En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Thursday - March 05, 2009

From: Marysville, WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: General Botany, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Clover in grass in Marysville WA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I noticed clover growing in my grass and know that this is a sign of poor nitrogen in my soil. I would like to know of some native plants / shrubs that I could put near my house in Washington that would help fix the problem.

ANSWER:

There are a number of plants referred to as clovers or having "clover" in their common name. The true clovers are all members of the Trifolium genus, and the Fabaceae or pea family. We found four of these that are native to Washington, including Trifolium fucatum (bull clover)Trifolium macrocephalum (largehead clover), Trifolium willdenowii (tomcat clover) and Trifolium wormskioldii (cows clover)

These plants are all legumes, members of the Fabaceae, or pea family, of which there are many genera and species, all sharing the common trait of being able to transfer nitrogen from the air into their roots. When the plant dies, the nitrogen is released into the soil, making it available to other plants. You could say that the clover is "fixing" the problem.This Gardening Know How website Nitrogen Nodules and Nitrogen Fixing Plants explains this better than we can. 

All legumes perform the same function but there are easier ways to get nitrogen into your soil for your plants than planting a variety of pea plants. For instance, if you want your grass to take over the clover, instead of the reverse, fertilize the grass with a higher nitrogen and lower phosphorus fertilizer. If you feel some of your plants are suffering from a lack of nitrogen, fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer should help. You do not want to use a too-high nitrogen content fertilizer for ornamentals, as it will produce lots of green leaves, which is what you want in a grass, but at the expense of the amount of flowering.

Plants require a mix of nutrients to remain healthy. Nutrients that are needed in relatively large amounts are called macronutrients, and include nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sulfur and magnesium. These nutrients should be available from the soil, but the best way to make them more accessible to the plant roots is to keep the soil aerated. Adding compost or other organic material to the soil, mulching the surface, permitting decomposition to add still more nutrients, and making sure sufficient water is being provided will all contribute. 

If you're really serious about planting nitrogen-fixing plants, consider the Lupine, genus lupinus.  Our beloved Texas Bluebonnet is Lupinus texensis (Texas bluebonnet), but this would probably not prosper in Washington. However, you have some lupines that are native to Washington, including Lupinus bicolor (miniature lupine), Lupinus polyphyllus (bigleaf lupine) and Lupinus sericeus (silky lupine).


Trifolium fucatum

Trifolium willdenowii

Lupinus texensis

Lupinus bicolor

Lupinus polyphyllus

Lupinus sericeus

 

 

 

More Herbs/Forbs Questions

Deer-resistant plants for under cedar and oak trees in Austin
June 22, 2010 - I have about 1.5 acres in southern Travis county. It's full of mature live oaks and cedar trees, and the soil is full of limestone. I've been gathering the limestone and using them to create raise...
view the full question and answer

Indian paintbrush wedding
October 20, 2004 - I live in western Montana and have become quite fond of the flower known as indian paintbrush. I will be getting married this next July, and would like to incorporate the flower into my wedding; Howe...
view the full question and answer

Plants for soil with basalt outcroppings in Idaho
March 30, 2008 - We have basalt (lava) outcropping in part of our back yard and know we'll have to search for pockets of soil in which to plant. Any suggestions about what trees or shrubs would have a chance in thes...
view the full question and answer

Need to stabilize a south facing slope in Henderson, NC
April 30, 2010 - Hi, I have a south facing slope that is heavy clay with rock under it. It gets a lot of sun. I have planted a few bushes and some ground cover, but with all the snow and rain we had this past winter, ...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for shady area in north Texas
July 29, 2013 - I'm looking for a ground cover for a mostly shady area where St. Augustine won't grow. I don't want the ground cover to overtake my established St. Augustine in the rest of the yard. The area is un...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center