Grass lawns are notorious for guzzling up synthetic fertilizer, chemical pesticides and herbicides, water, and homeowners’ precious weekends and money. While some grass species are more environmentally friendly and low maintenance than others, more homeowners are looking to Clover and Micro Clover as a lawn amendment or substitute that requires no chemical inputs while also providing nitrogen to the soil and food for pollinators. Is Clover right for your lawn?
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Clover (Trifolium spp.)?
- 2 Pros and Cons of Clover
- 3 Clover Varieties:
- 4 How To Grow A Clover Lawn
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Clover (Trifolium spp.)?
White Clover is Trifolium repens
Red Clover is Trifolium pratense
Micro Clover is Trifolium repens var. Pipolina
|USDA Zone||3 – 10 (can overwinter to -29F or -34C)|
|Sun||Full Sun to Part Shade (at least 2 hours of sun per day)|
|Soil||Can grow in all soils.
Prefers well-draining, moist, low-fertility soil.
|pH||Ideal 6 to 7|
|Water Requirement||Medium. Prefers moist soil but, once established, can withstand short dry periods while staying green. Needs water during extended high heat.|
|Nitrogen (lb/1,000 sq. ft.)||0; fixes nitrogen from the air into the soil for itself and other plants.|
|Growth Habit||Creeping stems that root at stem nodes.|
|Height||2 to 4 inches
Micro Clover stays between 2 to 4 inches, but mow to encourage leaves to grow smaller and softer, and to grow fewer flowers.
|Maintenance||Low to Medium|
|Wear||Low to Medium – not a substitute for heavy use, but kids can play on it. A mixed grass and clover lawn can take heavier use.|
|Tolerance||Cold and heat tolerance
No serious insect or disease problems; common grass pests and disease don’t affect clover.
|Germination Time||7-10 days
Fast establishment and growth
|Appearance||Green or gold/yellow, 3 round leaves. Micro Clover is much smaller.
Soft underfoot. (If you or others walk barefoot over it, keep the flowers mowed off, learn to watch for bees as you walk, or grow Micro Clover for fewer flowers.)
You’re probably already familiar with this shamrock-shaped plant, whether because of its use in fairy tales or because you’ve cursed it while yanking it out of your grass lawn. But as homeowners are searching for a low-maintenance option where they can ditch harsh chemicals, Clover is becoming a popular lawn alternative.
Clover has many benefits over grass:
- Clover fixes nitrogen, so it doesn’t need nitrogen fertilizer, and when its roots break down, it releases that nitrogen into the soil for other plants to use.
- Clover provides food for pollinators with white or red flowers.
- Clover suppresses other broadleaf plants and doesn’t attract common lawn pests.
- Clover is always soft underfoot while being low maintenance, and it’s a magical experience for kids to run across.
- Clover stays green even during the heat of summer, unlike cool-season grasses.
It’s also less expensive than grass seed and grows readily in partial shade.
However, Clover is not a miracle plant. It suffers during extended periods of high heat, and it needs more water to make it through. It grows fast and will spread into areas you don’t want it, like garden beds. And while it’s soft and fun for kids to play on, Clover stains clothes more easily than grass.
Not ready to give up grass? You can overseed your existing lawn with Clover. The Clover will grow in between and fix nitrogen to lower fertilizer requirements. You can also find eco-friendly lawn alternative blends that combine low maintenance grasses with Clover.
Pros and Cons of Clover
|Requires no fertilizer or amendments.||Micro Clover can revert to Dutch White Clover after a few years or without mowing, while all Clover varieties require reseeding every 2 to 3 years.|
|Can be grown as a lawn-substitute or mixed into an existing lawn to provide nitrogen.||Prefers cooler temperatures and can suffer in extended periods of high heat.|
|Can withstand moderate traffic.||Can’t withstand heavy traffic.|
|Attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies||Can spread into other areas, like garden beds. Use edging to protect your garden beds and weed by hand.|
|Grows thick enough to crowd out weeds naturally||Clover stains clothes more easily than grass.|
Dutch White Clover (Trifolium repens)
Dutch White Clover is the most popular Clover to use as a lawn alternative, and in fact, you may find it already growing in your lawn. It produces white flowers throughout the summer, providing a lot of food for pollinators. Bees especially love White Clover. You will need to reseed every two to three years, but seed is inexpensive.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
Red Clover grows taller than Dutch White Clover, so unless you mow often, it’s not a great substitute for a grass lawn. It produces purple flowers.
Micro Clover (Trifolium repens var. Pipolina)
Micro Clover is a cultivar of Dutch White Clover, but it’s not just a smaller version. It’s been cultivated for vegetative elasticity, meaning that its growth form changes over time when mowed. Since it grows shorter and finer, it’s more suitable for a “traditional” lawn than White Clover. However, some have found that Micro Clover reverts to White Clover after a few years. It’s more expensive than Dutch White Clover, but still affordable.
Since it produces fewer flowers than Dutch White Clover, it’s not as pollinator friendly. If that’s your goal, go with Dutch White Clover.
How To Grow A Clover Lawn
Clover germinates quickly from seed. The best time to sow is in the spring or fall when temperatures are cooler, at least 2 weeks after the last frost date in the spring and 4 weeks before your first average frost date in the fall. Avoid sowing during prolonged hot weather, as clover prefers cooler temperatures.
Follow the seeding rate recommended by your seed provider (if it is too dense the clover may grow over one another in a race for who can catch the sunlight), either by scattering by hand or using a broadcast spreader that can handle Clover’s tiny seeds. Keep the seeds moist while germinating. Once they get established, start reducing the frequency of watering. Once established, Clover has more drought resistance.
Seed can come raw or pelleted. Raw seed is just seed. Pelleted seed is when the seed is combined with a clay coating to make the seed bigger and easier to see on the soil.
White Clover is a perennial but it lives only two to three years. If you allow your Clover to go to seed, it can reseed itself. Otherwise, you may need to overseed every few years as the ground cover thins out.
Depending on your needs and your conditions, you may not need to mow at all. White Clover grows between 2 to 8 inches, so it may remain short enough as is. Since it grows short, you don’t need to mow very often. If your goal is providing food for pollinators, don’t mow and allow flowers to bloom.
While Micro Clover only grows between 2 to 4 inches, you should still mow it. If it’s not mowed, it’ll grow like White Clover. When it’s mowed, it grows more, tinier leaves that make a high quality lawn. It also produces fewer flowers – which means you’re less likely to walk on a bee.
For a long time, homeowners considered Clover to be a weed because it takes advantage of low-nitrogen soils to pop up in our mono-culture grass lawns. Grown as a groundcover, though, it grows thick enough to block out other unwanted plants. Grown with a grass lawn, it’ll prevent competition from other weeds.
Do not use broadleaf herbicides on clover lawns. Clover is a broadleaf plant, and the herbicide will kill it.
Unlike most grass lawns, you don’t need to fertilize Clover. Clover is a nitrogen-fixing legume, meaning that it forms a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrates (NO2), a form of nitrogen that plants can absorb. That soil bacteria “infects” the roots of the plant, creating a nodule that converts the nitrogen. When the nodules decompose, it releases the nitrate back into the soil. If you’re growing a mixed lawn, then you won’t need to fertilize as much, or at all, depending on the grass species.
Clover needs less water than most grasses, but it still likes moist soil. You just won’t need to water it as heavily. It’s also drought-tolerant, so it can withstand short dry periods, but you will need to water it during extended hot weather or during extended dry periods.
White Clover’s long roots are great at penetrating clay soils, so you rarely need to aerate before sowing.
There’s no need to dethatch Clover.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I Just Throw Clover Seed On The Ground?
You can just throw clover seed on the ground, but using a broadcast spreader that can accommodate clover will help to ensure even distribution. Once you’ve scattered the seed, rake the area to cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil. Pressing the seeds into the soil either by walking or rolling something over it will improve germination too, as seeds benefit from firm contact with moist soil. Too firm, though, and the seeds may have trouble spreading roots.
Is Clover Toxic To Dogs?
There’s no direct literature on clover’s toxicity to dogs, but White Clover releases small amounts of cyanide when its leaf tissues are damaged to deter insect pests, causing wild strains of White Clover to be toxic when eaten in large quantities. Clovers cultivated for use in pastures have been bred with lower cyanide content.
Clover (Trifolium spp.) is a different species from Shamrock (Oxalis spp.), which is definitely toxic to dogs and should be avoided.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) can be toxic to horses when infected with the fungus Rhizoctonia leguminicola. Any plants consumed in high quantities can have toxic effects on dogs.
Will Clover Spread On Its Own?
Perennial Clover will spread on its own through its creeping stems. It’s better to underseed than overseed, since Clover will spread over open space, while cramped Clover plants may grow over each other to fight for sunlight. You can always seed again to cover bare or thin spots.