If you desire an easy, natural, and eventually free, way to ensure nitrogen in the soil year after year, white clover is a great option. There are no costly soil amendments and this is ideally suited in permaculture design. It is a multi-functional ground cover.
The botanical name is Trifolium repens. Typically, it’s called white clover, or Dutch white clover. Trifolium literally translates into three (tri) leaves (folium). Repens means “creeping.” White clover is a perennial and native to Europe, North Africa and West Asia.
Clover typically is viewed as an invasive weed, however, it has many long-term benefits listed below.
While clover can grow in most any soil pH, it prefers clay, or clay and silt. It can grow in sandy soils, provided there is enough moisture. It fixes nitrogen in the soil and out-competes grass and other weeds. It breaks up soil and the roots add aeration to the soil. It also prevents soil erosion. The suggested amount of clover seed is two pounds per acre (or 1/4-1/2 lb. every 1000 square feet), depending on the amount of cover one wants, and the growing medium.
Edible and Medicinal Use
White clover is typically grown as forage for grazing livestock. However, it is also a survival food for humans. It can be difficult to digest in greater quantity, but can be eaten raw. It is high in protein. It can be cooked briefly to aid digestibility. The seeds and flowers can be made into a flour. It can also be steeped as a tea. The roots are edible as well.
Native tribes have used white clover to treat coughs, colds, fevers and eye ailments, and other ailments. It’s good for detoxification.
Here’s an interesting video on the subject (it’s not my video, so be sure to visit their Youtube page and give it a like, if you like the video):
Benefits of White Clover
As mentioned already and summing up, white clover is a living mulch that fixes nitrogen (it can fix up to 1/3 of the amount of nitrogen a lawn needs, if one grows a lawn, which I don’t–and some people are now growing this as a lawn alternative), stops soil erosion, breaks up hard clay, aerates the soil, is edible and medicinal for animals and humans, and out-competes grass and weeds. But white clover is also a beneficial insect attractant. It produces pollen and nectar for foraging pollinators. In addition, if it’s tilled under (I use no-till gardening), it adds biomass to the soil.
Sometimes red (and other) clover is mentioned as a good nitrogen fixer, rather than white clover. It is excellent. But it gets very tall, less ideal under fruit trees. White clover can be mowed short and doesn’t get very tall.
There are other possible ground covers, but for the sake of a low growing ground cover, white clover is about the best for this purpose. Walkways in an orchard or garden can be made of clover also. One needs to be careful in management of these areas, because clover can crowd out desirable plants.
Here is where I got my one pound of seeds (note how large your area is – 1/4-1/2 lb. can cover 1000 square feet – also, I am not an affiliate!). White Clover Seed (Cover Crop, Pasture, Lawns, Wildlife Attractant)