A handful of the “lawn ornaments” that will be featured in this blog series. Top row (left to right): sunshine mimosa, perennial peanut, frogfruit, and fleabane. Bottom row (left to right): pennywort, Lobelia, Florida snow, and blue-eyed grass.Welcome to our Lawn Ornament blog series, where we explore the plethora of micro-plants that can help create a biodiverse, predominantly green, yet also delightfully colorful lawn that requires much less maintenance than a traditional grass lawn.
Many homeowners find it difficult and costly to maintain a “traditional” lawn, one largely dominated by a single grass cultivar. Embracing a biodiverse landscape can ease the frustration and save money, with the added bonus of providing ecological benefits. This “Lawn Ornament” series will provide a road map to that goal. Along the way, we’ll showcase volunteer “weeds” and commercially available ground covers that can improve upon the biodiversity of our lawns. We will also offer you tips and techniques to adopt and embrace this biodiverse approach. Breaking free from tradition, we can transform yards and neighborhoods to vibrant, beautiful mixed-mowable ecosystems.
Make sure to check out the Starter Guide: Embracing Lawn Ornaments: A Starter Guide
Hop Clover? Should I Be Hopping Mad or Glad?
At the Sarasota County Extension Office, we frequently encounter individuals keen on exploring clover lawns. It’s heartening to witness this growing interest in alternatives to monoculture turf. As this blog series was created to enlighten people about various groundcover alternatives and so-called ‘weeds‘ that can be embraced instead of herbicided.
Traditional White Clover doesn’t thrive well in our region. So, at our office we advocate for embracing native alternatives such as Frogfruit and Sunshine Mimosa instead of purchasing clover seeds and being disappointed in the results. However, if European Clover or the more common Hop Clover happens to appear, we don’t see it necessary to pursue eradication.
Let’s delve into this familiar lawn ornament often mistaken for White Clover – Hop Clover, scientifically known as Medicago lupulina. This plant is also commonly referred to as Black Medic or Black Medick. This small unassuming plant possesses its own unique charm, presenting both advantages and disadvantages in its use for lawn ornamentation.
Vibrant Seasonal Greenery
One of the standout features of hop clover is its vibrant green color, particularly noticeable during the winter months when many other plants like our turf grasses lie dormant. This adds a splash of life to lawns, creating a lush lawn even in the coldest seasons.
Nitrogen Fixation and Soil Improvement
As a legume, hop clover has the remarkable ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil through the use of symbiotic root bacteria. This process not only enhances the plant’s own growth but also contributes to overall soil health. When it dies off in the summertime it recycles its organic matter, and this fixed nitrogen into the soil. Basically, working as a cover crop that benefits neighboring plants and promotes a healthier, more robust lawn.
Winter Flowering for Pollinators
Hop clover blooms even in the depths of winter, providing a vital food source for honeybees and other pollinators. At a time when floral resources are scarce, this winter-flowering clover can be a crucial lifeline for these essential insects.
Hop Clover proves itself as an incredibly resilient annual, showcasing its prowess in surviving drought conditions. According to one UF/IFAS EDIS document, it goes beyond being a mere survivor – it actually serves as an indicator of dry, well-drained soil. In times when other plants succumb to arid conditions, the intricate rhizomes of Hop Clover work tirelessly, maintaining lush and green foliage.
Summer Heat Sensitivity
A significant drawback of hop clover is its susceptibility to summer heat. As a winter annual, it thrives in cooler temperatures but tends to wither and die off during the hotter months. This seasonality may limit its appeal as a year-round groundcover. It does complements other lawn ornaments well, such as Sunshine Mimosa which can be winter dormant. Remember, a biodiverse lawn is a healthy lawn and the best for sustainability and ecology.
Hop clover is not native the Americas, it is an Old-World plant native to Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was likely brought here as a pasture plant due to its nitrogen fixing ability. A close relative to Alfalfa, it is great forage for small cattle such as goats and sheep. While it can offer ecological benefits even as a nonnative plant, native groundcovers are generally preferable for better supporting the local flora and fauna of our great state. As far as my research could uncover even though it has been around for decades, if not centuries, there are no known negative impacts to natural areas from the plant. It seems to only like pastures, lawns, and disturbed mowed areas.
In the grand living tapestry of lawn ornaments, hop clover can play a role. Its vibrant greenery, nitrogen-fixing abilities, and winter flowering make it an attractive choice, its sensitivity to summer heat and non-native status should be known. Embracing Hop Clover in your lawn is your choice. However, Forest is personally against utilizing chemical herbicides for landscaping aesthetics.
Your decision to keep hop clover as a lawn ornament can be the start of a new holistic approach to your lawn. Consider incorporating biodiverse and native groundcovers to support local ecology. We can create a blended, harmonious lawn that doesn’t detract from our natural resources. In doing so, your lawn becomes not just a patch of grass but a living, breathing canvas that evolves with the changing seasons, fostering a healthier and more vibrant environment.
- UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants: https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/assessments/medicago-lupulina/
- UF/IFAS Fact Sheet: https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/duval/horticulture/homowner-hort-pdfx27s/Medicago_lupulina.pdf
During the preparation of this work, the author used ChatGPT to help build the blog post. After using this tool/service, the author reviewed and edited the content, and takes full responsibility for the content of the publication.
Source: UF/IFAS Pest Alert
Note: All images and contents are the property of UF/IFAS.