added nitrogen of the clover seems to in turn help the daylilies to grow profusely.

I still have to weed, but mainly for larger weeds and trees, like maple, poplar or poke, but not for the hundreds of annual and small weeds I used to deal with in that garden. It is important to understand that a garden is not a natural thing. All gardens require some maintenance. It is my experience that there really is no such thing as a weed-free garden. It is all in how you manage weeds, especially removing large and difficult-to-remove weeds in a timely fashion. No garden of any form can go without ever being weeded, because transitional weeds and trees will begin to grow and return your "garden" to pristine "unkempt-disturbed-field" environment, which will eventually lead back to forest.

What I find important about the clover is that when it has made a full ground cover in a particular area, it suppresses the germination of many seeds and drastically reduces the number of species, but it takes time to get the clover to this point. You have to allow it to grow and encourage it to cover areas that are bare. Uncovered soil is an invitation to weed seed germination. Clover makes thick mats of runners, leaf stems, bloom stems, blooms and leaves. In turn it shades the ground well and much germination is suppressed. That then creates conditions where you are not continuously battling weed seedlings, though you will have to weed some and preferably in a timely fashion, if at all possible. 

I wish clover would work in the seedling beds, but I don't see any way it can. I will continue to trial it and may experiment with some dwarf forms, but I don't think the seeds could germinate through it, though older seedlings of several months or more do fine with clover growing around them. My smallest seedling bed is in the hybridizing garden and those seedlings have not been smothered out and have grown in a good manner. I think I am going to be moving over to this method with all my beds except seedling beds. 

I am now looking into a dwarf Dutch white clover that only gets 6" tall. It may be even better than the normal sized type I have, but it may not produce as much dry mulch. However, it might look tidier in gardens where people want a shorter ground cover, even if the daylilies do fine in the 12", taller version, but I know the 12" forms work well and has added considerable benefit to my poor soil just by growing in it. Did I mention it was free and most people weed it out of their gardens? :-) Seed is also inexpensive for 5 lbs online. That should more than cover all my small fields.

Please don't imagine I am saying you should use White clover as a green mulch and ground cover. I am simply saying that I am glad I have used it and will continue to do so, because I have found it to be beneficial on many levels. However, if using White clover as a green mulch and ground cover interests you, I certainly encourage you to make a web-search for more information. There is much out there to be found. I will continue to update this page periodically.

The cut clover leaves and flowers, and leaf and flower stems, will now brown and die becoming a dry mulch. The worms will gradually pull the dried, decaying leaves and stems into the soil to release their nutrients. The clover also gradually regrows and fills back in, so you get the benefit of multiple cuttings through the year, though it should not be cut as often as lawn grass. I am finding about once every two to four weeks is probably enough and will still provide ample mulch to completely cover the soil surface, even in the areas where the clover hasn't fully established yet. As well, where there are mature seed heads in the cut matter, there is a good chance of spreading the clover seeds into bare areas, further helping to make a complete covering for the garden soil.