How to Get Rid of Clover on Your Lawn

white clovers dotting a grass landscape

Clover is a divisive plant. If you want it gone, then try hand-pulling, spraying herbicide, or smothering. Read more to learn other methods of how to get rid of clover on your lawn.

As a creeping perennial plant, clover can be challenging to get rid of. However, you shouldn’t have to destroy your lawn to win the war on clover. Preventative measures can help keep clover away after killing it. 

How to identify clover

Clover is a member of the pea family and is classified as a legume. This perennial weed originated in Europe and it made its way to the U.S. in the late 1600s. There are over 300 species of clover today, but the most common clover found in yards is white clover (Trifolium repens).

Clover is such a recognizable and iconic plant, and it’s one of the most common lawn weeds. Clover’s most well-known feature is its three “leaves,” but it has some other features that can help you recognize it:

  • Leaves: Made up of three leaflets (sometimes there are four, but that is a mutation). Clover leaves can be green, purple, or red. They often have a white or greenish V-shaped pattern called a watermark or chevron.
  • Flowers: Most clover species have white or pink flowers arranged in small, round clusters called inflorescences. Each inflorescence has 20 to 40 flowers.
  • Growth habit: Clover is a creeping, low-lying plant (prostrate). In addition to seeds, it spreads through stolons.

Compared to dandelions, white clover has relatively shallow roots. Some clover species might have a deep taproot.

How to get rid of clover

Getting rid of clover permanently can be quite difficult because of its creeping habit and ability to grow in poor conditions. The main methods of removing clover are herbicide and hand weeding. You also can smother the clover with an opaque material.

Spraying herbicide on clover

Person using sprayer with an herbicide, fertilizer or pesticide on a lawn
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If you’re already dealing with a lot of clover patches on your lawn, spraying weed killer might be the better choice. It’s less time-consuming and labor-intensive.

If the clover is already on your lawn, you’ll need a post-emergent weed killer. Use a systemic herbicide for broadleaf weeds such as triclopyr, dicamba, MCPP, 2,4-D, fluroxypyr, and quinclorac. 

Note: Some of these herbicides might injure some types of grass. Always read the label before buying to make sure it’s safe for your turf.

Do organic herbicides work on clover?

Organic herbicides are rather ineffective against clover. “For larger or perennial weeds, organic herbicides generally will only damage or burn the top growth of the weed and, after a couple of weeks, the weeds regrow,” says Karey Windbiel-Rojas, an Integrated Pest Management advisor from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

You do have some options. Herbicides with chelated iron (FeHEDTA) kill broadleaf weeds like clover through iron toxicity. Your grass (and grassy weeds) will be unharmed — they may become greener, even — because they handle iron better. However, you will likely need to spray multiple times a season to fully kill clover.

You also can try out A.D.I.O.S. (Advanced Development In Organic Solutions), which uses salts to draw out water from clover, drying it up and killing it. Salt has been used as an herbicide throughout history because it’s very effective. However, it kills any plant that it touches and can turn the soil inhospitable. Use salt with caution.

When to spray clover with herbicide

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Like many broadleaf weeds, it’s best to spray post-emergent herbicide on clover during fall. It’s because broadleaf weeds are focused on storing nutrients in their roots to prepare for the winter. When sprayed during this time, the weed killer also will be transported down to the roots of the clover.

If you’re using an organic herbicide, you also can spray in the spring when the weeds are young.

Spraying in the summer (especially during a really hot day) is more satisfying because homeowners can see the weeds dying, but the perennial weeds will likely pop up a few days later as if nothing happened.

Here are some other things to note when spraying:

  • Rain. Don’t spray before rain or when your lawn is wet.
  • Wind. Don’t spray if it’s windy out.
  • Temperature. Spray only if the temperature is between 65 to 80 degrees.

Manually pulling clover

If your yard has a few small patches of clover, your best bet might be to simply pull it out of the ground manually. This is an easy DIY and natural way to kill clover without killing your grass.

However, it’s a bit more time-consuming and requires more effort than simply spraying the clover if you have more than a few small patches. 

You also have to make sure you pull out all of the roots as clover can regrow from root fragments. This process is generally easier with clover compared to dandelions because white clover doesn’t have a deep root system. You may have more trouble if you’re dealing with a clover species that does have a deep taproot like red clover.

To manually weed clover, you will need gloves, a spade, and a watering can or hose. Here’s how to hand-pull clover:

  1. Moisten the soil before pulling the clover. You also can wait until it rains or after you water your lawn or garden beds. Moist soil is easier to work with.
  2. Use the spade to loosen the soil. Work the soil around the clover patch.
  3. Pull up the clover plants carefully, making sure to get all of the roots of the clover patch.

Smothering clover

Person standing in grass with clovers
Pexels

Clover can’t survive without air and sunlight. If you have large patches of clover, you can get rid of it manually by covering it with a garbage bag or opaque plastic sheeting. You will need to cover perennials like clover for a long time to use up all of the nutrients they have stored in their roots.

Locate the clover and place a garbage bag or plastic sheet over the patch, making sure to cover all of the clover plants and not too much of the surrounding grass. 

Use bricks or large rocks to keep the edges of the covering secured to the ground. In a few weeks, remove the plastic sheeting and reseed the area with grass seeds. If you’re dealing with a clover species with a taproot, it will take longer to kill.

This is not recommended for small or irregular patches of clover, because you will risk killing the healthy grass surrounding the clover. Smothering clover is best used on patches that need to be cleared of all plants no matter if they’re weeds, grass, or ornamental.

What causes clover to grow in your lawn?

If you don’t want to see this three-leaved weed on your lawn, then you likely need to take a long hard look at your yard. More often than not, clover is a symptom of poor lawn conditions. Clover takes over lawns with the following conditions:

Compacted soil. Clover thrives in the face of soil compaction thanks to its interconnected root system. Many turfgrasses have trouble growing in compacted soil. If your lawn has compacted soil, you need to aerate it, preferably with a core aerator.

A lack of nitrogen. While turf growth gets stunted if you fall behind on fertilizing your lawn, clover remains untouched. That’s because clover is a nitrogen fixer – or more accurately, the Rhizobium bacteria it has a symbiotic relationship with is. This means clover can make its own nitrogen.

Irrigation issues. Overwatering and underwatering both make your lawn more susceptible to a clover takeover. Overwatering washes out nitrogen from the soil while underwatering can stunt growth or even kill turf. Water your lawn properly to prevent these issues.

Bare patches. Bald spots in your lawn are spots clover can grow in. All of the above actually can cause your yard to become patchy, which is how they can lead to clover in your lawn. Overseed your lawn or install sod to take care of the patches.

Unbalanced soil pH. Grasses grow best in soil with a neutral pH level — around 6 to 7 pH. Clover, on the other hand, can tolerate more extreme pH levels on both ends of the spectrum; it can grow in acidic soils and alkaline soils alike. You can check your soil’s pH level with a soil test

So, you’ll need to address these issues before treating your lawn for clover. Otherwise, you might see their three leaves pop up again later down the road.

How to prevent clover in your lawn

looking down on a person's feet as they stand among clover and grass
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Let’s go over some ways to prevent clover from regrowing in your yard:

  1. Pre-emergent herbicide

While they won’t do anything to already established clover plants, pre-emergent herbicides will prevent clover seeds from germinating. 

Many pre-emergent weed killers are synthetic, but corn meal gluten is an organic option. It contains proteins that break down into dipeptides, which mess with the root formation of seedlings.

Do keep in mind that pre-emergents target all seeds. You shouldn’t use them if you’re planning to seed your lawn or landscape beds anytime soon.

  1. Mulch your landscape

Weed control is just one of the many benefits of mulch. Mulch can block sunlight from reaching clover seeds, which will prevent them from germinating properly. Mulch can only really be used on landscape beds, though.

Make sure to use a lighter mulch around flower beds and other delicate areas.

  1. Mow your grass high

Cut your grass 3 inches or higher. Mowing grass higher means a thicker lawn. A lush and dense lawn will be difficult for weed seeds to penetrate — if they even get to germinate in the first place. Longer blades also shade the soil, keeping sunlight from reaching clover seeds.

If you do mow your lawn, keep the clippings on your turf. Mulching your grass clippings — also called grasscycling — can smother weed seeds. As a bonus, they will return nitrogen and other nutrients to your lawn. Just make sure to do this only if your lawn doesn’t have weeds; clippings also may contain weed seeds.

  1. Grow a healthy lawn

Of course, one of the best ways to prevent clover from getting on your lawn is to keep a healthy lawn. A lush lawn will outcompete most weeds, including clover. Having a healthy lawn also means that your lawn has no issues.

A healthy lawn is only possible with good lawn care practices:

  • Lawn aeration to alleviate soil compaction
  • Dethatching your lawn to remove excess thatch
  • Proper fertilization to supply your lawn with nutrients
  • Following the One-Third Rule when mowing your lawn
  • Watering your lawn properly

Should you remove clover?

Really, removing clover is mostly a personal choice. Is clover a weed? It depends on you and what you want for your lawn (assuming your HOA is cool with it).

As we said earlier, clover is a divisive plant. If you want a uniform lawn, you should remove it as clover will compete with your grass for nutrients, sunlight, space, and water. Clover can also attract pests that feed on it to your lawn.

However, some people — even experts — love clover and think that it shouldn’t be removed once established. Some homeowners have even abandoned turf altogether and have embraced clover lawns.

Here are some reasons why you might be better off keeping clover on your lawn:

  • Reduces erosion
  • Prevents other weeds
  • Provides nitrogen to other plants
  • Creates green manure
  • Attracts and feeds bees and other pollinators (bad for people with bee allergies, though)
  • Can be eaten
  • Can be used as living mulch
  • Can be a low-maintenance alternative to turf

FAQ about how to get rid of clover

Does vinegar really kill clover?

No, vinegar is unlikely to kill clover — at least, without repeated applications. While horticultural vinegar can kill annual weeds and damage clovers, it’s a contact herbicide, not a systemic one. Unless applied to the roots, vinegar won’t damage the roots.

If you injure clover with vinegar multiple times, you might eventually deplete its store of nutrients, and it won’t be able to regrow.

What are some other non-toxic ways to get rid of weeds?

Here are some other non-toxic weed control methods: 

What’s the best fertilizer to get rid of clover?

Pick a high-nitrogen fertilizer to get rid of clover. If you want to boost your lawn’s nitrogen levels fast, consider a quick-release fertilizer. 

However, keep in mind that slow-release fertilizers are better for your lawn in the long run. You should also make sure that you won’t add too much nitrogen to your soil as that’s also bad for turf.

You can read more about choosing the right fertilizer in this article: “What to Look for in Your Fertilizer”.

Hire a pro to remove clover from your lawn

Despite clover’s benefits, many homeowners still consider it a weed and want it gone. However, it can be a little difficult to get rid of, requiring time and a little elbow grease.

If you want to get rid of it but can’t, then consider hiring a lawn care professional to remove the clover rather than surrendering to this three-leaved weed. Lawn Love can connect you with capable lawn care pros near you with just a few clicks.

Main Image Credit: New York State IPM Program at Cornell University / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.