If clover pops up in your yard uninvited, you may think you’re cursed with bad luck. But before you squash the shamrock-shaped intruders, consider the benefits of keeping clover as a low-maintenance, eco-friendly grass alternative or companion plant.
Clover requires fewer harsh chemicals than regular lawns, tolerates tough growing conditions, and fixes nitrogen in the soil for other plants to thrive. Interested in giving clover a chance? We’ve got 10 reasons to feel lucky about an emerald lawn.
- What is clover?
- What’s so wrong with clover?
- Following the clover path
- Grass headache #1: Your grass needs water
- Grass headache #2: Your grass requires weekly mowings
- Grass headache #3: Your grass can’t handle the heat
- Grass headache #4: Your grass needs frequent fertilizer applications
- Grass headache #5: Your grass requires herbicides and pesticides
- Grass headache #6: Grass seed is expensive
- Grass headache #7: You have to aerate your lawn
- Grass headache #8: Your grass isn’t attracting butterflies or bees
- Grass headache #9: Weeds and pests are infiltrating your lawn
- Grass headache #10: It’s hard to grow grass in shady spots
- When clover may not bring you luck
- FAQ about clover
- Finding your pot of gold
What is clover?
Clover is a dense ground cover known for its shamrock-shaped leaves and pollinator-friendly flowers. It’s native to the Mediterranean but traveled to America in the 1600s, where it quickly became a favorite among farmers as a cover crop and livestock forage. Clover then became popular for use in lawns — until it was shunned as a weed.
Clover has a secret superpower: It can fix nitrogen for other plants (and itself), providing a natural boost of fertilizer. Because of its nitrogen-fixing abilities, clover is considered a living mulch. It’s a legume, in the same family as peas, peanuts, and beans.
With over 300 species available, clover grows worldwide. Within the U.S., it’s concentrated in cooler regions in the Northeast, Northwest, and Midwest. We’ll focus on the three varieties gaining popularity in cool-season lawns: white clover (Trifolium repens), red clover (Trifolium pratense), and microclover (Trifolium repens var. ‘Pirouette’ and ‘Pipolina’).
Types of clover
Though you can grow a single-species clover lawn, most experts recommend that you mix clover with traditional grass or with a variety of different clover species for an even, lush lawn.
- White clover is the most well-known clover in the U.S. It’s a low-growing, rapid spreader that easily outcompetes weeds and thrives in poor soil. It also produces attractive white flowers that pollinators adore. White clover varieties range from 4-8 inches tall.
- Recommended pairings: Annual ryegrass, red clover, Kentucky bluegrass, Bermudagrass, hard fescue, or red fescue
- Red clover is beloved for its pretty reddish purple flowers, elegant stature, and natural health benefits. It grows taller than white clover, with a height ranging from 6-24 inches.
- Recommended pairings: Perennial ryegrass, white clover, sweetclover, Bermudagrass, or tall fescue
- Microclover is a new cultivar of white clover that is becoming very popular. It has smaller leaves and fewer flowers than white clover, and it grows lower to the ground (4-6 inches tall). It also doesn’t clump as easily as white clover, so it blends well with other grasses.
- Recommended pairings: Tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass
What’s so wrong with clover?
The short answer? Nothing at all. Clover wasn’t considered a weed until about 50 years ago. It used to be a popular choice for homeowners: You couldn’t find a lawn without it. It fell out of favor in the 1950s as broadleaf herbicides entered the picture.
Broadleaf herbicides kill pretty much every plant besides grass, so as chemical companies pushed more herbicides into the eager hands of homeowners, the “ideal lawn” became a clover-free one. Clover gained a reputation as an ugly, undesirable weed.
Now, it’s making a comeback as homeowners rediscover its benefits.
Following the clover path
Clover offers a host of solutions to common turfgrass lawn problems. If you’re sick of lawn maintenance eating into your precious weekends, clover’s got you (ground) covered.
You can make a full switch to clover, or you can plant clover seeds along with grasses. Overseeding your existing lawn with clover is a great option that will retain your turfgrass look while giving you the benefits of clover.
Grass headache #1: Your grass needs water
Turfgrass typically needs 1-1½ inches of water per week, and watering can be the last thing you want to do bright and early on your precious weekends or after a tough day at work.
Clover solution: Clover requires less water than traditional turfgrasses
Sure, if you don’t have clover in your yard already, it’ll take a bit of work to establish your seeds. You’ll need to mist new clover daily. However, once your clover is thriving, you’ll just have to water as needed. If your lawn has naturally moist, loamy soil, you won’t have to do much watering at all.
Grass headache #2: Your grass requires weekly mowings
Mowing your lawn is a hassle, sucking time away from fun weekend activities. Plus, running a gas-powered mower is hardly eco-friendly. Most turfgrasses need to be mowed weekly and sometimes even more frequently during periods of intense growth.
Clover solution: Clover needs few to no mowings
Depending on your desired clover height and lawn look, you may want to mow your clover lawn a few times during the growing season, but you don’t have to. Letting your clover grow long can make your lawn a lovely, meadow-like space.
You’ll just want to mow your clover four to six weeks before the first frost to winterize your lawn.
Grass headache #3: Your grass can’t handle the heat
During the peak of summer, some turfgrasses go dormant and turn a sickly shade of yellow. It’s hardly an attractive lawn look.
Clover solution: Clover can tolerate drought and stays green throughout the summer
Clover is considered semi-evergreen or evergreen, depending on the region in which it’s planted. It will retain its color through the summer (except in extreme drought) and can stay green year-round in areas where winters aren’t too cold, like in the southern U.S.
Grass headache #4: Your grass needs frequent fertilizer applications
In general, turfgrasses need to be fertilized four times a year. That’s a lot of money, time, and chemicals down the drain (and into your local aquatic ecosystem).
Clover solution: Clover requires zero fertilizer
If you’re planting a full clover lawn, your clover certainly won’t need fertilizer. As a legume, it makes its own. Likewise, if you amend your turfgrass lawn to include clover (at a clover-to-grass ratio of 1:4), you’ll eliminate the need for fertilizer for your whole lawn. You can keep your grassy look, save money, and be eco-friendly.
Grass headache #5: Your grass requires herbicides and pesticides
Warding off weeds and pests with frequent applications of broad-spectrum herbicides and pesticides can harm your health and stress local ecosystems. Synthetic pesticides can be toxic to humans and pets, damage the environment, and do a number on your wallet.
Clover solution: Clover will crowd out weeds and wants nothing to do with herbicides
Clover’s dense roots and rapid growth will naturally smother weeds, so you won’t have to apply harsh pre-emergent or post-emergent herbicides. In fact, it’s important to avoid broadleaf herbicides on clover to prevent plant damage and death.
Grass headache #6: Grass seed is expensive
Turfgrass seed can cost a pretty penny, especially if you’re buying a specialty seed mix. You could spend over $100 to seed an 8,000-square-foot lawn.
Clover solution: Clover seed is very inexpensive. It’ll cost you only about $1 to cover 1,000 square feet.
If your lawn is 8,000 square feet, you’ll pay approximately $8 for seed — plus, you’ll reduce your water and energy bill by choosing clover.
Grass headache #7: You have to aerate your lawn
Routine aeration is necessary for even the healthiest turfgrass lawns, and boy, is it a hassle. You either have to manually core aerate, rent a machine, or pay a lawn care professional.
Clover solution: Clover minimizes the need for aeration
Clover is a living mulch, which means your soil gets more nutrients and your soil doesn’t get compacted easily. When clover roots decompose, they leave macropores in the soil and attract hungry earthworms: Both macropores and worm movement keep your soil loose and prevent thatch buildup.
Grass headache #8: Your grass isn’t attracting butterflies or bees
Watching beautiful birds, butterflies, and bees flutter about your yard is a fantastic mood booster, and it’s a great way to introduce your kids to nature. Unfortunately, a turfgrass lawn won’t attract pollinators.
Clover solution: Clover attracts a host of pollinators (especially honeybees)
Clover attracts honeybees and other pollinators, many of which are facing habitat loss. It gives them a comfortable, sustainable home, and you get a gorgeous show.
Grass headache #9: Weeds and pests are infiltrating your lawn
Sometimes, turfgrasses can’t adequately compete with weeds and insect pests. Your lawn may be attacked by chickweed, ragweed, and dandelions or overrun by moths, aphids, and maggots.
Clover solution: Clover suppresses weed growth and prevents insect pests
Clover is a rapid spreader that will naturally crowd out broadleaf weeds. It also attracts beneficial insects that prey on pests, so you won’t have to pay for pesticides.
For even more reasons to plant clover, check out Lawn Love’s “Benefits of Planting Clover in Your Yard.”
Grass headache #10: It’s hard to grow grass in shady spots
Most turfgrasses thrive in sunny areas, and it can be tough to coax grass to grow in the darker corners of your lawn, under trees, or in shadows caused by walls and fences. You may end up with bare or brown patches where you want a lush area for relaxation.
Clover solution: Clover grows well in partial shade
Clover can tolerate a variety of light levels, from full sun to partial shade (with 2-6 hours of direct sun per day). However, though clover is generally more shade-tolerant than grass, it can’t handle every level of shade. For densely shaded areas, you’ll want to choose more shade-resistant perennials like hostas or ferns.
When clover may not bring you luck
Clover isn’t the most shade-tolerant of ground covers, and it, unfortunately, won’t stand up to frequent kickball games. Here’s when clover may not be right for your lawn:
- Your lawn gets heavy foot traffic. Though clover can tolerate moderate amounts of foot traffic, it’s not as resilient as more traditional turfgrasses. Mixing clover with turfgrass can fix this issue.
- You have a densely shaded lawn. Clover can handle partial shade, but most varieties aren’t cut out for heavy shade.
- You live in a cold, arid climate. Clover is fairly drought-tolerant and can thrive in cool weather (especially long, cool springs), but consistently dry areas that experience extremely cold temperatures are not hospitable to clover.
- You have a bee sting allergy. Clover attracts plenty of lovely pollinators, including bees. If you or your kids have an allergy, clover may not be the way to go.
- You want to avoid reseeding. Clover requires reseeding approximately once every two to three years, whereas turfgrasses can go for longer without reseeding.
- You want a tidy lawn look. A clover lawn is hardly a jungle, but it also looks less tidy than a crisply mowed traditional lawn. Some homeowners chafe at the wilder look of a clover lawn.
If you’re charmed by clover but don’t have the perfect conditions for clover growth, remember that you can plant clover alongside your turfgrass. Clover grows well with grasses and some other ground covers.
No matter how perfect your lawn is for clover, it’s a good idea to mix clover with other plants for an even, green lawn.
FAQ about clover
It takes about a week for clover to germinate (though clover can germinate in as little as three days, depending on when you plant it). Remember to mist your clover daily to ensure good seed establishment.
It’s best to plant your clover in early spring, from mid-March to mid-April.
Clover is a rapid spreader, which is fantastic when it comes to crowding out weeds, but it can also climb right into your garden. We recommend using edging around your garden to prevent clover from socializing a bit too aggressively with your petunias. You also can weed by hand if some clover makes it past the guards.
If clover isn’t your cup of tea, or if you’d prefer to confine your clover to one area, there are plenty of ways to say “so long” to your unwanted shamrocks. Check out more of our clover articles here:
—How to Get Rid of Clover Naturally
—How to Get Rid of Clover Without Killing Your Grass
—The Secret to a Clover-Free Yard
Unfortunately, no. Clover responds to broadleaf herbicides in the way that weeds do: It dies (though certain herbicides are being developed to protect clover). Instead of a general herbicide application, you’ll need to spot spray or hand weed areas of your lawn that have clover.
Finding your pot of gold
Clover may be the misunderstood hero in the great American lawn saga. The next time you see a tiny shamrock emerging from the earth, take a moment to consider letting it grow before you weed or spray it.
If you’d rather let a professional find the end of the rainbow (and bring the pot of gold back to you), you can call a local lawn pro to prepare your lawn and make your clover sparkle.
Main Photo Credit: sixmique | Pixabay