Clover has many benefits for lawns and can easily be grown alongside turfgrass. However, depending on preferences, you may not want clover growing in your yard, especially if you didn’t intentionally plant it there. Fortunately, there are several ways to control clover invasion on lawns.
Clover thrives on soil pH of 6.0 to 8.5 with low nitrogen levels. Mowing grass less than 3.5 inches coupled with unaerated compacted soil will encourage clover to thrive. The clover will take over the grass when these four critical care and maintenance conditions are met.
Are there benefits of clover on my lawn?
Clover has multiple benefits for lawns. However, the advent of chemical-based weed-killer since the 1950s has led to this legume being classified as a weed. That’s because most herbicides meant for broadleaf weeds will also kill clover.
There’s no solid reason to call clover a weed since it doesn’t choke out turfgrass on lawns. Furthermore, clover is beneficial for your lawn.
Here are the advantages of having clover on the lawn.
Clover is a natural fertilizer.
With the help of certain bacteria, leguminous plants like clover can convert nitrogen in the air into usable nitrogen nutrients for plants. When clover is cut and added to compost or the clippings are left to decompose in the yard, it infuses nitrogen into the soil. Other plants on the lawn, such as turfgrass and shrubs, use this nitrogen.
Clover is a natural fertilizer. It reduces reliance on commercial fertilizer, which has various environmental shortcomings. Also, with a reduced need for fertilizer application, clover helps to reduce lawn maintenance expenses.
Crowds out weeds
Most clover varieties have dense top growth and grow in clumps, shading and choking out common lawn weeds. Therefore, with a clover lawn, you don’t need to spend your valuable money on herbicides as you would on turfgrass.
Clover, just like turfgrass, has a lush green appearance that makes lawns look more beautiful. If you avoid mowing clover, it will develop blooms that add a dash of color to your landscape. Depending on the type of clover, the flowers can be white, pink, or even purple.
Note: Clover also produces a mildly sweet fragrance.
Protects lawn soil
Clover is fantastic as a ground cover plant, as it prevents soil erosion. The dense clover top growth holds the soil in place, preventing wind or runoff water from blowing or washing it away.
Clover is edible
Humans can’t eat turfgrass, but clover is edible. Clover leaves and flowers are often used as salad ingredients or grounded and used as beverage ingredients. Clover leaves are a great food source for rabbits, while the flowers provide sustenance to wasps.
Does clover take over grass?
Under normal circumstances, clover will not take over grass. Clover and grass typically grow side by side as a blended/mixed lawn. However, if the conditions are unfavorable for the kind of turfgrass on the lawn, clover will likely take over the turf.
Clover grows taller than grass. However, when growing together, the clover grows shorter, limiting the possibility of shading out the turfgrass.
Moreover, two of the most common lawn clover species, Dutch white clover, and micro clover, grow considerably shorter than other clovers and have smaller leaves. Thus, they’re less likely to outcompete grass.
Note: Clover mixes well with grass, but it also keeps the lawn green in the winter when the grass goes dormant due to its superior winter hardiness.
Why clover is invading your lawn
While clover can be grown on lawns, you may find this plant invading your grass lawn uninvited. Common reasons for this include improper soil pH, lack of nitrogen in the soil, grass mowed too low, lack of enough water, and compacted lawn soil.
Improper soil pH
Clover can thrive within a wide pH range. This legume will grow in acidic soils as well as mildly alkaline soils. By comparison, most turfgrasses can only withstand a narrow pH range. Clover will easily take over such grasses if the pH level is too high or too low for the grass.
If your lawn soil lacks essential nutrients, especially nitrogen, clover is likely to take over at the expense of the desirable turfgrass. Most grasses are unable to survive in low-nutrient soil.
By contrast, clover can make nitrogen and even replenish the soil. Clover can thrive in a lawn that hasn’t been fed with fertilizer all season long.
Mowing too low
Moderately long grass can effectively shade and crowd out the clover. However, you risk a clover invasion if you have short grass mowed too low. When turfgrass is trimmed low, the invading clover gets more sunlight to support its growth.
Moreover, mowing too low weakens the turfgrass due to its decreased ability to photosynthesize. It’s capacity to choke out invading plants like clover is reduced. Ideally, you should not mow lower than 3.5 inches if you want to prevent clover from taking over your yard.
Turfgrass that doesn’t get as much water as it needs is more likely to suffer from clover invasion. Most common turfgrasses require rainfall and additional irrigation to stay healthy and thick. The grass is better positioned to shade out and out-compete invasive plants with dense growth.
However, when their precipitation needs aren’t met, clover, which is less ravenous for water, can take over. The general rule when watering turfgrasses is to water deeply (4-6 inches) but infrequently, preferably in the morning.
Clover thrives in compacted clay soil better than turfgrasses. Thus, if your lawn soil is compacted, a clover invasion shouldn’t surprise you. If you have a lawn with compacted soil, you can prevent clover from taking over by aerating the soil using a core aerator.
Tips on how to manage clover in grass
Despite the various benefits of clover, it could be that you simply don’t fancy it on your lawn. When clover mixes with turfgrass, it forms an uneven turf, especially if it’s taller clovers varieties. Here are some ways to control clover on your grass lawn.
Apply a selective herbicide
Selective herbicides for broadleaf weeds will kill clover without harming your desirable turfgrass. Examples of selective, broadleaf weed-killers include 2, 4-D, and Turflon Ester Ultra herbicide.
Spot treat using a vinegar solution.
Vinegar is an organic weed-killer that can be used to control clover. Mix vinegar with water in a 1:1 ratio and spot treat the clover with the solution. This method is best reserved for minor invasions, as a spot treatment is laborious.
Note: Spot-treatment is recommended for this method because indiscriminately spraying the vinegar solution on the lawn will kill the desirable turfgrass, too.
Remove the clover manually.
This method is best used on minor clover invasions. Pulling out the clover plants by hand shouldn’t be difficult if it’s a small patch. Ensure you remove the roots, too, to prevent the clover from regrowing.
Smother the clover
If the invasive clover plants are concentrated on a certain lawn area, smother them using plastic sheeting. Cover that patch of the lawn with plastic sheeting cut to size, and secure the edges using stones. The plastic sheeting will deprive the clover beneath it of air and sunlight, essentially killing it.
Note: Reseed the area after killing the clover, as it will have killed the grass growing in that part of the lawn.
- Kelsey Noll and Steven Daniels, Rutgers Energy Institute: Alternative Lawns- using clover as an eco-sustainable alternative to grass
- University of Maryland Extension: Lawns and Micro Clover