Every year at Vans Pines Nursery, we evaluate top issues to tackle in the following year. This past year, in particular, weed management was a big source of frustration for us. Like most farms, we use a combination of chemical and manual weed removal throughout the season. However, no matter how many labor hours we threw at it, we could not get ahead of the curve.
What if you could minimize or even eliminate the need for both chemical and manual weed control? Keep reading to learn more about our investigation into Clover used as a cover crop.
What is a cover crop?
A cover crop is officially defined as a crop grown for the protection and enrichment of the soil. Typically, it is a plant that is sown to cover fallow portions of the farm as part of a crop rotation to revitalize the soil. It can also be a means to prevent weed pressure and erosion, such as orchard grass in aisleways.
Or, in Clovers’ case, it can be both.
The Cons of Using Clover as a Cover Crop
Let’s start with the cons of using Micro White Clover as a cover crop. Some of the cons include:
- General Hardiness: If you’re not a fan of Clover, then the resilience and vigor of Clover will be a definite con. Clover is typically thick and fast-growing, and many selections are winter hardy, making it difficult to get rid of once established.
- Pollinator Attractant: Most Clover selections are supportive of pollinator populations, and some are even favorites for bees. While the current general consensus is favorable for pollinator conservation, those allergic may desire a cover crop that is less favorable towards bees.
- Governing Body Restrictions: Some states may consider Clover an invasive weed, and therefore restrict its application. This can also cause concerns when utilized in container production, as it can limit the scope of the states that you’re permitted to ship to.
Alright, on to the pros.
The Benefits of Using Clover as a Cover Crop
The pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to using Micro White Clover as a cover crop. Some of the benefits include:
- Nitrogen Fixing: Clover is a nitrogen fixer, meaning it is capable of utilizing nitrogen from the atmosphere in its growth. As the plant grows and dies, the remaining nitrogen within the plant matter is then available within the soil.
- Non-Chemical Weed Control: Clover features a shallow root system that vigorously expands to support a dense carpet above ground. Because of this growth pattern, it can effectively suppress weeds once well established.
- Shallow Rooting: Clover has a shallow root system that only grows down about 1 to 2 inches. Because of the growth habits of most conifers’ root systems, it is very unlikely to compete for any resources.
- Small Stature: Some selections, such as Micro White Clover, grow a maximum height of about 3 to 5 inches. Because of this, it will not shade any of the conifers out from receiving their necessary amount of sunlight.
- General Hardiness: As stated above, this can serve as a pro and a con. If you don’t want the clover, then yes, this hardiness might get a little annoying due to its perseverance. However, if you enjoy all of the benefits Clover provides like weed and control and nitrogen-fixing, you’re bound to love the resilience Clover brings to the table.
Should Clover be used as a cover crop?
After reading through the pros and cons of using Clover as a cover crop to prevent the growth and spread of weeds, what do you think?
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