Clover is one of the most common weeds, and many people wonder how to get rid of clover in lawn naturally.
Learn about the pros and cons of having clover in your lawn and the natural ways to control its spread.
Lawns grow on nutritious soil. As soon as there is a gap or a rut in the turf cover, opportunistic fast-growing plants will race to take the turf’s place. Since their presence is unwanted in a classic turf lawn, we tend to call them weeds.
I know – weeds can be pesky and a real nuisance when you are trying hard to maintain a neat lawn. Clover is one of the weedy imposters that commonly appear in lawns.
Is clover truly the enemy of lawn care?
What can we do to curb its spread and remove it without using efficient but toxic synthetic herbicides?
Is there something special about clover, a deep reason for it to be a traditional symbol of luck?
Today, we will solve these clover-y mysteries for you.
Let’s take a close look at that feisty three-leaved wild thang.
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- What is a Clover?
- Should I Leave the Clover in My Lawn?
- Should I Get Rid of Clover in My Lawn?
- How do You Control Clover Naturally?
- When the Natural Methods Fail – Using Weed Killers for Clover
- Can Clover Replace Turf?
- Clover FAQs
What is a Clover?
When we say ‘Clover’ we are not talking about a single species but about an entire genus called Trifolium. It includes about 300 annual and perennial species. In the broader classification, the genus Trifolium belongs to the pea family (Fabaceae). As we will discover shortly, that gives clovers some superpowers.
Still, all of that doesn’t say much about the purpose of clovers in our lawns, right?
Is Clover the Enemy of Lawn Maintenance?
As the history of lawns teaches us, clover and other subtle weeds that take mowing well used to be a regular part of yards for a long time.
Homeowners and managers didn’t consider clover a problem until the 1950s. Due to their useful properties, clovers were a regular part of old-time lawn seed mixes.
However, the invention of herbicides brought the possibility of growing tidy monoculture all-turf lawns. Suddenly, clover was represented as an enemy of lawns, along with dandelions, bindweed, and other broad-leaved flowering plants.
And it was precisely the companies that created and sold the weed killers that were in the front lines of the new war against clover. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Should I Leave the Clover in My Lawn?
Today, as we learn more and more about the environmental and health hazards of herbicides, people are again turning to more natural, diverse lawns.
If you are not a perfectionist striving for complete uniformity, there are plenty of reasons to keep that clover in your lawn.
Clover Enriches the Soil with Nitrogen
All clovers are legumes (pea family, remember?), which means that they are nitrogen-fixers – pulling nitrogen abundant in the atmosphere and fixing it within their root system with the help of some beneficial bacteria.
That means two things.
- Unlike regular turf, clover doesn’t need any nitrogen fertilizer (in fact, it is fertilizer-intolerant, as we will shortly learn).
- It will enrich the soil itself with nitrogen, meaning that nearby plants (such as turf) will grow better and stronger.
Perhaps there is a deeper reason why clovers have been considered a lucky plant for so long!
Clover Provides Food for Bees and Butterflies
Clover species have very sweet, nectar-rich flowers that attract pollinators – honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hoverflies.
In times of great pollinator crisis, this is a nice way to contribute to the fight for our planet’s health. However, it may have a downside (see our next section).
Clover has a Soft Texture
Unlike some weeds and grasses, clover has a very soft texture. You can walk on it barefoot with no discomfort.
Clover can be Fun
Four-leaf clover has brought so much joy to people over all the centuries it has been considered lucky.
Stumbling upon this rare, 1-in-5000-clovers occurrence has been considered a good luck sign for centuries. That is why having clovers in the lawn – some of which will inevitably be four-leaf ones – can be an additional source of family fun.
Should I Get Rid of Clover in My Lawn?
Is it bad to have clover in a lawn?
Although you’ve just read that clover has many good sides, there are some drawbacks to having clover in your lawn.
Many clover species have only annual above-ground growth in temperate zones with frost, which means they will die down and stay dormant during wintertime.
Although perennial species will come back in the spring, and the annuals will likely self-seed, your lawn will likely have visible yellow or bald patches during the entire frost season.
If you get a lot of snow, that will not be a problem since your lawn will have a white blanket over it anyway. However, if you live in an area with not much snow cover, most homeowners want to avoid this.
Patchiness and Clumps
Sometimes, clover tends to grow patchy and create clumps, especially if the soil is very hard or there are other factors not beneficial to clover.
Difficult growing circumstances can cause irregular growth, which can be a source of annoyance for the homeowner.
Clover Foot Traffic Tolerance
Clover can tolerate some foot traffic, but it doesn’t deal well with frequent trampling.
If you don’t have a defined garden path, have kids who run around the lawn a lot, if you hold frequent parties and BBQs or use the lawn for sports, clover will probably suffer and die off, leaving behind some unsightly spots.
It is no secret that the nutritious clover is attractive to deer. While seeing deer in your yard may bring you excitement and joy, it will also inevitably bring you some bald patches on the lawn.
If you are allergic to bee stings or have kids running around, you would probably want to avoid having flowering clovers on your lawn.
Bees are not aggressive when far away from their comb certainly won’t chase you around the lawn, but you may accidentally step on one of them on the clover flower while they are harvesting nectar from the clover flower.
How do You Control Clover Naturally?
It is perfectly fine if you still don’t want clover on your lawn after weighing in on the pros and cons.
However, before reaching for commercial herbicides, here are some things you can do to remove clover from your lawn naturally, without any health and environmental hazard risks.
The first line of defense against clover in your lawn is to fertilize it with a high-nitrogen fertilizer regularly.
As said before, clover fixes nitrogen from the air but can’t stand additional nitrogen. That is why clover generally thrives on nitrogen-poor soils.
If you have just a minimal clover problem, regular fertilizing with organic slow-releasing fertilizers will probably do the trick.
For bigger and well-established clover patches, it is better to go for the regular quick-releasing fertilizer. It will get the nitrogen in quickly and have a better chance of destroying clover.
The turf will get stronger, while the clover will slowly but surely start to decline. In time, the turf will replace it completely.
Also, be aware that using slow-releasing fertilizer, especially organic ones, will give you better results and healthier lawn in the long run.
Vinegar-Dish Soap Solution for Clover
You can also resort to killing clover with vinegar. You can easily make a general herbicide consisting of vinegar and soap at home.
Here’s how to mix it:
- Take white vinegar and mix it with water in 1:1 proportion (although some people don’t dilute vinegar at all).
- Add a small amount of dish soap – a drop or two.
- Shake it up in a spray bottle.
The vinegar dries out the leaves, while dish soap serves to bind the acid to the leaf’s surface. In time, the plants will die off completely.
You will probably have to apply the solution over several weeks to eradicate the clover completely. Be careful to use the mix on the clover (or other weeds) only, as it will also damage other plants it reaches, including grass.
Cornmeal Gluten for Getting Rid of Clover
Cornmeal gluten is a by-product of wet corn milling. It was originally used to feed domestic animals such as cattle, poultry, fish, and is even incorporated into dog food.
However, corn gluten meal is also well-known as a natural substitute for pre-emergent herbicides – those that target the weed seeds.
How does corn gluten work?
When you apply corn meal gluten to your lawn, as it degrades, it releases compounds called dipeptides. These organic dipeptides cause seeds to dry out, preventing them from sprouting or developing normally.
It means that it will affect the weeds that are yet to sprout but won’t damage the already established grass. However, it will also affect the seeds of any established weeds, preventing them from reappearing the next year.
Cornmeal gluten is a natural clover killer but is also effective against sprouting other well-known weeds such as crabgrass, chickweed, and dandelion. Additionally, it provides some nitrogen, which clover hates.
How to apply corn gluten?
About 20 pounds of corn gluten meal per 1000 square feet of the lawn should do the trick. Spread it over the lawn, water generously, and allow it to dry. The amount will also deliver about 2 pounds of nitrogen.
You can purchase cornmeal in garden centers.
Commercial Natural Herbicides
As you see, there are plenty of naturally-occurring compounds which act as herbicides.
To satisfy the market’s need for natural weed killers, some agile companies have created efficient formulations containing these compounds. They often sell these products as ‘pet-safe herbicides,’ as they are non-toxic.
Most of them are also non-selective, which means they kill or damage all plants. You will have to pay attention to spray only the target plants.
Covering Clover with Plastic Sheets
Covering clover (or other weeds) with a dark plastic sheet such as a garbage bag will deprive it of two key elements – sunlight and oxygen. Additionally, if it is in a sunny position, the plastic will sort of steam-cook the plants beneath it.
The method is practical only for larger, homogenous clover patches, as all plants will be affected by covering, including the surrounding turf.
Spending the day on your knees, pulling out those weeds, getting exercise – I mean, isn’t that how you imagine the best way to spend your weekend?
Of course, I’m kidding. Why do you think people invent a myriad of tools, machines, and chemicals to kill weeds without having to bend, crouch, and crawl all over the place?
However, manual removal has its purpose, even in modern gardening. Hand pulling is still the most immediate and straightforward way to remove unwanted plants from your lawn or garden before they spread.
Some plants have deep, tough roots, which makes them very difficult to remove from the lawn by hand. Luckily, clover is not one of those plants.
It has a dense but relatively weak and shallow root system, making it relatively easy to remove efficiently and without damaging the lawn. However, as the root is quite widespread, parts may remain in the ground, allowing the clover to return.
Simply loosen the soil around the clover slightly and pull carefully, pulling your hand as close as possible to the roots. However, be very diligent in removing the entire plant.
If you got clover in only a couple of spots and you are not so worried about damage to the nearby turf, you can dig in your garden shovel and pull a bigger piece of the soil along with the entire root.
Mowing your turf high will not do clover a favor. It needs a lot of sunlight, and if the tall grass blades overshadow it, it will not be able to spread as efficiently.
Raking can also help. While it won’t kill the clover directly, raking your lawn before mowing will help the mower get the clover (look, a rhyme!) and damage it. That is a good strategy to control the quick uncontrolled spread of clover.
Keep the Lawn in Good Condition
Keeping the turf healthy and thick is still the best way to keep all the weeds out, including clover.
When the Natural Methods Fail – Using Weed Killers for Clover
Now, we have covered how to get rid of clover in grass naturally. However, if all of these methods fail, you can resort to using commercial herbicides for broadleaf weeds. Those are the products that contain active compounds such as Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Mecoprop, and Dicamba.
These chemicals cause deformed growth in broadleaf weeds but do not damage the grass. However, they are far from benign substances – through constant exposure and accumulation, they can harm other creatures, including humans.
That is why it is better to spot-treat the problematic weeds than to apply the herbicides broadly. Since they do nothing to prevent the weeds from sprouting, there is no point in doing so anyway.
Can Clover Replace Turf?
Throughout the article, I have introduced you to the clover properties and numerous ways to get rid of it. But, here’s something completely different.
Did you know that you can actually create a clover lawn?
Inquiries on clover lawns are growing in popularity primarily because of the pollinator crisis. Both wild and domesticated bees are experiencing massive losses globally, partially due to the lack of food.
In that context, our turf lawns lack any flowers they can collect nectar from. To insect pollinators, our lush turf is just one big green desert.
Last but not least, we depend on pollinators for our survival – they pollinate the crops we turn into food.
Because of that, some people have changed their lawn maintenance practices and turned to more natural, old-school lawn mixes that include low-growing flowering species.
Clover lawns consist of low-growing species of clover such as the White (Dutch) clover or Micro Clover (the dwarf, low, scarcely-flowering version of Dutch clover). Micro clover doesn’t flower much, so it’s a way to surpass bees if they present a hazard for you.
The fact that clover essentially self-fertilizes makes it ideal not just for laid-back homeowners but also for those plagued by nitrogen-poor soils – a trait that takes a lot of work and investment to fix.
A clover lawn has some disadvantages too – we have covered those in the Is it bad to have clover in your lawn section.
Finally, suppose you would like to have some clover on your lawn but not cover the entire thing. In that case, the mentioned seed mixes – combinations of grasses and low-growing flowering plants that include clover – are becoming readily available on the market.
Why do I have so much clover in my lawn?
The abundance of clover in your lawn can be a sign of nitrogen-depleted soil. Working on increasing the soil quality and adding nitrogen
Will clover take over grass?
If your lawn is in deplorable shape, plus you have poor soil, clover can likely take over. However, if your lawn is in good condition, it is unlikely that clover will become a major issue.
On the other hand, clover will also outcompete less desirable weeds such as crabgrass, which is why it was historically a default part of lawn seed mixes. Using similar combinations today can help you curb the spread of other weeds.
What will kill clover but not grass?
Of all the methods that I’ve mentioned in the article, the only ones that target clover specifically are treating with nitrogen fertilizer, the cornmeal gluten treatment to inhibit sprouting, and of course, manual removal. Also, there are commercial broadleaf herbicides.
As you see, clover has been cast out of lawns only recently. Until about 60 years ago, people saw it as a desirable and beneficial part of every living green carpet.
Recently, people have started paying attention to these positive properties of clover yet again, and we can say that clover is making a steady, creeping comeback!
However, there are still some good reasons to want to remove clover from your lawn. At the end of the day, the choice depends on your personal circumstances, needs, and desires.
I hope this article has covered all aspects of having clover in a lawn and provided you with the knowledge on how to get rid of clover in lawn naturally if you need to.
Do you keep clover in your lawn, or do your best to remove it? What is the most effective natural control method you’ve tried? Please share in the comments!