What is White Dutch Clover?

Close-up of Dutch white clover in a field

You’ve heard of white clover (Trifolium repens) and have likely seen them around plenty. But a lesser-known variant, white Dutch clover, is also very common. If you’ve never heard of it, you might be wondering, what is white Dutch clover?

Here, you’ll learn about all the benefits and drawbacks of this clover, as well as how to start a clover lawn or how to vanquish them from your yard for good.

What is white Dutch clover?

White clover lawn
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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.

If shamrock-shaped leaves and pinkish-white flowers are popping up around your lawn, chances are they are white Dutch clovers. This cool-season herbaceous perennial thrives in the top half of the country.

Sometimes called “Dutch white clover,” white Dutch clover is one of the lower-growing clover varieties – making it a strong candidate as a 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

Note: While this clover grows in hardiness zones 4 to 9, it can be planted as a perennial in the North and winter annual in the South. It’s also commonly grown in vineyards and orchards, as farmers grow it to improve soil and reduce erosion.

Benefits of white Dutch clover

White Dutch clover offers a cornucopia of benefits for your yard and the environment, including:

1. No fertilizer necessary

Since clovers are legumes (in the same family as peas and beans), their special nodules can fix atmospheric nitrogen. Because of this, they require no fertilizer. Their nitrogen-fixing capabilities allow clovers to tolerate poor soil conditions better than grasses.

Plus, they can fertilize other plants. So when you plant them at a 1:4 ratio (clover to turfgrass), your entire yard won’t need fertilizer.

2. Cost-effective

This drought-tolerant clover requires less water than traditional turfgrass lawns – helping keep your water bill down. Plus, it can handle the cold weather better than most types of grasses. It grows well in temperatures ranging from 50 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. But although it can tolerate the occasional heatwave, it won’t thrive in a scorching desert.

You’ll also find white Dutch clover to be very economical to plant. Seeds only cost around $1 to cover 1,000 square feet. So, if your lawn is 9,000 square feet, you would only need to get $9 out of your pocket.

3. Requires little to no mowing

White Dutch clover grows lower to the ground and can be mowed shorter than other clover varieties, giving it a tidier appearance. If you prefer more of a middle-ground lawn, you can mow your clovers a few times each growing season. Or skip mowing altogether and let your clovers grow into a lovely, meadow-like space.

4. Provides numerous soil benefits

The thick, interconnected root system of this white clover will break up compacted soil, so you won’t have to aerate your lawn as often. Additionally, this living mulch provides nutrients to other plant roots, insulates them when temperatures fluctuate, controls weeds, and reduces erosion.

5. 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).

6. Attracts pollinators

This white clover variety 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.

7. Reduces weeds and pests

Clover is often used by farmers as green manure to simultaneously prevent common weeds from popping up and give the soil a nutrient boost. Its dense, rapid growth naturally smothers weeds without the need for harsh herbicide treatments. Plus, it can attract beneficial insects that prey on pests, preventing moth, maggot, and aphid infestations.

Drawbacks of white Dutch clover

Dutch white 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.

1. Cannot handle heavy foot traffic

While this clover can tolerate more foot traffic than other clover varieties, it’s still more sensitive to play from pets and children than most turfgrasses. So, if your lawn gets a lot of foot traffic, consider mixing clover with sturdier grasses.

2. 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 to 4 inches and avoiding nitrogen fertilizer.

3. Bees may sting

White clover’s ability to attract pollinators is wonderful for biodiversity. However, it’s not so 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.

4. Can overpower other plants

A rapid grower, clover has dense roots and can outcompete weeds. But it also can overpower your favorite flowers. To prevent clover from creeping into your flower beds, consider installing borders or edging.

5. Less tidy than turfgrass

For some homeowners, clovers are an eyesore. While this variety looks less wild and grows shorter than other clovers, its stems don’t look like traditional grass blades, and its white flowers are distinctly not grassy.

How to get rid of white Dutch clover

Fertilizer pellets spreading from fertilizer
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There are many ways to rid your lawn of white Dutch clovers, including:

  • Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer: Since clovers do best in soils with low levels of nitrogen, choose a fertilizer with a high nitrogen content to deter them from growing and spreading.
  • Consider using a herbicide: ADIOS (Advanced Development in Organic Solutions) is the perfect non-toxic option for killing clovers while preserving your lawn.
  • Do some weeding: You can’t go wrong with the old-fashioned way of getting down on your hands and knees and pulling them out by their roots.
  • Make a vinegar mixture: Using a vinegar mixture several times over a couple of weeks will dry the clovers out and eventually kill them.
  • Set the mower to 3 inches or higher: Clover thrives in a short lawn and can easily overrun the yard. Mowing higher will help deter clovers from making themselves at home.
  • Smother the clover: Naturally, air and sunlight are necessary for clovers to live. So, if you cover the patch of clover with a plastic sheet or garbage bag, it should die off in a few weeks.
  • Use corn gluten: Corn gluten is an organic pre-emergent herbicide you can use to prevent clovers from reproducing and spreading.
  • Try an organic nitrogen boost: Consider using an organic fertilizer such as cow manure, earthworm castings, or bone meal to kill off the clovers in your yard.

Starting a clover lawn

mower mowing a lawn
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Since clover can be highly beneficial for your lawn, you may want to add it 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. This 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.

Steps to follow if you have existing clover on your lawn

1. Mow your lawn close to the ground (at a blade height of 1.5 to 2 inches) to discourage turfgrass growth.

2. Make your soil as hospitable as possible for clover. If necessary, now is the time to aerate and dethatch your lawn 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 the 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.

Steps to follow 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 1/8 to 1/4 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.

FAQ about white Dutch clover

Can I mow white Dutch clover?

Yes, white Dutch clover stands up well to mowing, but you must set your mower to the highest deck setting. Mow to a height of 3 inches or higher, as 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.

How much clover seed do I need to buy?

For a full clover lawn, white Dutch clover has a seeding rate of 1/2 pound of clover per 1,000 square feet. So if your lawn is 9,000 square feet, the formula would be:

1/2 pound per 1,000 square feet x 9,000 square feet = 4.5 pounds of clover seeds

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.

Can I apply herbicide to clover to kill broadleaf weeds?

No, clover will die as it responds to broadleaf herbicides the way weeds do. Instead of a general herbicide application, you’ll need to spot spray or hand weed areas of your lawn that have clover.

How long does it take white Dutch clover to sprout?

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.

Should I buy coated or uncoated seeds?

It’s a good idea to buy coated seeds, as 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 increase yield, most experts recommend purchasing inoculant-coated seeds.

Feel lucky with clover (or say good riddance)

Finding a four-leaf clover 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 do you want 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 | License

Amy Adams

Amy Adams is a freelance writer and former newspaper journalist. She grew up in Kansas but has been living in Florida for the past 15 years and has no intentions of ever moving back!