Is clover a weed? Only if you want it to be. Despite its reputation, clover can be a secret lawn superhero.
Clover is making a comeback on lawns across the country as homeowners recognize its benefits and begin planting different clover varieties in their yards. Microclover is a particularly great choice due to its small size and ability to blend seamlessly with your grass.
If the tiny-but-mighty microclover catches your eye, you’re in good company. We’ll walk through what makes microclover unique and why it may be just what your lawn needs.
What is microclover?
Microclover is a low-growing, dwarf variety of the common Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens). It’s popular for its ability to mix with turfgrass lawns, creating a uniform appearance without crowding out grass.
In Europe, microclover has been a popular lawn option for decades, but it’s just now gaining steam in the U.S. Here in the states, the most popular varieties of microclover are “‘Pirouette” and “Pipolina.” They grow 4-6 inches tall and tolerate close mowings (down to 3 inches) better than their white clover and red clover sisters.
Microclover’s low growth and small leaves make it a tidy, attractive option for homeowners who want to add a low-maintenance, eco-friendly ground cover to their grass lawn.
Microclover vs. regular clover
When you hear “clover,” you probably envision the well-known and widely-grown white clover. It’s the most common clover in the U.S., growing 4-8 inches tall and producing white flowers with a pink hue in spring and summer.
Compared to “regular clover” (white clover), microclover grows lower to the ground, has smaller leaves, produces fewer flowers, and does not grow in clumps.
Benefits of clover
Clover will …
- Reduce erosion
- Crowd out weeds
- Fix atmospheric nitrogen to fertilize other plants
- Create nutrient-rich green manure
- Cut down on energy use from mowing
- Conserve water
- Save money and time
- Decrease the need for harsh chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides
- Reduce the need to aerate and dethatch
- Attract beautiful pollinators
- Discourage diseases and pests
Special benefits of microclover
Alongside the general clover benefits, microclover has two unique advantages that distinguish it from regular white clover.
Microclover grows well with others
Though white clover plays nicely with some turfgrasses, it’s an aggressive grower that tends to clump and crowd out desired grasses and ground covers. White clover is wonderful for reducing weeds like dandelions and chickweed, but that dense, rapid growth comes at a cost.
Microclover is less aggressive and grows lower to the ground, so it’ll still smother weeds without interfering with turfgrass growth. It’s an excellent addition to tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass lawns.
✓ Slower growth habit than white clover, so it won’t crowd out as many plants
✓ Can be planted with more varieties of grass and ground covers (because it grows less aggressively)
✓ Does not form as many clumps as white clover
Microclover looks tidier than regular clover
Microclover is naturally shorter than white clover, and it can tolerate close mowings better than white clover can. In fact, microclover will grow more densely and produce smaller leaves the more frequently it is mowed, which is ideal if you want a traditional green lawn look.
In general, microclover leaves are half the size of regular white clover leaves. If mowed, microclover leaves grow back smaller: Then they can shrink to as small as one-third the size of white clover leaves.
Microclover will flower for one month in summer. If you prefer the uniformity of a green lawn, you can easily prevent flowers from appearing by mowing your lawn regularly. Just make sure you don’t scalp your lawn. Mowing below 2 inches won’t make your microclover happy and could lead to turf damage and bare patches.
Lawn appearance benefits:
✓ Shorter than white clover
✓ Great for a more traditional lawn look
✓ Close mowings won’t damage microclover (white clover is more sensitive to mowings)
Disadvantages of microclover
Clover may be a lucky find, but even leprechauns have their bad days. Based on soil type and climate, microclover will be especially tricky to grow on certain lawns. Before you think you are at the end of the rainbow, consider these downsides of microclover.
✗ Does not tolerate drought or heat as well as white clover.
While white clover is fairly drought tolerant, microclover may start to die during the peak of summer when other grasses enter dormancy. This can lead to unsightly bare spots and erosion. If you live in a hot, dry area, you may need to reseed certain areas of your lawn.
✗ Does not tolerate shade as well as white clover.
While white clover is fairly shade tolerant, microclover needs at least four hours of sun per day and does poorly in shaded areas. It won’t thrive under trees or in the shadow of a building.
✗ Is expensive to plant.
Microclover seeds are expensive (especially compared to white clover) and can be hard to find at local gardening centers.
✗ Cannot tolerate foot traffic as well as white clover.
White clover can handle moderate foot traffic, but microclover is less resilient. If planting microclover in a play area, it will need to be mixed with turfgrass.
✗ Is susceptible to southern blight.
Clover generally resists disease, but microclover can be susceptible to southern blight disease in areas with high humidity and warm night temperatures.
Like other clover varieties, microclover does not grow well in sandy soil and will wilt or die if treated with a broadleaf herbicide. It’s also important to note that clover attracts pollinators, so it may not be a good choice if you or your child have a bee sting allergy.
Before you choose one clover variety over the other, know that it’s a good idea to plant different varieties of clover in your lawn to keep your yard looking uniform, so if one clover variety doesn’t succeed, another can take its place.
You don’t want your lawn developing brown patches if microclover dies during a drought, nor do you want bare patches to develop when foot traffic stresses an area. You’ll want white clover, red clover, or strawberry clover to swoop in and save the day, growing where microclover cannot.
FAQ about microclover
Microclover seed can be pretty pricey. Most microclover runs about $30 to $40 per pound. For a new microclover lawn, you’ll need 1-2 pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. So, if you have a medium-sized, 10,000-square-foot lawn, you’ll pay $300 to $800 for seed.
If you just want to overseed your existing lawn grass with microclover, you won’t have to deal with quite as much sticker shock (but the price is still pretty high). You’ll need to spread half a pound of microclover seed per 1,000 square feet, so you’ll pay $150 to $400 to overseed a medium-sized, 10,000-square-foot lawn.
If you’re opting for a mix of microclover and turfgrass or microclover and other clovers, you’ll want about 3% to 5% of your lawn seed to be microclover.
Seed your clover in the early spring, from mid-March to mid-April. This will give your lawn time to grow lush, dense, and green for summer success.
If overseeding your lawn with clover, you can choose to spread seed in early fall (four to six weeks before the first frost). To start your clover on a high note, plant your seeds after aerating your lawn. With access to a wealth of water, air, and nutrients, baby clover roots will thrive.
Microclover generally takes 7-14 days to germinate. During the germination period, water daily to keep your soil moist.
Never fear, microclover is here!
If you’re ready to add some shamrock-shaped superheroes to your grass lawn, microclover is a subtle addition to get your lawn emerald green without the wilder look of taller, larger clover varieties.
To spread your clover seed, check out our handy how-to guide. In just a few hours, your seeds can be planted and on their way to save the day.
To meet more lawn superheroes, contact a local lawn care pro. Our pros will handle the planting and maintenance to make your clover lawn look extra green.
Main Photo Credit: pxfuel