Clover was once a popular American lawn option and is reclaiming its fame as a grass alternative. But should you welcome it into your yard as a green lucky charm or conquer it like it’s a pollen-breathing dragon? It depends on your lawn priorities, from foot traffic to aesthetics.
Clover can be a weed if you want it to be (and it’ll certainly respond to herbicides), but it can also be a low-maintenance, eco-friendly lawn addition or turfgrass replacement. We’ll help you decide whether to treat your clover like a shining knight or a four-leaved monster.
What is clover?
Clover is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial known for its distinctive three leaflets and globular, pollinator-friendly flowers. White clover (Trifolium repens) is the most common clover species in the U.S. and can be distinguished by its small, pinkish-white flowers. It thrives in cool, moist areas and is mainly found in the northern and midwestern regions of the U.S.
Clover is drought- and disease-resistant, cold-hardy, and pollinator-friendly, making it a popular choice for homeowners looking for a low-maintenance, eco-friendly lawn alternative.
With a rapid growth habit and dense roots, clover naturally stops lawn weeds in their tracks. Plus, it’s a legume, meaning it can fix its own nitrogen to fertilize itself and surrounding grass without the need for synthetic fertilizer. Clover is a strong option for homeowners seeking a self-sufficient ground cover.
Why do some consider clover a weed?
Some homeowners view clover as an ugly, undesirable weed. Why? Well, it all began with herbicide. Before the 1950s, lawns were swimming in clover and homeowners were happy about it. Grass seed mixes advertised their clover content and homeowners proudly displayed their clover-filled lawns.
Then after World War II, chemical companies began marketing broadleaf herbicide as a necessity for everyday households. Broadleaf herbicides such as 2,4-D killed broadleaf plants (like dandelions and chickweed) indiscriminately, and that included clover.
As weed killers flew off the shelves and onto lawns, homeowners began to regard clover as a threat to their perfectly uniform grass. Chemical companies labeled clover as a problem, seed companies stopped advertising clover in their seed blends, and consumers rejected clover in favor of a tidier turfgrass. Now, clover is making a comeback.
Benefits of clover
Whether you love clover or not, there’s no denying that it offers a host of lawn benefits.
✓ Erosion reduction: Clover has dense roots that keep soil firmly in place. Not only does this keep your lawn looking even, but it also reduces the amount of polluted runoff that makes its way into your streams and rivers.
✓ Nitrogen fixation: Clover is a legume, so it can easily fix atmospheric nitrogen to fertilize itself and surrounding plants.
✓ No fertilizer needed: Clover itself requires no fertilizer and actually grows better without it. Plus, if you overseed your lawn with clover at a 1:4 ratio (clover to turfgrass), your entire yard won’t need fertilizer.
✓ Less watering: Clover is more drought-tolerant than turfgrasses. Once established, clover lawns require significantly less water than traditional grass lawns, especially in naturally cool, moist climates.
✓ Little or no mowing: Clover lawns do not require any mowing. However, you can mow your clover to a height of 3-4 inches if you prefer a tidier look.
✓ Stays green for most or all of the year: Clover stays green all summer (except in extreme heat) and only briefly loses its color in winter, before quickly greening up in early spring. Depending on the region and climate in which it’s grown, clover can stay green year-round.
✓ Attracts pollinators: With a clover yard, you can enjoy a beautiful show of birds, butterflies, and honey bees fluttering about your yard. Many of these beneficial pollinators are endangered and facing habitat loss, so you’ll also be helping the environment by giving them a home.
✓ Clover is a living mulch: Clover provides nutrients to other plant roots, insulates them when temperatures fluctuate, prevents weeds, and reduces erosion.
✓ Reduces soil compaction: Clover’s dense roots break up compacted soil, so you won’t have to aerate your lawn as often.
✓ Reduces weeds and pests: If you don’t consider clover a weed, it sure is great for weed control. Clover’s rapid growth and dense root system stop broadleaf weeds like dandelions and knotweed from infiltrating your lawn, so you don’t have to use harsh herbicides. Plus, clover attracts beneficial insects that prey on pests, preventing aphid and moth infestations.
✓ Seeds are inexpensive: White Dutch clover seeds cost only about $1 to cover 1,000 square feet. For the average, 10,000-square-foot yard, you’ll only have to pay $10.
✓ Can be grown as green manure: Clover can be grown as a cover crop and then turned into the soil while it’s still growing. This gives soil an enormous nitrogen boost, encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria, improves soil drainage, and reduces erosion.
Drawbacks of clover
Clover may be a gallant knight for some lawns, but it isn’t a hero for everyone. Consider these drawbacks before you have clover rule your lawn.
✗ Cannot handle heavy foot traffic: Though certain types of clover can tolerate moderate amounts of foot traffic, clover is still more sensitive to a lot of running around from children and pets. If your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic, consider mixing clover with tougher grasses.
✗ Needs more frequent reseeding than turfgrass: Clover needs to be reseeded every two to three years, while turfgrasses have longer lifespans.
✗ Beware of bees: If young children play in your yard, or if you or a family member have a bee sting allergy, clover may not be the best choice for your lawn. Clover is a pollinator magnet.
✗ Aggressive growth: Clover’s rapid, dense growth is great for outcompeting weeds, but it also means that clover may invade your garden beds. Consider adding borders or edging to keep clover away from your flowers, and if some clover does creep in, turn it into green manure.
✗ Not as tidy as turfgrass: Clover isn’t everyone’s favorite design choice. Some homeowners prefer the traditional green lawn look and dislike clover’s wilder appearance.
8 ways to get rid of clover
If clover is encroaching on your lawn and you want it gone, there are plenty of methods to slay the weedy dragon.
- Weed it out by hand
- Apply a vinegar and dish soap mixture
- Smother it with plastic sheeting or garbage bags
- Spread corn gluten meal
- Set your mower to a higher cutting height
- Apply an organic weed killer (like A.D.I.O.S.)
- Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer
- Kill clover with a broadleaf herbicide
For instructions on each method, check out our articles, “How to Get Rid of Clover Naturally” and “How to Get Rid of Clover Without Killing Your Grass.” They’ll walk you through which practice is best for your lawn.
Clover thrives in poor soil where other grasses won’t grow. To prevent it from attacking, make sure you keep your lawn as healthy as it can be. Aerate regularly, dethatch as needed, apply fertilizer, and water and mow following the proper guidelines.
FAQ about clover
Clover grows in lawns where there are deeper soil problems at play. If clover is rearing its head, your lawn may be suffering from one of these common issues:
—Soil is compacted
—Soil has low nitrogen levels
—Soil pH is unbalanced
—Grass is being mowed too low
—Grass is underwatered or overwatered
—Your lawn has the wrong grass type
It’s a good idea to test your soil so you can make the necessary amendments for a healthy lawn. Contact your local cooperative extension office for information about soil labs near you.
White Dutch clover is a favorite among homeowners who want a low-water, no-fertilizer lawn alternative that can still be mowed. It’s commonly seen on lawns, in meadows, and in orchards. Growing 4-8 inches tall, white Dutch clover is one of the tidier types of clover, and it can tolerate foot traffic better than other clover varieties.
If you’re interested in a smaller, shorter variety of clover to blend into your turfgrass for a uniform appearance, check out microclover. It’s a miniature cultivar of white Dutch clover that grows 4-6 inches tall and has smaller leaves and fewer flowers than regular clover. It’s quickly gaining popularity among homeowners who want a lawn grass look with the benefits of clover.
Red clover is a taller, bushier variety of clover you can add to your lawn for some visual appeal. It produces beautiful red and purple flowers and is a fantastic habitat for wildlife.
Pro Tip: Seed your lawn with multiple varieties of clover, so if one type of clover doesn’t suit an area of your lawn, another type can grow right in, keeping your lawn green and even.
If you’re opting for a broadleaf, inorganic herbicide, choose a product containing 2,4-D, dicamba, clopyralid, fluroxypyr, mecoprop, or triclopyr. These chemicals are harsh, but they get the job done. Know their health and environmental risks before applying them.
Weeding out or welcoming clover
Clover can be a weed or a wonder. It just depends on how you look at it. If you want a uniform grass look, clover probably won’t be your number one choice. However, if you’re seeking an eco-friendly, easy-care grass alternative or lawn addition, clover’s got you covered.
Ready to reseed with clover, or need a champion lawn swordsman to vanquish the four-leaved beast? Call a local lawn care pro to bravely enter the clover cave and get your lawn looking perfect for your landscaping tastes.
Main Photo Credit: Ian Baldwin | Unsplash