Clover is a common resident of many lawns. It’s an opportunistic plant that does well in nutrient-poor soil.
But what if you don’t want it there? Is it possible to get rid of it naturally?
In this article, we’re going to look at all the pros and cons of having clover in your lawn and the natural ways to control its spread.
- What is a Clover?
- Is Clover the Enemy of Lawn Maintenance?
- Should I Leave the Clover in My Lawn?
- Should I Get Rid of Clover in My Lawn?
- How do You Control Clover Naturally?
- Can Clover Replace Turf?
- Clover FAQs
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- Clover has multiple beneficial properties that are worth weighing up before eradicating it from your lawn.
- Including clover in your lawn actually makes for a more sustainable and lower maintenance lawn than one of purely grass.
- If you do need to get rid of it, adding a nitrogen rich fertilizer to your lawn is a safe way to discourage clover from setting up shop.
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 clover some superpowers.
Side note: Wood sorrels (genus Oxalis) are often mistaken for clovers; hence they are also known by the common name ‘false shamrock.’ Although they look alike, they belong to a completely different plant family and are more commonly garden weeds than lawn weeds.
Still, all of that doesn’t say much about the purpose of clover in our lawns, right?
Is Clover the Enemy of Lawn Maintenance?
Clover was a standard component of all lawns until relatively recently. In fact, due to its beneficial properties, clover was deliberately included lawn seed mixes.
Homeowners and green keepers didn’t consider clover a problem until the 1950s. So what changed?
After World War II, the same companies that had been developing chemical weapons, turned their attention to pesticides. The formulation of herbicides made it possible to cultivate monocultures.
Suddenly, clover was marketed as the enemy, along with dandelions, bindweed, and other broad-leaved flowering plants.
However, it was precisely the companies that created and sold pesticides and herbicides, that were on the front lines of the new war against clover. The trend for unsustainable monocultures in gardens and agriculture was created through clever marketing by agrochemical corporations.
So, to wrap up that slightly depressing spiel, clover is not an enemy of a healthy lawn. But there are some pros and cons to weigh up when deciding how much of it to include in your yard. Let’s look at them in more detail.
Should I Leave the Clover in My Lawn?
These days, as people become more aware of the environmental and health hazards of herbicides, it’s becoming more common to cultivate more natural, diverse, and sustainable lawns.
Keeping clover in your lawn is actually a significant step towards creating a more sustainable lawn, and could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.
Clover Enriches the Soil with Nitrogen
All clover varieties are legumes (pea family, remember?), which means that they are nitrogen-fixers – pulling nitrogen from the atmosphere and fixing it within their root system, with the help of some beneficial bacteria.
That means two things:
- Unlike regular lawn grasses, clover doesn’t need any nitrogen fertilizer (in fact, it is fertilizer-intolerant, as we will shortly learn).
- It will enrich the soil with nitrogen, meaning that nearby plants (such as grass) will grow better, and you don’t need to fertilize them either!
Perhaps there is a deeper reason why clover has 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 such as honey bees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hoverflies.
In times of great pollinator decline, 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).
Side note: if you are afraid of wasps, good news. Clover doesn’t attract many yellowjackets or hornets since the shape of its flowers makes it difficult for wasps to access their nectar.
Clover Has a Soft Texture and is Drought Resistant
Unlike some weeds and grasses, clover has a very soft texture. You can walk on it barefoot with no discomfort.
And, when your cool season grasses are brown and crispy, the clover will still be green and soft, helping to green up your lawn in the heat of summer. It doesn’t demand watering in the same way that grass does.
Should I Get Rid of Clover in My Lawn?
Is it bad to have clover in a lawn?
Although you’ve just read the many positives, there are some drawbacks to having clover in your lawn.
Clover dies down and enters dormancy as soon as the first frost appears at the beginning of wintertime. While it may appear to have died, as many weeds appear to die during winter, the perennial species have a root system waiting patiently underground for warmer temperatures.
Although perennial species will come back quickly in the spring, and the annuals will likely self-seed, your lawn may have some visible yellow or bald patches during the frosty season.
However, this does depend on the amount of clover in your lawn, what other grass species you have, and the severity of the winter. If the clover is well balanced with cool season grasses and you have periods of cold but not freezing weather, the cool season grasses will easily fill the gaps that clover leaves behind.
Furthermore, if you get a lot of snow, you won’t be bothered either way, since your lawn will have a white blanket over it anyway.
Patchiness and Clumps
Sometimes, clover tends to create patches and clumps, especially if the soil is very hard or there are other factors causing irregular growth.
Clover can work well as a component of your lawn when it is relatively evenly dispersed, but no one likes patchiness and clumps.
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, hold frequent parties and BBQs or use the lawn for sports, clover will probably suffer.
It is no secret that nutritious clover is attractive to deer. While seeing deer in your yard may bring you excitement and joy, it may also bring you some nibbled and uneven patches on the lawn.
If you are allergic to bee stings or have kids running around, you would probably want to avoid having a flowering clover on your lawn.
Bees are not aggressive when far away from their hive and certainly won’t chase you around the lawn, but you may accidentally step on one of them while they are harvesting nectar from the clover flower.
There is a fairly easy fix to this – simply mow the lawn with the catcher on to remove the flowers before letting the kids outside to play.
How do You Control Clover Naturally?
It is perfectly fine if you still don’t want clover on your lawn after weighing up 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 risks.
The first line of defense against clover in your lawn is to fertilize it with a high-nitrogen fertilizer.
As mentioned before, clover fixes nitrogen from the air but can’t stand additional nitrogen. That is why clover generally thrives in 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 the clover.
The grass will get longer and thicker, while the clover will slowly but surely start to decline. In time, the grass will replace it completely.
Just be careful not to over-fertilize – that will lead to fast but weak and uneven grass growth. Make sure to stick to the manufacturer’s recommendations and fertilize at the right time of year for your grass type. Don’t fertilize while the grass is dormant as this will do more harm than good.
Also, be aware that using slow-releasing fertilizer, especially organic ones, will give you better results and a healthier lawn in the long run.
Vinegar-Dish Soap Solution
You can easily make a non-selective herbicide consisting of vinegar and soap at home.
- 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, cornmeal gluten 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 cornmeal 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.
This means that it will affect the weeds that are yet to sprout but won’t damage the already established grass. 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 the seeds of 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 cornmeal gluten per 1000 square feet of 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 gluten in garden centers.
Commercial Natural Herbicides
There are plenty of naturally-occurring compounds which act as herbicides and take away the need for synthetic chemical herbicides.
If you don’t want to make up a mixture yourself, there are plenty of natural alternatives being sold as ready-to-go products as well.
These products are often marketed as ‘pet-safe herbicides,’ as they are non-toxic. However, 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 killed, including the surrounding grass. However, you then have the option of re-seeding your lawn with a more appropriate grass seed mix that is better suited to your climate and water availability, and will be less likely to leave room for clover to return.
If you’re not sure which grass species to go for, have a read of this article.
While we’re on the topic of re-seeding, you don’t necessarily have to remove weeds before adding more seed.
Overseeding a weedy lawn can be an effective way of restoring the balance between turf grass and herb species. This method likely won’t remove the clover in its entirety, but it will help to increase the ratio of grass to clover to one that ticks your boxes.
Read all about how and why to overseed a weedy lawn here.
With all of the tools and chemicals on the market these days, anyone would think that manual labor in your garden is redundant and irrelevant.
However, manual removal has its place, even in modern gardening. In fact, manual removal is often the most effective and long-lasting solution to weedy problems.
Hand pulling is also 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 shallow root system, making it relatively easy to remove. The biggest challenge is removing all parts of the plant, as any pieces left behind will regrow.
You have two options for removal – to attempt to remove just the plant, or to dig up the entire piece of turf and replace it with fresh topsoil and grass seed.
If you only have a small patch or two, then try removing just the plant first. If you have a larger area of clover, then digging it up, soil and all, and starting again will be more effective.
Like most weeds, clover can be controlled pretty effectively though mowing.
Mowing your lawn 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.
If you’re interested in reading more about how to control weeds through mowing, read my article on whether mowing spreads weeds or not.
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.
Make use of my lawn care calendar and stay on top of your lawn health with easy tips and tricks like watering in the right way, getting mowing height right for the different times of year, and leaving some grass clippings on the lawn for natural mulch (when the weeds aren’t in flower that is!).
Can Clover Replace Turf?
We’ve talked about how more people are actively encouraging a mix of clover and grasses in their lawns due to its beneficial properties. In fact, more and more lawn seed mixes are starting to include clover again which is excellent news.
But did you know that there is such thing as an entirely clover lawn?
Interest in clover lawns is increasing due to concerns for pollinator numbers, and as people recognize the unsustainable nature of monocultures like grass lawns.
Grass lawns require constant inputs of water, synthetic chemical fertilizers and herbicides, all of which are expensive and harmful for your pocket, the environment, and human health.
Grass lawns serve little to no purpose other than looking good to some people (many people are starting to prefer a more wild look than the carefully manicured strip of uniform green), and filling the pockets of agrochemical companies. (After all, the kids don’t care what they’re playing on!)
Grass lawns don’t support the local ecosystem or help the pollinator situation in any way, and keeping them green all year round is a huge waste of precious drinking water.
Clover lawns on the other hand, tick all of the environmental and sustainability boxes that grass lawns don’t.
They don’t require watering, or fertilizing. They don’t require any herbicides as clover usually outcompetes other weeds. And, crucially, they provide food for pollinators.
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.
If you want to read more about clover lawns and how to get started, I have an article dedicated to clover lawns.
But really, once you look outside the box of golf-course style grass, the sky is your limit when it comes to non-grass lawn options.
From living ground covers like moss or creeping thyme, to non-living options like paving slabs and gravel, there are many ways to make your yard more sustainable and lower maintenance at the same time.
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. Work on increasing the soil quality and adding nitrogen.
Will clover take over grass?
If your lawn is in bad shape, plus you have poor soil, clover can easily 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 out-compete less desirable weeds such as crabgrass, which is one reason that 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 the positive properties of clover yet again, and it’s safe to 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!