The Q&A Archives: clover/shamrock?

Question: I am confused about clover. I've heard clover in a lawn is a good nitrogen source, but I've never cared for the look and thought it invasive. Is the clover that's in a lawn the same clover that is suggested to plant in a garden for soil health? Or is there an annual clover that will die and not come back and provide the same nutrients? And if so, can I direct sow it? I've also seen at garden centers planted with cactus a type of possibly miniature clover. Do you know what that is? Shamrocks - green and purple - do they provide the same type of soil enhancement nutrients? My experience is that they are very tender, so I'm thinking they would not invade, but would they grow as an annual outside?

Answer: Botanically speaking, clover is Trifolium, a member of the Legume family. All legumes have nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots. The plants take nitrogen from the atmosphere and store it up. Clover that is used for cover crops (usually Crimson Clover, Trifolium fragiferum) should be turned into the soil before it flowers and sets seeds. When the plants are turned under and begin to decompose, the root nodules release the nitrogen, which enriches the soil. The clover that appears in lawns is usually Trifolium repens, or White Clover. It also fixes nitrogen in the soil. Clover in the lawn is rarely mowed down often enough to keep the flowers from producing seeds and that's why it becomes such a pest. Both kinds of clovers also spread through spreading stems that root easily - a good thing for a cover crop, but not so good in the lawn. The plant that's called Shamrock is actually Oxalis, commonly called Wood Sorrel. These plants have clover-like leaves but they grow from bulbs or rhizomes (thickened roots). Oxalis generally grows in a mound and does not spread. Most species of Oxalis are perennials and grow outdoors except in the coldest winter climates. Hope this information clears up the confusion!

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