Four Leaf Clovers and Sweethearts!

— Written By Glenn Detweiler and last updated by Judy Moore
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Looking for a simple and fast way to determine if you need nitrogen in your yard or field? Then go for a walk! As you walk, randomly make 100 stops. At each stop, identify the plant at the toe of your shoe. If you see clover in at least 30 of those random 100 stops, then that indicates a 30% mix of clover. And if that 30% is spread evenly through the turf, then the clover will provide enough nitrogen for itself and the grass plants.

As I think back on my childhood, I can see my father as a young man, sitting on a Farmal H tractor, chewing on the stem of a 4-leaf clover. He was able to see a 4-leaf clover in any field of grass & clover. When I looked at that same field, I only saw clovers with 3 leaves. When my Dad was mowing a field, he could point out a 4 leaf clover from his tractor seat. Many times in the spring, my dad brought home 4-leaf clovers for my mother. She found one of those itty-bitty vases and put the clover in the vase, setting them in the center of our dining room table. We kids knew our father loved our mother! We were reminded of it every breakfast and every supper when we sat as a family, blessed the food, ate together, and looked at that centerpiece of 4-leaf clovers.

Clover not only makes you feel loved when someone shares their good luck with you, but it also has the ability to draw nitrogen out of the air and pass nitrogen on to surrounding plants through the soil. A plant which can do this is called a legume. Nitrogen, in the correct form, is food to the plant comparable to meat and beans on our plate. On a fertilizer bag, the first of 3 numbers you see is the percent nitrogen in the bag. Instead of buying nitrogen fertilizer you can plant clover in a yard or field and the clover will provide the surrounding soil with nitrogen – which the clover pulled out of thin air! All grasses and legumes can take form of soil nitrogen and convert it to a “high quality” nitrogen which cows, sheep, and goats can consume and convert into muscle and milk. If you want to put some clover in your yard, pasture, or hay field, NC State University scientists have experimented enough to recommend when to plant, how to plant, what to plant, and why it’s smart to plant clover. The cheapest way to add clover to grass is NOT to plow everything up and start over, as some people think these days. Instead, it’s best to spread clover’s small round seed a week before to a week after Valentine’s Day. (So in years to come, you can give your sweetheart a 4-leaf clover!) Scientists call this type of planting, frost-seeding. With the freezing and thawing of soil, the soil will crack open and shut. The seed is very small and will lay on the soil surface and fall in cracks in the soil as they occur. Presently, we have 15 different types of clover on the market. In general, short white flowering clovers are used in yards, and white, red, and purple flowering clovers are used in fields. White clovers are frost-seeded at 4 pounds per acre or 1 pound in a 100 ft. x 100 ft. lawn. Red clovers are spread at 8 pounds per acre. If you don’t like the look of clover in grass, you can plant less seed and/or choose a low growing clover which tends to be lower in height than other grasses.

Remember, all seeds need 3 main things to germinate  – right temperature, right moisture, and right amount of sunlight. The only one you can easily control is sunlight. This can be done by controlling shade made from 3-inch-tall grass growing around that seed. All seeds will germinate best where the grass is mowed short or grazed short. So if you shorten the height of the grass, the seeds you want to grow will get sunlight. Conversely, seeds you don’t want to grow must be shaded by mowing high, keeping grass longer than 3 inches. To spread clover evenly you must use a hand-turned seeder or a motorized seeder mounted on a four-wheeler. I bet you will find a 4-leaf clover along the way! By the way, my father had 6 children and only my youngest brother can spot 4-leaf clovers. And of this brother’s 3 children, only his oldest daughter can spot 4 leaf clovers, just like her dad and grandfather.

If you have any questions about clover call your extension office at 704-736-8461 and ask for Glenn Detweiler, Forage & Livestock Agent for the Cooperative Extension Service, or text me at 405-219-1902…but, unfortunately, I can’t find a 4-leaf clover for you. Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!