Advantages and Disadvantages of Clover Lawns
Is Clover Bad for Lawns?
The short answer is no. In fact, clover might be good for your lawn, since it requires less water, fertilizer, compost, herbicide, and weeding.
Today, the current grassy monoculture is the ideal of most homeowners. But as water and energy costs rise, many are seeking alternatives to the traditional thirsty, labor-intensive American lawn.
One of the most popular lawn alternatives is white clover (Trifolium repens), also known as Dutch clover or Dutch white clover. Although many people consider it a weed, a healthy patch of it was considered a standard of excellence in lawn care until the 1950s, when people started using broadleaf herbicides to kill clover and other more harmful weeds.
In recent years, however, clover lawns have been experiencing a revival due to their many benefits and charms. There are two types: pure clover lawns, which are best for areas with low or moderate traffic, and mixed grass-clover lawns, which are best for playing fields and other high traffic areas.
Advantages of Clover
Clover lawns have many advantages over traditional bluegrass or Bermuda grass lawns.
- It stays green all summer, with little or no watering, in most regions of the US. It is relatively drought-tolerant and it greens up early in spring and remains green until the first frost. In the South, it may remain green all winter.
- It requires little or no mowing. White clover grows just 2-8 inches tall and requires little or no mowing to keep it looking tidy. However, some homeowners may prefer to mow in midsummer in order to deadhead old blooms, neaten the appearance of the lawn, or to prevent from blooming.
- It attracts beneficial insects (like bees) to your yard which, in turn, help pollinate your garden. It also attracts parasitoid wasps which feed on aphids, scales, and whiteflies. These wasps are tiny, harmless to humans, and will be your enthusiastic allies in controlling insect pests in your garden.
- It never needs fertilizer. Cover is a nitrogen-fixing legume, a plant that essentially creates its own fertilizer... and fertilizes nearby plants, as well! Grass that is intermixed with clover will be healthier and greener and require less care than grass planted alone.
- It never needs herbicides. In fact, most herbicides kill it. Fortunately...
- It out-competes other weeds. Anyone who has struggled to eradicate clover from a grass lawn can tell you how persistent it can be. It has a dense root structure that allows it to easily out-compete most other weeds and reduce the need for weeding and expensive herbicides.
- Clover grows well in poor soil. It tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions, including the poor-quality subsoil common around many new homes.
- It feels great on bare feet. Soft, lush, and cool, walking barefoot on a clover lawn is a luxurious treat. Those leaves and blossoms also have a mild, pleasant smell.
- It is immune to "dog patches." Dog urine discolors lawn grasses, but it stays as green and lush as ever.
- It's inexpensive. Clover seed is extremely inexpensive. The average cost is about $4 per 4000 square feet. Homeowners who have been fighting it as a weed get it for free if they decide to stop fighting and let it grow.
Disadvantages of Clover
Clover lawns do have some disadvantages:
- It stains clothing more easily than grass.
- It is not durable enough for playing fields or high traffic areas, unless mixed with grass.
- It is a short-lived perennial and may require reseeding every 2-3 years to maintain an even stand in pure clover lawns. In mixed grass-clover lawns, clover will reseed itself adequately to maintain a consistent presence.
Clover vs. Grass: Which Is Better?
Why does it have to be either-or? A mixture of traditional grass and clover is a happy medium!
Or think of it like this: You're letting the grass and clover duke it out on the front lawn. Survival of the fittest: Let the strongest prevail.
Planting and Maintaining a Clover Lawn
- Clover lawns can be established by encouraging already-existing clover patches in your landscape, by seeding, or a combination of both.
- It is best seeded in early spring from mid-March to mid-April. It can also be seeded in fall. Tiny clover seeds are difficult to sow evenly—one way to improve your chances is to mix the seed in with some soil, sawdust, or sand. If you don't have any in your lawn or nearby, you may need to add a bacterial inoculant to promote the best growth; if you do already have it in your lawn, however, the inoculant is probably already present in the soil.
- After planting, use a misting attachment to water daily until you can see the seedlings.
- Existing clover patches can be encouraged by mowing with the blades set at 1.5-2 inches, which favors clover over most traditional turf grasses.
- In the middle of summer, stop mowing to encourage clover from flowering and seeding.
- Once established, most clovers are low-growing and require little or no mowing, unless you wish to discourage bees by mowing to prevent summer blooms.
- Never apply herbicides to a clover lawn.
- It is a short-lived perennial and may require reseeding approximately once every 3 years to maintain consistent coverage. It may successfully reseed naturally, however, or wild clovers may move in and take over aging stands.
How to Plant Seed Clover
- Clover seed should not be planted deeply. Sprinkling it on the surface or lightly raking it into the soil should suffice.
- It prefers full sun. It will grow in light shade, but less quickly. It won't grow well in full shade.
- If you're planting a shadier area, you may want to double the amount of seed.
- Keep newly-seeded areas moist until the new plants get a chance to establish.
Why Should I Grow a Clover Lawn?
To summarize, a clover lawn is a greener, healthier, easier, cheaper, and more ecological and environmentally-friendly than a traditional lawn. Some would argue that it's more beautiful, too.
Clover and Bees
Clover is one of bees' favorite flowers and it makes a delicious honey. However, many homeowners are wary of planting a clover lawn because they are afraid of bee stings..
It is possible to have a clover lawn without bees. If you are allergic to bees or have young children, you can discourage them by mowing regularly during the summer blooming season to prevent flowers.
However, if you are not allergic and have older children (or none at all), please consider letting it bloom. Bees are threatened around the world by a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder (CCD). When a hive is struck by CCD, the worker bees spontaneously abandon the hive and disappear, leaving the queen, a few larvae, and immature workers to starve. The cause of CCD is still unknown, but it is believed to affect hives stressed from habitat loss, parasites, and pesticide use most drastically.
Honeybees are the primary pollinators for a third of all human food crops. Some, such as almonds, are 100% dependent on honeybees to produce. If honeybee populations continue their rapid decline, food prices are likely to increase dramatically. To learn more about this crisis, please visit The Pollinator Partnership or the Xerces Society .
Homeowners can help by ceasing their use of chemical pesticides and insecticides, and letting their clover bloom. For more tips on planting a bee-friendly garden, please visit Plant a Bee Garden.
Questions & Answers
© 2008 kerryg