Memo to Scotts – Clover and Dandelions are Good Things



Garden writer Marty Ross got two emails from the PR department of Scotts MiracleGro last week, the first one with this headline and first sentence:

Taking Over Local Lawns

"What: Clover
is popping up in lawns all over the area and choking out healthy grass spotting
neighborhood lawns and parks with white flowers."  It went on to list details about the where, when, why of clover.  Then it came in for the kill, literally.

"How to Stop this:
completely control clover, the seed and stolon need to be killed by using a
high-quality broadleaf weed killer." The recommended actions include mowing mowing high and, of course, fertilizing: "As
always, the best prevention for clover and all weeds is to follow a regular
feeding program to achieve a lawn that is thick enough to keep weeds like clover
from establishing in the first place."

And for killing, here's the list of recommended products to fix the dire clover problem: Scotts Turf Builder with Plus 2 Weed
Control, Scotts Turf Builder with Plus 2 with
Built-In Spreader, Scotts Liquid Turf Builder Plus
2, Ortho Weed-B-Gon Max Plus Crabgrass
Control, Ortho Weed-B-Gon Max, Ortho Weed-B-Gon
Chickweed, Clover, and Oxalis Killer for Lawns, and Ortho Dial N' Spray Hose End
Sprayer.  What an arsenal!


The second email from Scotts followed an identical tone and format.

Local Lawns Being
Invaded by Yellow Flowers

: Be on alert- Dandelions have been spotted
in local neighborhoods."  Followed by the same when-where-why, and this solution:  "To completely control dandelions, the
taproot has to be killed by using a high-quality broadleaf weed
killer." (Note, no mention of digging up the stuff.)  Then there's the same directive to feed and use the same list of herbicides.

But Marty Ross's response to all this information wasn't to pass it along to her readers, as Scotts intended.  An eco-savvy journalist, she defended clover in her reply to Scotts and for good measure, forwarded it to GardenRant.  (Did she similarly defend dandelions?  I forgot to ask. Marty?) 

Hello Keri: I'm not an expert but it is my understanding that clover was
once very prominent in lawns, and that it no longer is bc the herbicides used
against most weeds also wipe out clover.

Clover is actually very good for lawns and for the environment. It attracts
bees, doesn't need to be mowed as often as grass, and supplies nitrogen. I like
to have some clover in my lawn; it keeps the rabbits out of my garden. We
actually seeded clover this year.

Here is a link to an article on About.com,
and a link to Lawn Reform:

Scotts ought to show more awareness of the environment, and encourage
gardeners who wish to have multi-species lawns to include clover. Sure it's not
a good all-over turf, but clover is pretty, durable, and a sign of a healthy,
diverse habitat. One reason some people have clover in their lawns is bc they
can't grow grass there.

Sorry to start a fight, but CLOVER TAKING OVER LAWNS is a sensational

With regards, Marty

No response yet from Keri Butler or anyone at Scotts, so I promised Marty I'd forward this to their Sustainability Officer – remember her?  Yes, we  scoffed when Scotts established that position but Jan Valentic, the Sustainability Officer herself, saw our scoffing and responded very nicely, concluding with this invitation to dialogue with us:

just created this position and need advisors like you to help ensure
that our sustainability efforts are not greenwashing – but rather stand
up to the scrutiny of naturalists and people who have a passion for
plants. I grew up as the daughter of an opinionated president of her
local garden club, and my mother passed along her love of and
astonishment at nature right out our back door. I take very seriously
the honor and responsibility to help advance sustainability at Scotts.

I look forward to hearing your ideas and feedback. I will be
starting a blog soon. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me at my email
address below.

Thanks, Jan

So Jan, we'd love to hear from you about the continued labeling of clover and dandelions as bad plants, thereby creating demand for products and practices that are unnecessary and environmentally harmful. 

These messages are also examples of Scotts's constant push for the overfertilizing of lawns, even in spring when it's most likely to pollute our waters.  About which pollution there seems to be plenty of evidence because the authorities all tell us not to follow your advice.

Dandelion photo by Mike Deal.


  1. Hi Susan,

    I also find this very distressing. Words such as “prevention” and “control” on packaging or in advertising suggest to consumers that whatever is the object of this eradication must be bad.

    As children, we all loved dandelions, which says something about how adults view the world. People used to eat dandelions — how far we’ve gone in the wrong direction!Clover has been a component of every lawn mix I’ve ever bought and is a food source for wildlife.

    People may differ in their level of tolerance for “imperfection” in their lawns, but I’m very disappointed that Scott’s doesn’t spend more time, money, and energy developing products that move away from monoculture lawns. THAT would advance them toward becoming a truly “green” company and a leader in sustainability — something that will require a 180-degree change in corporate philosophy. Can they do it?

    I think they can, if folks like us show them there is a big untapped market out here.


  2. Clover doesn’t bother me at all, even creeping Charlie is tolerable, but, man, do I hate dandelions, esp. when billions of them from the neighboring tree farm here go to seed. It’s like snow in summer.

  3. Europeans still eat dandelions. Dandelion greens are some of the first greens available in the spring. The are high in vitamins A and C and contains other vitamins and minerals. Good for the winter starved settler but not good enough for all of us? What is wrong with this picture? The flower buds are quite bitter but the flowers are used in winemaking. Perhaps there should be some research and development on producing dandelions with larger greens and flowers. The taproot can be peeled and roasted in the oven and then ground for coffee/tea. The roots of the dandelion do help aerate heavy soil or so I have read. All of this and the dandelion is relegated to weed heap. It could be the new arugula with the right marketing. How about it Susan? Let’s give it a go.

  4. The sustainability officer at Scotts should look at the company’s advertising for Weed B Gon and Bug B Gon, two products that completely ignore the fact that some bugs and weeds are good for the environment by implying that all insects and weeds are bad and need to B Gon. Sustainability means using the least toxic material and treating the problem ONCE it’s been identified, not just wholesale slaughter of bugs and weeds (clover?).

  5. Scotts has no intention of becoming a truly “green” company. If they did, they wouldn’t send out garbage like this. They make their money by convincing homeowners that they are somehow lacking unless they have a perfect (weed-free!) lawn. Does anyone seriously believe they’re going to come along and say “oh, never mind — weeds are good!”? Until they stop sending messages like the ones Marty received, any sustainability efforts are nothing more than greenwashing, despite the garbage their PR machine spins and sends out to the garden media.

  6. According to her message, Jan wants to “advance sustainability” within her company. Ecological sustainability is about maintaining diversity in plant life, not killing off everything that ad campaigns tell us is undesirable. I would hope that before Scotts spends any more money on laughable PR emails such as those referenced above, they’ll invest in people who actually give a damn about the environment instead of just padding their own pockets.

  7. When I was in Paris they were selling dandelions in the shops in pretty little crates for urban gardens. Too bad that is not a craze here. Love my clover and will not will not bow to the pressure from the cul de sac to mow it.

    Thanks again for raising awareness about those evil high maintainance lawns.

  8. I love the clover in my lawn. It attracts the bees I need to pollinate my veggies. And my kid help me keep dandelions in check- she picks all the pretty flowers before they go to seed. There’s no need for mass killings of innocent plants!

  9. One of my favorite childhood memories is of lying on my stomach in the grass (I don’t think we even called it ‘lawn’) on a warm summer day looking for 4-leaf clovers… given all the chemicals that pesticide companies such as Scott advocate, I’m not sure that now it would be safe to do that on a lawn treated per their maintenance schedule… Another loss for childhood….

  10. Dandilions and White Clover are NEEDED to support the dieing honeybee population.

    Colony Colapse Disorder (CCD) is destroying roughly 20-30% of commercial and hobby bee hives. Hives with CCD basically disapear — sick bees tend to leave for the good of the hive, but with CCD all the bees are sick and vanishing… Though no one knows the exact cause of CCD it is suspected that the over-use of chemical pesticides and herbicides are a factor. Chemicals are tracked back to the hive, incorporated in the wax and eventually a level of toxicity is reached that the bees can no longer tolerate. Another indicator of this theory is the fact that other bees leave the hive alone and do not come in to rob the abandoned honey.

    As to the specific “weeds” dandilions are necessary, even primary sources of pollen (the only protien for bees eat) for honeybees. Dandilions bloom at a time when the bees need a good source of food to build up hive strength after the winter. The hive will need to be strong so that they can make enough honey during “honey flow” (peak bloom)to ensure they will last another winter.

    Most of a honeybee’s honey comes from “weed” flowers. Especially WHITE CLOVER… honeybee tongues are surprisingly short — for example honeybees cannot collect nectar from Red Clover because red clover tubuals are too long/deep — and while we might think that honeybees are drinking deep at lilies and roses, but they can’t. Most gardens do not contain flowers suitable for honeybees.

    There are a variety of wild bees who have longer tongues but the honey bee feeds, in majority, on the flowers of our weedy lawns. By spraying chemicals, we 1)remove a valuable honeybee food source 2) contribute to the toxic levels of the hives (a leading factor of CCD).

    Plus, if you eat any honey yourself… how do you feel about spreading a little butter and broadleaf herbicide on your toast??? Because if it’s in the wax it’s in the honey too.

  11. Scotts-MiracleGro (SMG) has NO INTEREST IN SUSTAINABILITY, period. Sustainable practices don’t require continual inputs in the form of fertilizers and pesticides, which is how SMG makes their money.

    As long as the Garden Writers Association keeps bed with them, SMG has a bully pulpit from which to promote their products and profits.

  12. Hello Susan and friends: I was surprised that I didn’t hear back from Scotts about my response to their clover press release. I didn’t send a message about dandelions, but I agree that dandelions are important for bees – and for children just learning to make wishes. Dandelions are prolific in my neighborhood in spring; some people seem to grow them as a cash crop. These are not the same people who pay for so-called lawn care services that fertilize cool-season grass in early spring (the absolutely wrong time to do so), and apply herbicides to control every blessed thing that is not fescue or ryegrass or bluegrass.

    Thanks for taking this up to the Rant, Susan. Here’s to clover necklaces and crowns, and the occasional nibble on a cool green stem, just like when we were kids. Marty

  13. Marty’s e-mail to Scotts was commendable in its restraint; I would have been tempted to throw in a few choice epithets. Scotts having a “sustainability officer” is like the tobacco companies funding anti-smoking campaigns. “We’re not evil! Really! We just make our zillions selling all this really bad crap!”

  14. OK here comes one from the pro lawn guy. I have clover in my back lawn but do not want it in my front 600 square feet of manicured lawn. The rest of my 1/2 acre property I could care less what grows there. I think clover would make a great total ground cover lawn replacement IF THAT”S WHAT THE HOMEOWNER WANTED. Dandelions are just friggin’ ugly period. And dandelion wine just gets me to friggin’ drunk! As for attracting bees yes they do but what about kids playing in a yard full of bees?
    If I had my way my lawn would be all moss! But with a nine year old playing football in the back yard that ain’t gonna happen.
    SMG has a lot of problems, they pissed off the IGCs and the boxes kept only a few SKUs to sell real cheap.

    the TROLL

  15. I feel fortunate to live in a rural neighborhood where everything is allowed to grow. Unfortunately, in my state, most suburban homeowners “believe” a perfect lawn of fescue and Bermuda grass is preferable to multi-diversity, and it frustrates me. I keep trying to educate them, but I see them with the vile herbicides and pesticides reading application rates. They never notice the skull and crossbones on the label.

    I applaud Marty for writing back to Scotts. Perhaps we all should lend our voices to the fight.

    BTW, a measured tone is always the best way to get someone to listen I think.~~Dee

  16. I wonder if Scotts is ramping up its marketing in response to the ever increasing number of jurisdictions that are banning herbicides.

    Perhaps that budget could be better spent on R & D for sustainable products.

  17. Dear Susan,

    Thank you for asking me to comment.

    I think you and Marty raise a good point. I agree that a more balanced approach in our communication is both helpful and appropriate for consumers.

    We are taking a look at all of our messaging with regard to how we help consumers have the yard and garden they want – in a manner that uses our products responsibly and only when needed, that promotes local biodiversity appropriate for the growing climate, and that judiciously uses natural resources like water. We welcome feedback from you and your readers/participants on how Scotts can do a better job of this.

    If I may provide a little bit of background on the communication sent to Marty. We get about 1 million inquiries a year from consumers. We have been tracking their questions (or complaints or positive feedback) for over 15 years and have modeled the data. When we see a spike in call or email volume on issues – we investigate and often send out an announcement to our consumer database, our sales force and local media/garden writers on the problem and the remedy. We have been receiving higher than normal complaints from consumers about clover and dandelions – and that is what prompted the alert.

    That said – I think we need to educate consumers on ‘the rest of the story’ as the late Paul Harvey would say. And explain that clover actually is a nitrogen fix in the grass – and it attracts beneficial bugs like bees – and that if it doesn’t bother you – leave it be. However, there are some homeowners who are quite bothered by clover and other weeds. For those homeowners, we want to provide recommendations and product solutions that are effective and easy to understand. I am curious, had we recommended spot treatment using our new chelated iron product under the Ortho EcoSense Brand – would that have helped? Or mattered?

    Susan, I am starting to develop plans for a ‘listening tour’ in the months ahead for executives at ScottsMiracle-Gro and me to hear from NGOs, academics, regulators, opinion leaders, etc. on what they would like to see from our company. I hope you accept my invitation to participate. We are committed to driving a sustainability mindset into how we think and act – and we need hear outside perspective in how we can promote practices that are environmentally beneficial.

    Again, thank you for the opportunity to engage.

    Jan Valentic

  18. Troll: I grew up rolling around on a lawn full of bees, and never got stung. My son will get to experience the same.

    Thank you Susan for the great rant! I’m dying to hear what the Sustainability Officer has to say.

  19. Clover is fine as far as I’m concerned, and as an edible so are dandelions. But when so many sustainable gardeners are quick to slap the “invasive” label on just about anything that sets seed, how can we not consider dandelions invasive? I’ve had too many dandelion flowers get away from me this year and the seed is everywhere! Mea culpa, neighbors!

  20. I spent plenty of time running barefoot through the grass as a kid, and I rarely got stung. If I had a kid with a severe allergy to bee stings, I would worry about clover and dandelions in my grass, but I don’t. I over seeded my backyard with white clover last spring, in part for the nitrogen fixing, and in part for the bee populations. I can hardly wait until it starts to bloom.

    My chickens love clover.

  21. If you want a lawn, you have to take the responsibilities that go with ownership. If you don’t want clover or dandelions, there are organic and sustainable ways to control them. Sure, these take elbow grease and work. That is what comes with lawn ownership, sorry.

    Don’t poison my world because you don’t like dandelions or clover and want to have an artificial looking, golf course, lawn.

  22. I have had delicious dandelion grown on organic farms, but the stuff growing in my yard does not look nearly as appetizing. I definitely would not eat it from the front yard, which abuts a busy road.

  23. But @Lochlanina, how can you say that Scott’s Miracle Grow doesn’t care about honey bees? There’s one right on their home page.

    Should we consider it a step in the right direction that Scott’s now has an “organics” line? It’s all about marketing, and as long as there is a significant population willing to buy their plant crack, there will be breathless “breaking news” emails about dandelions invading otherwise-perfect peoples’ gardens.

    I do think it’s a good sign that they’ve moved into “organics”, it means that their data indicates that they need to address a new, significant market. One which believes “organic=safe/good”. Until an alternative is successfully marketed to that growing segment, Scott’s has the resources and name recognition to dominate.

    However, the power of word-of-mouth should not be dismissed. Learn what the full line of Scott’s products do to the soil, to pets and people. And then tell your friends. Let them decide if this is what they want to support.

  24. What an incredible obsession (fetish?)… that a lawn has to be unblemished green (read: “dull”).

    What lawn I have left is a mixture of various grasses and “weeds” that has stood up to years of volleyball games and horseshoes…

    I vote for color, diversity of texture… AND the bees and their friends:)

  25. Perhaps when clover becomes trendy, the brain trust in the R&D department will develop a genetically modified “branded” clover that is all 4 leafed clover. This can then be marketed as “Lucky Lawn” and create a financial wave that they will use as a launching pad to their next ‘gotta have it’ success.

  26. Jan, thanks so much for your response, and keep me on the invitation list for that “listening tour”. Please do what you can to make sure it’s really a listening tour, though, rather than the “talking to” events that Scotts has conducted for gardenwriters through the GWA.

  27. I’m with Xris,and more than a little annoyed at GWA’s relationship with Scotts (and Bayer). I know the sponsorships have to come from somewhere, but yeek….

  28. I actually sowed mammoth red clover in my backyard last week. In a bed up against the chicken run. And I plan to sow it between my raised beds of veggie. In the front, it’s going to go in between the rows of peas and oats covercrop in the fall, and then it’ll hopefully still be there by the time I sow barley out there in the new year.

    Scotts is morally reprensible. I’ve spent a lot of time educating a couple neighbors on why these products are more hazardous and should be banned, than they are these wonderfully innocuous lawn nostrums the Scotts people say they are.

    But back to the clover, how many ‘weeds’ can you think of that fix nitrogen? But then you wouldn’t need to buy their miracle-gro dreck, oh.

  29. The problem is that too many people still want that verdant sward, without considering the ramifications of it. We need to change public opinion, to begin to look critically at a weed-free, lushly green monoculture lawn in the middle of summer. If people didn’t want it, Scotts wouldn’t be able to sell it.

  30. Tom Fischer is funny. And to his point, can we really expect sustainability from a company that made its fortune on unsustainability? They have stockholders to answer to, y’know, and business models don’t grow on trees.

    Just don’t buy from these hambones.

  31. We love our clover here in Portland. Most of the Portland parks have clover and every other yard has clover-most people don’t have a problem with it and I encourage my clients to let the clover do its thing.

    Dandelions-a different story. I weed my dandelions but I let the bees have their way with my mint blossoms, salvia and lavender.

  32. I appreciate Jan responding, but Scotts has made it clear that organics and chemicals are equally OK–witness the product name ‘Organic Choice.’ Like it’s just one of a number of lifestyle options. ‘What about those poor customers who don’t want clover? Who are we to judge? We just offer options.’ Weirdly similar to Fox News ‘we report, you decide.’

    Scotts could put its considerable marketing prowess behind changing the aesthetics of those customers. Indie garden centers who emphasize organics do this every day. They change their customers’ minds about what is beautiful. They lead.

    As long as Scotts sells these chemicals, they can never say that organic is better–just that it’s one option for one type of customer. That’s not sustainability — that’s just selling stuff.

  33. God forbid we should have a few white flowers in our grass.

    As you know, I took control of the situation and removed all the grass from my front lawn and planted a vegetable garden.

    I’ve lived happily ever after ever since!


    Power To The Clover-People!!

  34. The Garden Writers Association, of which I am a member, is sponsored in many of it’s undertakings by Scotts. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of relationship it is; good or bad?

  35. When I grew up a lawn was a mix of clover and grass. We girls sat and made flower chains from the clover blossoms, and the boys picked them and threw them at each other.

    I liken a clover/dandelion/weed-free lawn with the hats that Victorian women wore. These hats were decorated with feathers from exotic birds, and soon it became obvious that the birds were becoming extinct because of the popularity of this look. The hats fell out of fashion because this was a look that was harmful to the birds and the planet.

    The “Scotts Lawn”, a mono-culture of grass, is the same thing in my mind: a fashion that we can no longer afford.

  36. According to the program for this year’s GWA meeting, everyone will have a chance to hear from Scotts’s Sustainability Officer, while eating a breakfast paid for by Scotts. From the program:

    Saturday 11 Sept.
    7-8 a.m. Breakfast @ Hyatt Regency
    Sustainability: Tending the Garden Called Earth.
    To restore ecosystems and conserve natural resources and endangered species … does mankind respect nature by simply “leaving it alone?” Or is nature better served with careful human stewardship? Learning lessons from indigenous peoples’ stewardship of the land over the last ten thousand years, can we promote a new human-nature interaction to engender renewal of the spiritual connection between all living things? Presenter: Jan Valentic, Sustainability Officer, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
    (sponsored by ScottsMiracle-Gro)

  37. Get the hip boots out for that one. Poor Jan. She has to walk a tight rope between promoting Scotts chemicals and trying to be organic. I hope they pay her lots.

  38. Speaking of Scott’s products reminded me of a question I never answered: what is in a bag of Miracle-Gro. And where does it come from? (Are there bald fields somewhere? Pits in some “developing” nation where peat moss has been excavated?) I’m happy to do more research… anyone have any idea where to look?

  39. Jan, you say We are taking a look at all of our messaging with regard to how we help consumers have the yard and garden they want
    “We’re just helping them get what they want” is not a defense when you created the want, profit from the want, and are damaging the environment by filling that want.

    Your “messaging” (a strange name for advertising) has been pushing the idea that lawns should be 100% grass, closely mowed and heavily fertilized for decades.

    Your messaging has demonized weeds and encouraged overuse of herbicides when less harmful methods can control plants that need controlling.

  40. Dandelions? Clover? Off the cuff, I could give you about 25 useful and helpful things to do with each of them-not including delicious food ideas.
    Lawns are wasteful. There is far more beauty and interest in what Scott’s would refer to as weeds. Awesome rant!

  41. Just who do you think you’re kidding Jan From Scotts?
    Not this audience.
    You’ll never convince us your heart is in the right place until you learn this simple fact: it is possible to succeed in business and do the right thing.
    Put your money where your mouth is: create sexy, eye-catching media campaigns that educate re the dangers of polluting our water supply, etc and not simply add an “organic alternative” to your line of poisons.

  42. Here’s a video about how my friend Gina replaced her entire lawn with white clover. It is shaped to go around the beds and among the stepping stones.

    I think it shows how you can still have a manicured yard using clover (or another more site-appropriate groundcover) instead of lawn.

    This clover lawn is a monoculture but wouldn’t have to be; I can see letting violets and other low species mingle with the clover to get more diversity and a bit of different seasonal interest.

    Also a monoculture of clover (as opposed to a monoculture of kentucky bluegrass) at least provides nectar for pollinators, fixes nitrogen for surrounding plants, stays green all during the growing season, requires no mowing or fertilizers or pesticides and maybe not even watering (depending on your climate and site). And it can wander through the stepping stones.

    Cool, huh?

  43. I love clover. I do not care that they will take over everything. I like the smell of them when they are cut.

  44. I love the clover. This is what brings the bees that brings the beautiful flowers. We need more of them. I know that this is not what everyone wants but, in my lawn, there is a place for the flowers, gardens and the clover.

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