Many people are ditching traditional turfgrasses in favor of a clover lawn. Not only is clover better for the environment, it’s also cheaper and easier to maintain. But is clover right for your lawn?
Clover makes a fantastic lawn alternative, since it requires no costly fertilizer, few (if any) mows, and uses less water than most turfgrass. It’s also pollinator-friendly and lovely to walk barefoot on. But it has poor heat tolerance, lower wear resistance, requires more water than drought-hardy grasses, and stains clothes more easily.
What Is Clover?
Clover is a genus including many clover species, but when talking about clover as a lawn substitute, clover mainly refers to two species: White Clover (Trifolium repens) and Micro Clover (Trifolium repens var. Pipolina). Micro Clover is actually a cultivar of White Clover that was bred into a smaller, finer version that looks more like a traditional lawn at first glance.
However, if your yard doesn’t have the right conditions for these two clovers, explore other species. There are some that do well in drier conditions and alkaline soil.
Clover Lawn Pros
- Requires no fertilizer; clover gathers its own nitrogen! Clover is a nitrogen-fixing legume, meaning that it can convert atmospheric nitrogen into usable nitrates with the help of beneficial microbes. The nitrates are stored in root nodules, so when the roots decompose, those nitrates become available to other plants.
- Rarely needs mowing. White Clover only grows to between 2 to 8 inches, so you don’t need to mow very often, or at all. You only really need to mow to remove flowers, if you’re concerned about stepping on bees or maintaining a lawn-like appearance. Micro Clover needs to be mowed occasionally to keep the leaves growing smaller and fine. Otherwise, it will revert back to White Clover.
- Requires less water than the most popular grass species. Kentucky Bluegrass is well-known for its water-hungry ways. You may end up watering it three or four times a week during the summer heat. Clover needs less water during the summer.
- Stays green during the heat of summer. Most cool-season grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass go dormant (brown) during the summer heat unless watered. Clover will stay green even during short periods of drought.
- Suppresses other broadleaf plants/weeds. The best defense against unwanted plants is to leave no soil open for seeds to germinate, and clover delivers. It grows dense roots and spreads thickly, shading the soil. You don’t need to apply herbicides or hand-weed, which is great because herbicides will kill your clover lawn.
- Doesn’t attract common lawn pests. Clover isn’t turfgrass. It doesn’t attract the same pests that turfgrass does. In fact, it has little to no serious problems with pests or disease.
- Attracts pollinators like bees and butterflies (if you let it flower). Lawn grasses are notorious food deserts for pollinators. But bees and butterflies love clover flowers. And if you have a food garden, those bees will also pollinate your vegetables.
- Feels extremely pleasant under bare feet. If you love walking barefoot on your lawn, you’re going to love clover. It’s finer than most turfgrasses you can get, and a great deal more magical. Just watch out for bees.
Clover Lawn Cons
- Can’t withstand heavy traffic. Clover can stand up to low or moderate traffic use, and spread to repair gaps. But it can’t stand up to heavy traffic, like weekly soccer games or rowdy play. That doesn’t mean you can’t get the benefits of clover. Just overseed an existing lawn with clover. The clover will make grass (even Kentucky Bluegrass) easier and more eco-friendly to maintain, while the grass increases the lawn’s wear resistance.
- Poor heat tolerance. Clover prefers the cool season in spring and fall, and may pull back during the heat. It’s not a great choice in areas where warm-season grasses like Bermuda reign.
- Clover has earned some of its reputation as a weed, as it will spread where you don’t want it to, like into your garden beds or neighbors’ yards.
- Stains clothes more easily than grass. If you have kids running and rolling around your clover lawn, then you’ll have to tackle more green stains on their clothes. Enzyme detergents can do a lot of heavy lifting, but you may also need to soak clothes in a vinegar-water solution before washing.
- Still requires medium water. While clover can withstand short periods of drought, it still needs water. If you live in an area that gets little rain or frequent droughts, consider waterwise grasses like native Buffalo Grass or Sheep Fescue.
Clover makes a fantastic lawn alternative, if you live in a cool-season area that gets a moderate amount of rain. Otherwise, you may want to investigate other clover species, low maintenance grasses, or other grass alternatives.
Jamie is the founder of The Backyard Pros. When he was 15 years old he started working at a garden centre helping people buy plants, gardening products, and lawn care products. He has real estate experience and he is a home owner. Jamie loves backyard projects, refinishing furniture, and enjoys sharing his knowledge online.