Why is Clover Taking Over My Lawn?

close-up of white clover together in an area of grass

Is clover sneaking into your lawn and destroying the green space you worked so hard to create? Chances are, your lawn is suffering from a common yard ailment or well-intentioned lawn care practice that is giving clover secret entry into your grassy kingdom. 

Let’s investigate why clover has chosen your lawn for its covert operations, so you can root out the double agent and get your lawn back to its clean, green self. 

What is clover?

Clover (Trifolium) is a low-growing, herbaceous perennial distinguished by its shamrock-shaped leaves and pinkish-white flowers. It’s mainly concentrated in the cooler, northern and midwestern regions of the U.S.

Clover thrives in cool, moist areas, grows in full sun to partial shade, and tolerates heat and drought. It’s also a legume, so it makes its own nitrogen fertilizer. Put simply, clover can be quite a powerful lawn invader. 

Native to the Mediterranean, clover seed traveled to America in the 1600s and quickly became (and remains) a favorite with farmers as a cover crop and livestock forage.

It became popular to use on lawns across the country until the 1950s when broadleaf herbicides were introduced, and homeowners began to favor tidy turfgrasses. Clover was deemed a weed.

Today, some homeowners are rediscovering clover’s benefits and planting it in their yards. Other homeowners enjoy the tidy green lawn look and dislike the wilder aesthetic of clover. If you prefer a tidy look, we’ll help you discover what’s causing your clover infestation.

7 reasons why clover is invading your lawn

Clover won’t come creeping into a lawn unless it’s got a secret entry point. Let’s investigate how it’s weaseling its way into your lawn. 

1. Compacted soil

When soil is compacted, grass roots can’t access the water, air, and nutrients that they need to grow strong. Clover has a thick, interconnected root system that helps it thrive in compacted, poor soil where grass wilts and loses its color. Clover can take over areas of your lawn where grass is thinning or has turned brown.

The fix: Regularly aerating your lawn loosens your soil and gives grass roots room to breathe and nutrients to thrive. With grass growing strong, there won’t be bare spots for clover to infiltrate. Your aeration schedule will depend on your region and soil type, but aerating once a year is best for most homeowners. 

2. Low nitrogen levels

Clover is a legume, so it fixes nitrogen from the air and effectively gives itself a fertilizer boost. Turfgrass doesn’t have that luxury. While grass struggles to survive, clover thrives in areas with low nitrogen. In fact, it’s an indicator plant for low-nitrogen soil. 

The fix: Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer to your lawn. Nitrogen fertilizer will fuel your grass in the fight against clover. Grass will grow stronger and more rapidly, while clover won’t experience the benefits (because it already fixes nitrogen for itself). In fact, nitrogen fertilizer can inhibit legume growth. 

You can opt for a synthetic, fast-release fertilizer for a quick jolt of grass growth, or you can choose an organic, slow-release fertilizer for its long-term benefits.

Some excellent organic fertilizer options include:

  • Cow manure
  • Guano
  • Earthworm castings
  • Bone meal
  • Liquid kelp
  • Blood meal

While synthetic, fast-release fertilizer is a quick fix, it will degrade your soil over time and damage the environment. Organic fertilizer will take longer to work its magic, but it’ll also give you healthier soil for sustained grass growth.

3. Unbalanced soil pH

Grass grows best at a pH of 6.0 to 7. When your soil is too acidic or too alkaline (basic), clover can enter the picture. 

Though most clover species prefer the 6.0 to 7.0 pH range, they can tolerate more extreme pH levels than grass. Alsike clover can grow at a low pH of 5.5, red clover can grow at a pH of over 7.0, and strawberry clover can grow in soils with a pH from 5.3 to 8.2. 

The fix: Test your lawn’s soil and then make the necessary amendments. To start off, contact your local cooperative extension office for information on how to test your soil. 

Once you know your soil’s pH, you can change your soil to make it more hospitable to grass. For acidic soil, add lime or wood ash. For alkaline soil, add compost or sulfur

4. Mowing too low

You’d think mowing low to the ground would knock clover down a peg, but it really just stresses your grass. When you mow higher (3 inches or more), your grass gets the upper hand: Tall grass blocks sunlight from the lower-growing clover, so clover’s stuck without a crucial component for success. 

The fix: Set your mower to the highest deck setting and mow your lawn higher than 3 inches, so your grass stands tall and can outcompete clover. To avoid lawn stress, follow the one-third rule: Remove no more than one-third of the grass height during any one mowing. 

5. Underwatering or overwatering

Too little or too much of a good thing is … Well, you know the phrase, and it certainly applies to watering your lawn. Underwatering your grass will leave it wilted, discolored, and unable to compete with clover (which tolerates drought better than turfgrasses). 

Overwatering leads to grass fungus, disease, shallow roots, and soil compaction. All of these spell trouble for grass and easy access for clover — and an army of other broadleaf weeds

The fix: Water your lawn regularly but avoid a shallow, frequent watering schedule. Water your lawn 1-1.5 inches once a week (or break the watering into two times per week). Water should reach 6 to 8 inches down into the soil, giving your roots a healthy soak. That way, grass roots will grow deeply and resist drought. 

Pro Tip: Water your grass in the morning before 10 a.m. Avoid watering your grass at night: It’s a recipe for disease. 

6. Wrong grass type

Clover thrives in cool, moist environments. Grass? Well, it depends. Based on your region, you need either cool-season grass, warm-season grass, or a mix of the two. If you’re planting the wrong lawn grass for your region, it will struggle to adapt to your climate and may develop diseases, wilt, and die. That gives clover the perfect “in” to your lawn.

Clover mainly grows in the northern and midwestern parts of the U.S., where cool-season grasses thrive. If your lawn is filled with warm-season grasses like Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Bermudagrass, then clover can easily dominate your yard. 

The fix: Make sure you’re planting the right grass for your region. Check out our comprehensive guide to determine what type of grass you have and which grass seeds you should plant for growing success. 

If you’re not positive about the best grass for your region, you can consult your cooperative extension service for seeding advice. 

7. Lots of sunlight

Most turfgrasses love sunlight, and so does clover. Sunlight alone won’t prompt a clover infestation, but when combined with other lawn problems, like compacted soil or over-mowed grass, clover can start creeping into your lawn.

The fix: Keep your lawn as healthy as can be. If you know that your lawn is predisposed to clover, it’s important to give clover as few reasons to grow as possible. Overseeding, fertilization, aeration, and proper watering can help your lawn stay clover-free. 

Follow our seasonal guide to give your lawn the treatments it needs throughout the year. 

8 ways to get rid of clover

Ready to assassinate the clover growing in your yard? Here are eight ways to execute the mission.

  1. Weed it out
  2. Kill clover with a broadleaf herbicide
  3. Apply a vinegar and dish soap mixture
  4. Mow your lawn at a higher setting
  5. Smother it with plastic sheeting or garbage bags
  6. Spread corn gluten meal
  7. Apply an organic weed killer (like A.D.I.O.S.)
  8. Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer

For detailed instructions on each method, check out Lawn Love’s “How to Get Rid of Clover Naturally” and “How to Get Rid of Clover Without Killing Your Grass.” Our articles will walk you through which method is best for your lawn. 

Why you may want clover to stay

If you can’t stand the clover look, there are many methods to stomp it out. However, clover offers many lawn benefits if you’re willing to give it a chance.

1. Clover naturally fertilizes your grass. 

Clover naturally fixes atmospheric nitrogen for plants to use as fertilizer. It feeds your grass roots so you don’t have to apply harsh synthetic fertilizers, saving you time and money —​​ all while helping the planet. 

2. Clover prevents the real weeds. 

Clover grows rapidly and densely, crowding out weeds so you don’t have to spring for expensive, potent herbicides that harm the environment. Clover is a natural, long-lasting weed control solution that’ll stop ragweed and dandelions in their tracks. 

3. Clover is a living mulch.

Not only does clover prevent weeds, but it also keeps your soil moist and nutrient-rich, reduces erosion, and insulates the soil, protecting plant roots from sudden temperature fluctuations. It’s an all-around health supplement for your grass. 

4. Clover attracts beautiful pollinators. 

If you’d like to watch butterflies, birds, and bees flit about your yard, clover will get your lawn humming with wildlife activity. It’ll also attract beneficial insects that improve the soil and prey on pests, so you won’t have to aerate your lawn as often or pay for pesticides.

5. Clover decreases watering and mowing needs. 

Clover is drought-tolerant and requires much less watering than your average turfgrass lawn. Likewise, clover doesn’t require any mowing, though you may want to mow it to about 3 inches to keep your lawn looking tidy.

FAQ about clover

1. What type of clover is invading my lawn? 

Chances are, white clover (Trifolium repens) is the intruder. It’s the most common clover species in the U.S. Here’s how to identify the three usual suspects:

  • White clover (Trifolium repens): White clover is a hardy ground cover with pinkish-white flowers and stalks that grow 4-8 inches tall. It’s commonly grown in vineyards and orchards, and it’s probably what you see growing all around your yard.
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense): Red clover is bushier and taller than white clover, standing at a height of 6-24 inches. Its flowers are (you guessed it!) shades of red, ranging from light rose to deep fuchsia. 
  • Strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum): Strawberry clover tends to grow by tidal basins and coastal or river estuaries. It’s very similar to white clover, but its white and pink flowers are slightly smaller than those of white clover. It grows 8-14 inches tall.

2. What is A.D.I.O.S.? 

A.D.I.O.S. (Advanced Development In Organic Solutions) is a non-toxic, post-emergent herbicide designed to kill broadleaf weeds without harming the environment. It’ll get rid of pesky patches of clover (along with other weeds like ragweed, knotweed, and poison ivy) without destroying the surrounding grass. Another plus? It’s safe for lawns with kids and pets.

You can buy A.D.I.O.S. online or from your local home improvement store. 

3. How fast does clover grow?

Clover takes about a week to germinate, depending on the species and season. It will sprout two to three days later. 

Clearing out the clover

Clover can be quite the lawn superspy, but with the right strategy, you can weed out the intruder. If you need an expert agent to plot clover’s demise by herbicide and get your grass back to its green self, call a local lawn care pro.

Main Photo Credit: Artur Łuczka | Unsplash

Maille Smith

Maille-Rose Smith is a freelance writer and actor based in New York. She graduated from the University of Virginia. She enjoys watching theatre, reading mysteries, and listening to psychology podcasts. She is an orchid enthusiast and always has a basil plant growing in her kitchen.