White clover (Trifolium repens) is the most common species of clover in the U.S., and white Dutch clover is a well-known variety often found on lawns. Whether you adore it as a lawn alternative or despise it as a weed, chances are you’ve had your fair share of white Dutch clover sightings.
Interested in growing white Dutch clover as a ground cover? Or want to vanquish it from your yard for good? We’ll walk you through the benefits and drawbacks of white Dutch clover.
- What is white Dutch clover?
- 12 benefits of white Dutch clover
- Starting a clover lawn
- Drawbacks to white Dutch clover
- Other types of clover
- FAQ about white Dutch clover
- Feeling lucky with clover (or saying good riddance!)
What is white Dutch clover?
If shamrock-shaped leaves and pinkish-white flowers are popping up around your lawn, chances are white Dutch clover, also known as “Dutch white clover,” is visiting. It’s a cool-season herbaceous perennial that thrives in the top half of the U.S.
The term “white Dutch clover” refers to intermediately-sized varieties of white clover, larger than wild white clover but smaller than Ladino clover. Because white Dutch clover is a highly common variety of white clover, some experts use the terms interchangeably.
All clover, including white Dutch clover, is a legume, in the same family as peas and beans. This means that it fixes atmospheric nitrogen to fertilize itself. Clover’s nitrogen-fixing capabilities allow it to tolerate poor soil conditions better than grasses. Plus, it can fertilize other plants.
White Dutch clover is one tough ground cover. It can handle cold weather and drought better than most turfgrasses. Though it can tolerate the occasional heatwave, it won’t thrive in a scorching desert: It grows well in temperatures ranging from 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
White Dutch clover, which grows anywhere between 4-8 inches, is one of the lower-growing clover varieties. This makes it a strong candidate as a lawn grass alternative or as an addition to turfgrass lawns.
Characteristics of white Dutch clover
- Classification: Cool-season
- Duration: Perennial (annual in the South)
- Spreads by: Seeds and creeping stolons
- Height: 4-8 inches tall
- USDA hardiness zones: 4-9
- Sun: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil: Grows well in clay, silt, and loam soils (does not thrive in sandier soils); sensitive to salinity; prefers cool, moist soil
- Drought tolerance: High
- Maintenance needs: Low
- Potential for disease: Moderate
- Lifespan: 3-5 years
- Pairs well with: Annual ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Bermudagrass, red clover, hard fescue, red fescue, tall fescue, orchardgrass
Where does white Dutch clover grow?
White Dutch clover grows in hardiness zones 4 to 9. It can be planted as a perennial in the North and as a winter annual in the South (where disease and drought tend to weaken stands).
If you’re having a wine tasting or going apple picking, you’ll see a bushel full of white Dutch clover: It’s commonly grown in vineyards and orchards. Farmers also grow it to improve soil and reduce erosion.
12 benefits of white Dutch clover
White Dutch clover offers a cornucopia of benefits for your lawn and the environment, including:
- Erosion control: Clover’s dense, interconnected roots keep soil in place on slopes, especially during storms. This prevents polluted runoff from entering local streams and rivers.
- Nitrogen fixation: Clover has special nodules that fix atmospheric nitrogen to fertilize the clover itself and surrounding plants.
- No fertilizer needed: Clover itself requires no fertilizer, and when planted at a 1:4 ratio (clover to turfgrass), your entire yard won’t need fertilizer. You can save money and protect local ecosystems.
- Less watering: Clover is more drought-tolerant than turfgrasses, so clover lawns require significantly less water than traditional grass lawns.
- Little or no mowing: If you want a shorter, tidier lawn look, you can mow your clover a few times each growing season, but you don’t have to. Letting your clover grow long can make your lawn a lovely, meadow-like space.
- Seeds are inexpensive: White Dutch clover seeds cost only about $1 to cover 1,000 square feet. If your lawn is 9,000 square feet, that’s only $9 out of your pocket.
- It’s a living mulch: Clover provides nutrients to other plant roots, insulates them when temperatures fluctuate, controls weeds, and reduces erosion.
- Reduces soil compaction: Clover’s thick, interconnected root system will break up compacted soil, so you won’t have to aerate your lawn as often.
- Shorter and tidier than other clover varieties: White Dutch clover grows lower to the ground and can be mowed shorter than other clover varieties, giving it a tidier appearance.
- Stays green for most or all of the year: Depending on the region and climate in which it’s grown, clover can stay green year-round. In most cases, it’s considered semi-evergreen because it stays green in summer and briefly loses its color in winter (before greening up in early spring).
- Attracts pollinators: Clover attracts birds, butterflies, honey bees, and other pollinators (many of which are facing habitat loss). They get a natural green home, and you get a beautiful show.
- Reduces weeds and pests: Clover is often used by farmers as green manure to simultaneously prevent weeds from popping up and give soil a nutrient boost. Clover’s dense, rapid growth naturally smothers weeds without the need for harsh herbicides. Plus, clover attracts beneficial insects that prey on pests, preventing moth, maggot, and aphid infestations.
Starting a clover lawn
White Dutch clover, and clover in general, can be highly beneficial for your lawn, and it may be time to add clover to your turfgrass lawn or create a full clover lawn. It’s best to plant white Dutch clover in early spring, from mid-March to mid-April, or in late summer (about 40 days before the first frost).
Most experts do not recommend planting one variety of clover as a full lawn replacement. Instead, white clover should be mixed with other types of clover or grasses. That way, even if one type of clover doesn’t grow well in a certain area, another clover or grass variety can step in, so your lawn stays green and even.
If you have existing clover …
1. Mow your lawn close to the ground (at a blade height of 1.5-2 inches) to discourage turfgrass growth.
2. Make your soil as hospitable as possible for clover. If necessary, now is the time to dethatch and aerate to make your soil nutrient-packed and breathable for young roots.
3. Mix your clover seed blend with sand, sawdust, or soil. This will help you sow the seeds evenly.
4. Spread your seeds! Spread about 1/4 pound of clover seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
5. Mist your lawn daily for the first two weeks, keeping soil moist to ensure germination.
Pro Tip: Do not apply a broadleaf herbicide before or after you seed clover. Broadleaf herbicide will kill your existing clover and prevent germination.
If you’re starting from scratch …
1. Remove weeds, twigs, stones, and debris from your yard.
2. Gently rake your soil.
3. Mix your clover seed blend with sand, sawdust, or soil.
4. Spread the seeds. Spread about 1/2 pound of clover seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn.
5. Rake your planting area to lightly cover the seeds (to a shallow seeding depth of ⅛ to ¼ of an inch).
6. Mist your lawn daily for the first two weeks.
Pro Tip: If you have a shady lawn, use twice the amount of seed normally needed to ensure strong, even growth.
Drawbacks to white Dutch clover
White Dutch clover isn’t all a pot of gold. Before you rush to the end of the rainbow, consider these downsides of our three-leaved friends.
- Cannot handle heavy foot traffic: White Dutch clover can tolerate more foot traffic than other clover varieties, but it’s still more sensitive to play from pets and children than most turfgrasses. If your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic, consider mixing clover with sturdier grasses.
- Susceptible to some diseases and pests: Clover resists most leaf diseases, but it is susceptible to root and stolon rot as well as insects like the clover leaf weevil and the meadow spittlebug. You can minimize the risk of disease and pests by mowing clover to a height of 3-4 inches and avoiding nitrogen fertilizer.
- Attracts bees: Clover attracts pollinators, which is wonderful for biodiversity, but not great for young children and people with bee sting allergies. You may want to choose another ground cover if young kids will be playing in your yard.
- Aggressive growth: Clover has dense roots and it’s a rapid grower. That’s great when it comes to outcompeting weeds, but not so great when clover swallows your favorite flowers. To prevent clover from creeping into your flower beds, consider installing borders or edging.
- Less tidy than turfgrass: For some homeowners, clover’s an eyesore. While white Dutch clover looks less wild and grows shorter than other clover varieties, its stems don’t look like traditional grass blades and its white flowers are distinctly not grassy.
If you want to banish white Dutch clover from your lawn, check out our other articles, “How to Get Rid of Clover Naturally” and “How to Get Rid of Clover Without Killing Your Grass.”
Other types of clover
White Dutch clover is an intermediately-sized variety of white clover. Other types of white clover include the larger Ladino, known for its high nitrogen-fixing capabilities and forage value, and the smaller microclover, a cultivar of white Dutch clover that blends seamlessly with traditional turfgrasses.
When it comes to feeding livestock and farming, the tall, high-yielding Ladino clover wins out over the smaller, shorter white Dutch clover.
Microclover grows lower to the ground with smaller leaves and fewer flowers than regular white Dutch clover, making it an increasingly popular lawn addition.
White Dutch clover grows well with other clover varieties. It’s often grown with the taller, bushier red clover (Trifolium pratense), which is an excellent nitrogen producer and a favorite forage and cover crop among farmers.
Red clover produces colorful flowers and matures at 6-24 inches tall, giving lawns a meadowy appearance. It’s less winter-hardy than white Dutch clover and tends to have a shorter lifespan.
FAQ about white Dutch clover
Yes! White Dutch clover stands up well to mowing, but make sure you set your mower to the highest deck setting. Mow to a height of 3 inches or higher: Mowing lower than 3 inches can damage your clover.
While mowing is an option for a tidier lawn look, you also can choose not to mow your clover and let it grow to its full height for a low-maintenance, meadow-like lawn.
For a full clover lawn, white Dutch clover has a seeding rate of one-half pound of clover per 1,000 square feet. If your lawn is 9,000 square feet, simply multiply:
1/2 pound of clover 1,000 square feet x 9,000 square feet = 4.5 pounds of white Dutch clover seed
In this case, you would need 4.5 pounds of white Dutch clover to seed your entire lawn.
You also can purchase a clover seed mixture with different clover varieties (some brands blend over 15 different types of clover), or one with a combination of clover and grass seed to ensure lawn coverage.
Unfortunately, no. Clover responds to broadleaf herbicides the way that weeds do: It dies. Instead of a general herbicide application, you’ll need to spot spray or hand weed areas of your lawn that have clover.
White Dutch clover seeds take about seven days to germinate (though they can take as little as two or three days in warmer weather). They’ll sprout two to three days later.
It’s a good idea to buy coated seeds. They are pre-inoculated with a beneficial bacteria (rhizobium) that increases germination rates, helps clover fix nitrogen, and supports plant growth. Alfalfa and other legume seeds also undergo this coating process.
Though there is some scholarly discussion about how much coating seeds increases yield, most experts recommend purchasing inoculant-coated seeds.
Feeling lucky with clover (or saying good riddance!)
Finding a four-leaf clover really is lucky: On average, there is only one four-leaf clover for every 10,000 clovers with three leaves. With a white Dutch clover lawn, you’ll certainly have a higher probability of hitting the jackpot. And even if you don’t find one of those famously fortunate four-leaved friends, you can reap the benefits of a healthy, green lawn.
Want an extra hand getting your lawn dethatched, aerated, and ready for clover’s magical moment? Or need an illusionist to make white Dutch clover disappear? Whatever your stance is on clover, you can call a local lawn care pro to get your lawn looking perfect for you.
Main Photo Credit: Kathy Büscher | Pixabay