15 Reasons Why a Clover Lawn is Better Than a Grass Lawn

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Surprisingly, in the 1950s, clover was a valued component of lawn mixtures and was commonly found in patches in lawns. Years ago, it was desired because of its nitrogen-fixing ability, which improved soil quality and grass growth. But when herbicides were introduced in the late part of the decade, clover became eradicated from the traditional lawn along with dandelions, crab grass, and other broadleaf weeds.

For some people, the desire to have a pristine, well-kept, green lawn has remained strong, leading to the constant use of fertilizers and broadleaf herbicides. 

However, some homeowners are becoming increasingly aware of their environmental footprint and are looking for eco-friendly, low-maintenance lawn alternatives. In turn, we are seeing clover find its way back into lawns as a companion to traditional grass in mixed-grass clover lawns or as a complete replacement for grass lawns. 

Interested in learning more about growing a clover lawn and its benefits? If you are, you have come to the right place!

What Is Clover?

According to the New World Encyclopedia, “clover, or trefoil, is the common name for any of the various herbaceous, leguminous plants comprising the genus Trifolium in the pea family Fabaceae, typically characterized by trifoliolate leaves (having three leaflets) and heads or dense spikes of small red, purple, white, or yellow flowers.”

In simple words, clover is the common name for any legume plant in the pea family with three leaflets and small colored flowers.

Clover is found across temperature and subtropical parts of the Old World, North America, and South America, where it is used as livestock forage, living mulch, ground cover, or a cover crop. It likes loamy soil but still grows well in low-quality soil.

clover lawn

15 Reasons Why a Clover Lawn is Better Than a Grass Lawn

  1. Requires Less Water – Clover’s deep root system gives the plants access to larger amounts of water while also improving drought tolerance. Turf grass lawns typically need at least one inch of water per week.
  2. Very Little Mowing – Clover stays shorter than common turfgrasses, so it doesn’t typically need mowing unless you want to mow the flowers off to minimize bees or prevent them from going to seed.
  3. Handles Low Fertility Soils – Clover has nodules on its roots that contain particular bacteria. These bacteria pull in atmospheric nitrogen and turn it into ammonia the plant can use, providing a constant trickle of nitrogen.
  4. Handles Heat – Clover stays green during the hottest, driest parts of the summer because of the robust roots that make it drought-tolerant.
  5. Handles Shade – It thrives in areas that don’t get enough sun or have too much shade, to grow a standard lawn.
  6. Handles Winter – Clover is cold-tolerant, with some species surviving winter temperatures down to -35°F. It grows as an evergreen in warmer climates, and in cooler climates, it grows as a perennial.
  7. Cheap to Grow – Clover seed is cheaper than grass seed, especially if you grow dutch white clover (microclover is more expensive). You also don’t need to fertilize or aerate a clover lawn which cuts down significantly on maintenance costs.
  8. No Fertilizer Required – Clover is from the legume family, which is comprised of nitrogen fixers that make their own nitrogen, negating the need for additional fertilizer to keep your lawn green.
  9. Prevent Weeds – Clover’s dense root system crowds out existing weeds and prevents ungerminated weed seeds from sprouting.
  10. No Herbicide Required – Since a clover lawn prevents most kinds of weeds, it doesn’t require you to use weed killers. In turn, you are reducing human exposure and environmental impacts while cutting back on maintenance.
  11. No Aeration Required – Clover’s deep roots spread through the soil, breaking up clods and hardpans and helping prevent compaction to keep the soil loose. Again, this means less lawn care for homeowners.
  12. Dog and Pet Friendly – Clover is resistant to pet urine because of its robust root system and won’t develop the typical yellow discoloration or brown spots.
  13. Attracts Bees and Beneficial Insects – The clover flowers attract bees (clover is some of their favorite flowers) and other insects, which are necessary for pollination. 
  14. Discourages many lawn pests – Clover is tolerant of many typical insect pests, having very few problems with insects like aphids or thrips, so it requires fewer chemical pesticides. It also helps keep rabbits and rodents from nibbling on vulnerable flowers.
  15. Stays green for a more extended season than grass – Clover is more cold-tolerant than turf lawns, so it will stay green longer in the fall. In some areas, clover lawns stay green all through the winter if temperatures don’t drop too low.

Drawbacks of a Clover Lawn

There are many benefits of clover lawns, but there are some disadvantages too:

  • Clover is a short-lived perennial, so pure clover lawns require reseeding every 2–3 years to maintain an even stand.
  • Pure clover lawns are not durable enough for high-traffic areas or playing fields.
  • Clover attracts bees, which can be hazardous if someone in your household is allergic to bee stings.
  • Clovers stain clothing easier than grass.
  • Clover’s roots spread out rapidly and will quickly get into your garden and flowerbed if not contained.
  • A mixed lawn with clover and grass can look patchy, especially when the grass goes dormant and the clover doesn’t.
  • An all-clover lawn isn’t as nicely manicured as turf—a clover lawn may look uneven and lumpy if you don’t mow regularly.
  • In colder climates, where clover grows as a perennial, the plants die back to the ground in the late fall after the first frost. They don’t stay green year-round but their deep roots keep the clover alive. Come spring, your lawn may be bare ground (i.e., mud) until the plants start growing again.

For a full list of drawbacks, check out my guide on the reasons to avoid a clover lawn.


Best Type of Clover Lawn

There are many types of clover, but Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens) and microclover (Trifolium repens var. ‘Pipolina’ or ‘Pirouette,’ for example) are most commonly used for lawns.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is another popular type of clover, but it grows 6-24 inches tall, making it less desirable than the others as an alternative to grass.

red clover lawn

White Clover Characteristics

Also known as Dutch clover or Dutch white clover, this type of clover is a popular choice in the United States. It was commonly grown in lawns until the 1950s when broadleaf herbicides became a popular part of lawn care. 

  • Spreads rapidly.
  • Grows 4 to 8 inches tall.
  • Easily outcompetes weeds.
  • Thrives in poor soil.
  • Produces white flowers when mature.
  • Grows best in full sun but handles part shade which is 4 to 6 hours of sun daily.
  • Stays green all year where winters aren’t too cold.
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  • White dutch clover seed is a perennial used for erosion control, lawn alternative, food plots, green manure crop, pasture mixtures, ground cover, and many other uses.
  • This perennial seed can be grown across the country for deer food plots, erosion control, pasture mixtures, and cover crops in USDA Zones 3 - 10
  • White clover helps boost soil nitrogen levels, taking nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. It can also be used an a lawn alternative.

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Microclover Characteristics

Microclover is a newly developed cultivar of white clover that is gaining popularity in clover lawns because of its improved traits. 

  • Grows 4 to 6 inches tall.
  • Has smaller leaves than dutch white clover.
  • Microclover lawns are more tolerant of heavy foot traffic.
  • Produces 90% fewer flowers, so it attracts fewer bees.
  • Grows well in full sun but tolerates part shade.
  • You can cut it shorter.
  • Goes dormant in winter and turns brown instead of staying green year-round.
  • Mixes better with most turfgrass species than common white clover
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  • Miniclover is a perennial, white clover which only grows to approximately 4 - 6 inches tall after it is mowed a few times. Mix with current lawn as a natural fertilizer as clover fixes nitrogen from the air.
  • Miniclover or this micro type clover is a trifolium repens seed used as a lawn alternative or ground cover. Microclovers are much better than other white clovers for lawns.
  • Many people also use this dwarf white clover for a ground cover when looking for a lawn alternative.

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When to Plant a Clover Lawn?

To get the best germination and growth, you want to plant clover when the weather is between 50 and 60°F. For most people, this falls sometime in early spring between mid-March and mid-April

If you don’t plant clover in March or April, you can try to sow seeds in the late summer or fall, but the germination rate may decrease. Clover planted in the fall may not have time to establish enough to survive cold temperatures.

How to Plant a Clover Lawn? Step-by-Step Instructions

The following step-by-step instructions walk you through planting an entire clover lawn from scratch. 

If you want to overseed an existing turf grass lawn to create a mixed grass-clover lawn, mow the grass to 1-1½ inches in height, dethatch it using a power rake, and proceed with the steps listed in “Planting Clover Seed.”

Preparing the Planting Bed

  1. Test the soil pH. White clover and microclover prefer soil pH levels between 6 and 7. If your soil isn’t in this range, you can raise the pH by adding agricultural lime or lower the pH with sulfur products, a bit of compost, or peat moss. 
  2. Get rid of grass and weeds. You can treat the entire area to kill everything with a non-selective, broad-spectrum herbicide, cut the turf off with a sod cutter, or cover the area with something that blocks sunlight, like a tarp or black plastic.
  3. Work the ground by hand or with a tiller. About a month before you want to plant, work the area well to break up dirt clods. Don’t add fertilizer like you do when planting normal grass seeds!
  4. Encourage weed growth for a few weeks. During this time, keep the seedbed watered regularly to get any leftover weeds to grow.
  5. Remove remaining vegetation. Before it’s time to plant, pull any remaining weeds or grass that regrew.

Planting Clover Seed

  1. Mix seed with other media. Clover seeds are tiny and lightweight. Mix the seed with sand or sawdust to get better, even coverage. You want the mixture to contain 15-20% clover seed.
  2. Scatter seed across the seedbed. You can use your hand or a small hand-held spreader to broadcast clover seed across small lawns. For larger yards with many square feet, use a broadcast spreader to make the process easier. 
  3. Cover the seeds slightly. Clover seeds won’t grow if buried, but a thin covering of soil keeps them from being disrupted, so they stay in place. An easy way to cover them is to gently mix the seeds into the soil with a rake turned over with the tines facing up.
  4. Keep the seed moist. Water the seeds immediately after you spread them and mist them a couple of times a day for the first two weeks. After the first two weeks, they need less water, and you can cut back on watering to make the clover drought tolerant.

Check out this video showing the benefits of growing a clover lawn:

Thinking about growing a clover lawn? Here's how

How Much Clover to Use?

When redoing your lawn with clover, you need less white clover seed or microclover seed than turfgrass seed.

  • 2 to 4 ounces of seed per 1000 square feet of lawn. If you have acres of lawn to seed, plan for 3 to 6 pounds of seed per acre of lawn. 

Should the Seed Be Inoculated?

Yes, having inoculated seed will improve the nitrogen fixation rate once the clover establishes. Inoculation is where bacteria—in this case, Rhizobium species—are added to the seed before planting. Adding the specific bacteria ensures there is enough in the soil to establish the symbiotic relationship between the bacteria and clover.

Most seed is pre-inoculated, but check the package and verify it is. If the seed isn’t inoculated and your existing lawn didn’t have clover plants, it’s a good idea to buy an inoculant and add it to the soil when planting. 

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  • POWDER INOCULANT FOR ALFALFA & CLOVER COVER CROPS - Mountain Valley Company powder inoculant for alfalfa and clover cover crop seeds to boost future harvests, yields, and quality. Our powder inoculant ensures cover crops develop root nodules in the soil to most efficiently convert nitrogen back into soil.
  • CUSTOM INOCULANT - Mountain Valley Seed Company powder inoculant is a specialized blend of rhizobia bacteria specifically for alfalfa and clover cover crop seeds.
  • BENEFITS OF ALFALFA & CLOVER COVER CROP SEEDS - Cover crop seeds are grown year-round to repair soils for future sowing. Cover crops seeds convert essential nitrogen back into the soil while providing increased soil tilth to aid weed suppression, root structure, watering, and soil-borne diseases.

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How to Take Care of Clover?

Caring for clover is quite simple, and the lawn care needed to maintain a green lawn is significantly less than typical grasses.

  • Don’t add fertilizer. Clover produces nitrogen for itself and nearby plants. Adding an extra boost of fertilizer typically encourages weeds to grow instead. Your clover lawn will stay green without it.
  • Check the soil every two to three years. After your lawn is established, take a sample every couple of years and check the soil pH and nutrient levels, including trace minerals. Make any needed adjustments. Your lawn may need nutrients, and you can apply a fertilizer with nitrogen.
  • Let a clover lawn go to seed before mowing the first time. Then cut it 2” high to remove the spent blooms. Leave the clippings on the ground for added benefits—the nitrogen-fixing bacteria will return to the soil, and the clover pieces will act as fertilizer as they decompose.
  • Don’t apply herbicides. If weeds do sprout, pull them by hand before they become established. Broadleaf herbicides kill clover and may kill bees.
  • Resist the temptation to water. Clover is incredibly hardy and drought-tolerant; it requires less moisture than standard lawn grasses. Early spring rains usually provide adequate soil moisture to get your yard through the growing season.
  • Mow your clover lawn when you feel the need, especially if you want to prevent the plants from blooming. At this time, cut the clover to 3” tall.  
mowing clover lawn

FAQs

Q: How long do clover lawns last?

A: Clover is considered a short-lived perennial. Unlike a grassy lawn that may last indefinitely, clover lawns will thin over time—unless the clover self-sows or spreads—and must be replanted approximately every two to three years.

Q: How do I turn my lawn into clover?

A: You can either overseed an existing regular lawn, allowing the already-existing clover patches or new growth to self-seed and spread, or you can remove the grass and sow an all-clover yard.

Q: How long does it take for clover lawns to grow?

A: It takes approximately a week for seeds to sprout, although clover seeds can germinate in just three days when conditions are optimal. A patch of clover grows quickly. The plants can take over the entire seeded area to create a green lawn within a couple of weeks of favorable conditions.

Q: Do you have to replant clover every year?

A: No, you don’t have to replant clover yearly; it isn’t an annual plant. It is a short-lived perennial that lasts about three years before it needs replanting because it has become sparse.

Q: Is clover good for your lawn?

A: Clover is great for your lawn if you’re looking for low-maintenance alternatives to grass and don’t mind the untraditional look. It is also provides benefit to yards when mixed with traditional turfgrass. In both cases, the nitrogen-fixating bacteria increase nitrogen levels in soil and the clover roots keep the soil from becoming compacted.

Q: What is the difference between microclover and regular clover?

A: Micro clover is a newer white clover cultivar. It has smaller leaves, fewer blossoms, and grows lower to the ground. Micro clover is also more tolerant of higher amounts of foot traffic but goes dormant in the winter, turning brown.

Q: Can you mix clover and regular grass?

A: Yes, you can mix clover plants into your established lawn if you aren’t ready for a complete clover lawn. Use micro – clovers if you want to combine the two since it doesn’t grow as tall and won’t make the yard look patchy and unkempt.


Final Thoughts

As we continuously discover more and more drawbacks of growing the labor-intensive American lawns and the constant use of fertilizers, broad-leaf weed killers, and synthetic pesticides, we should all strive to adopt more environmentally-conscious practices. Especially those homeowners going through periods of drought and under strict water usage.

Clover lawns are a fantastic eco-friendly alternative to traditional lawns and take much less to maintain than a turfgrass yard. Instead of degrading the soil and potentially harming the environment and aquatic habitats and causing habitat loss, clover improves the soil, feeds the declining bee population, and uses very little water to grow. But don’t worry—you’ll still have a beautiful lawn that is green and lush!

If you’ve been thinking about switching to a lower maintenance, sustainable, attractive lawn, give a clover lawn a try! Whether you create a clover lawn from scratch or overseed your existing lawn with a patch of clover, the benefits are amazing!

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References

  1. University of Georgia Extension. (2016). White Clover Establishment and Management Guide—Bulletin 1251. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B1251&title=White%20Clover%20Establishment%20and%20Management%20Guide
  2. University of Maryland Extension. (2022). Lawns and Microclover. Retrieved July 11, 2022 from https://extension.umd.edu/resource/lawns-and-microclover