Plant Profile: Crimson Clover

crimsonclover

Like all clover varieties, CRIMSON CLOVER makes a very useful addition to any gardening (or farming) plan for its multiple benefits. Probably the first thing we humans will notice is its striking beauty, with its dark reddish-purple flowers in a large, slightly conical head.

In warmer climates, crimson clover is typically grown as a winter annual cover crop, while in slightly cooler climates it can thrive during the summer (click here for sowing dates and other cultivation tips). Clover is a leguminous plant, which means that it harbors bacteria (called rhizobia) in its roots that can fix atmospheric nitrogen and convert it to a form that is usable by plants. This is why crimson clover is one of various nitrogen-fixing cover crops that are used to help replenish the nitrogen that gets depleted in soils used for agriculture (the nitrogen is typically released when the plants are tilled back into the soil; for those of us doing no-till, using it as a green mulch and letting it die back is a useful alternative option, though you might not get quite as much nitrogen that way).

Like all clover varieties (including yellow, the familiar white, and purple), crimson clover is a magnet for pollinators with its ample nectar production while flowering, so having a patch of it in your yard or a garden area is always a good idea for supporting pollinator species. When used for this purpose during the summer (not as a field- or plot-wide cover crop), crimson clover can be mixed in with other flowers to create stunning meadows or flower beds, or even between larger fruiting bushes and trees.

One way we like to use crimson clover is as an alternative to fescue and other grasses grown on most lawns, creating more of a meadowscape than a golf course green. However, note that crimson clover grows to about 18 inches tall, so be aware of any lawn-height ordinances in your area if you live in a city or town (in these cases, white clover is a better alternative, since it usually stays below 6 inches). For all you country folk, this makes a much more sustainable and wildlife-friendly landscaping choice than fescue.

(P.S.: The clover pictured here is shown with dandelion, another common and multiply useful edible that can be foraged in the wild, and gooseberries, which are a fun but not-too-common berry. We can talk about those in the future…)

 

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