Looking for an alternative to frequent watering, fertilizing, and weekly mowing? Clover lawns are the answer.
Many people think clover is a weed that should be banished. Although, a clover lawn could be one of the best things you can do for your landscape.
Let’s discuss how this perception of clover came to be, why it needs to change, and the best types to use on your lawn.
What Is a Clover Lawn?
A clover lawn is ground covers made up of lawn grass and clover together, or 100% clover.
Clover has many broad-shaped leaves and flowers that help cover ground surfaces, like grass. Clover is labeled a legume, defined as capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere. Then, release the nitrogen to plants- helping your lawn maintain its green color.
Meaning clover lawns do not require fertilizer. Saving you time and money.
Clover vs. Grass: What Is the Difference?
The differences between a lawn made out of a mix of clover and grass vs. 100% grass:
- Grass lawn: Popular grasses used are fescue grass, Kentucky bluegrass, zoysiagrass, and ryegrass. Most mixes will have a variety of these grasses in them. After planting, the grass will need frequent mowing, fertilizer, and watering. If not properly cared for, it will turn brown and be overrun by weeds.
- Clover lawn: Clover lawns can include grass and clover. Once the ground cover is established, it needs minimal water, no fertilizer (created its nitrogen), and no mowing.
Why Clover Is Not Popular & Why It Should Be
Let’s face it, growing and maintaining a grass lawn is difficult. You will need to stay on top of watering, mowing height, seeding, and controlling weeds.
Also, you’ll need to apply fertilizer and herbicides (which can be dangerous).
We often think of grass-only lawns as looking like this:
Unfortunately, due to the labor-intensive nature of grass-only lawns, we end up with something that looks more like:
Clover was often added to grass mixes in the past- and clover was often the sign of an excellent lawn.
Herbicides became popular when mass production took the commercial industry by storm in the 1950s. And companies began promoting monoculture grass lawns- using mixes that only had Kentucky bluegrass and fescue.
Clover was rebranded as a weed as the broad-leaved herbicide killed clover. And the companies wanted to continue to sell their products.
This shifted people’s perceptions of lawns. Now, the perfect image of a lawn was grass-only.
But, as we will discuss, this was flawed. Clover should not have been the enemy of the lawn.
As energy and water costs continue to rise, many homeowners are looking for alternatives to the labor-intensive American lawn that they have been sold.
12 Reasons to Have a Clover Lawn
There are numerous advantages of having clover compared to a grass-only lawn:
- Minimal Watering: Clover is drought tolerant and will keep its green color for most of the year in the U.S. In the northern areas, it will lose color after the first frost, but it can stay green year-round in the south. Clover has deeper roots that allow it to reach more water than grass.
- Minimal Mowing: Some clover varieties, such as Dutch white clover, only gets to be 2 to 8” tall. This means you don’t need to mow it. Although, some homeowners like to mow it during the middle of summer. They are improving the appearance and deadheading old clover blooms. You can also prevent clover from blooming altogether if mowed.
- Compost: If you mow the clover, it can make an excellent supplement to compost.
- Beneficial for Insects: Pollinators like honeybees love clover. Which, in turn, will help pollinate plants in your landscape or garden. It will also attract pest-controlling wasps (parasitoids), which feed on scales, aphids, and whiteflies.
- No Fertilizer: Clover creates its nitrogen and needs no fertilizer (nitrogen-fixing legume). This also benefits nearby grass/plants.
- No Herbicides: Herbicides kill clover, which should not be used.
- Out-Competes Weeds: If you have tried to remove clover, you’ll know how persistent clover can be. Clover will out-compete weeds using a dense root structure, so there is no need to pull them or purchase herbicides.
- Does Well in Poor Soil: Clover can tolerate poor soil without much fuss. It will improve the soil by adding nitrogen. This is especially beneficial in new homes with poor-quality topsoil from the building process.
- Bare Feet: You can walk on clover with bare feet. Since it has a lush, soft, excellent walking surface, the blossoms and leaves will leave your feet with a luxurious smell. Just be sure to avoid stepping bees.
- Handles Dog Urine: Dog urine can cause brown spots in grass lawns. Clover will stay lush and green.
- Inexpensive: Clover seed is not expensive. You can usually seed a 4000 square feet yard with $5 of seed. Plus, the flowers will go to seed and continue to spread.
- Resists Mildew and Blight: Fungus, blights, and mildew can hurt or kill grass lawns. Clovers can withstand these issues and stay healthy and green.
Downsides of Having Clover
If you have small children, one concern of having a clover lawn is bees. While there is an overall benefit, if children or adults are allergic to bee stings, this could be a big problem. In which case you should avoid clover.
Although, honeybees will rarely sting people when you leave them alone- and are away from their hive. You can also use clover varieties such as micro-clover, which has minimal flowers compared to Dutch White clover.
Mowing the clover before the flowers get a chance to bloom is also an option.
Clover is also not as tough as grass in high-traffic areas. So, you’ll want a clover and grass mix if you have lots of foot traffic.
Lastly, since it still has the perception of being a weed, neighbors may not appreciate the seeds spreading into their yard.
The Basics of Care
Clover needs the right amount of sunlight, water, and soil conditions to germinate properly. In most soils, lime is often recommended.
The lime is used to increase the pH of the soil in the neutral range. Since clover does not do well in acidic soil (6-7 pH is best), lime will also release potassium and phosphate from the soil, which aids in the clover’s growth.
If you are unsure of your pH, you should get a soil test done before planting clover. This will help you figure out how much (if any) lime you need for proper germination.
Clovers like full sun but can tolerate partial shade.
Plant clover in spring to early summer for best results. During this time, the soil will have moisture and be soft enough for seeds to take hold. You can also plant in the fall (September to October) in most areas.
When spreading the seed, it is often suggested to combine it with the lime to prevent it from being blown around by the wind.
Two Types of Clover Lawns
There are two main clover lawn types:
- Mixed grass-clover lawns: Excellent for high-traffic areas like playing fields
- Pure clover lawns: Better for lower to medium traffic areas
Best Varieties of Clover for Lawns: 4 Choices
While there are many varieties of clover to choose from, you want to select a perennial clover that will come back each year without planting (less labor-intensive).
MiniClover (USDA Zones 3-10)
MiniClover is a perennial white clover that only gets 4 to 6″ tall. Combined with turf grass, it will make an excellent lawn that prevents the growth of new weeds.
It also handles low mowing heights. So, if the natural height is too tall for you, it can easily be mowed shorter.
If you choose not to mow MiniClover, it will bloom white flowers once a year for about a month in the summer.
Dutch White Clover (USDA Zones 3-10)
This perennial clover is one of the most popular clovers for lawns. Featuring beautiful white flowers that create a dense white carpet. While only growing to heights of 4-8″ tall.
It can also be used for erosion control, pasture mix, groundcover, or cover crops.
Dutch white clover will create robust and thick root structures to crowd weeds and resist drought, heat, and cold.
Handles foot traffic well.
Strawberry Clover (USDA Zones 3-9)
Strawberry clover has deep roots but is low-growing. Often does well in pastures, vineyards, orchards (along with lawns). Most commonly used as a landscape cover crop.
Typically grows 8-14″ tall and likes full sun, and can tolerate heat and flooding (for up to two months).
Red Clover (USDA Zones 4+)
A perennial clover growing wild throughout Asia, North America, and Europe. Red clover is hardy and used for generations medicinally (high in Vitamin C).
Red clover is also beneficial to soil by adding nitrogen and blocking weeds.
Often used for grazing animals, forage, crop rotation, and feed.
Typically grows to be 12-18″ tall and like full sun, and medium moisture.
When to Plant Clover
Clover should be planted in the spring. After threats of frost are passed, and nighttime temps remain above 40 degrees F or above.
In cold climates, you’ll want to cast seed in the middle of April to May during the spring rain. Although, if you plan to use irrigation, you can plant cover in the fall.
In warmer climates, clover can be planted year-round.
Clover will need 4-6 hours of sunlight. So be sure to select an area with enough sun.
How to Plant Clover
Clover dies best in soil pH of 6-7. So before planting, make sure to do a soil test. If it is too low, you should add agricultural lime to increase soil pH. Lime can usually be found at most local garden centers.
If your soil is too alkaline, you can add elemental sulfur to make it more acidic.
The seeds are small and lightweight, so you may want to combine them with sand or lime/sulfur if you are using them. Making seed distribution easier.
Spread around two ounces of clover seed per 1,000 square feet of lawn. Then, rake the seed into the soil lightly (aiming to get the seeds to be 1/4″ deep).
Next, water the lawn with the sow seeds to keep the soil moist.
The seeds will germinate when the weather is warm enough and 7-15 days have passed.
There is no need for fertilizer, as we have stated eariler.
Use a Mix of Seeds
Whether your lawn is grass-only or clover, using a mixture of seeds makes sense.
Use a variety of grasses and covers that are appropriate for your growing zone. This will lead to a healthier and more robust lawn.
The different plants will add more texture to the lawn to improve its appearance, just as nature does.
Here is a video that highlights another variety of clover called Ruschia ‘Nana’ (Dwarf Carpet of Stars).
The next video will show what a lawn will look like if you over-seed with Dutch white clover:
We’re so ingrained in thinking of clover as weeds to fight. Instead, let’s realize the benefits clover lawns provide to us and nature. Forget what the herbicide companies want you to believe.
The nitrogen and pollinator benefits are too significant to ignore for our current environment.
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