Why You Should Consider Planting a Clover Lawn

Easy-to-grow clover is a beautiful and sustainable alternative to a traditional turf grass lawn. Here's what you need to know.

cloverSann von Mai/Shutterstock

If you’re looking for environmentally friendly, sustainable alternatives to a turf grass lawn, be sure to take a good look at clover. Easy-to-grow clovers do not require mowing, but they help keep the lawn green and create a nourishing playground for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

What You Need to Know About Clover Lawns

For decades, clover was a part of any mix of lawn seed. But about 60 years ago, it fell out of favor because new weed killers on the market eliminated it along with dandelions. It soon became known as a weed, and now herbicides tout their clover-killing prowess.

But clover is regaining popularity as a lawn, in part because it doesn’t require chemicals or fertilizers. In fact, lawn chemicals will kill it. It can be seeded as the lawn for new construction or sown into an existing lawn, often mixed with fescues and bluegrass.

“I recommend it in Bahia turf if clients have a pet, because it takes dog urine without getting urine spots,” says Teresa Watkins, a Florida landscape designer with SHE Consulting and cohost of the Better Lawns and Gardens podcast.

Clovers are winter hardy to -35 degrees F. They are less tolerant in the heat of the south, where they tend to be grown as a winter annual. “In the south it thrives in winter and spring but sometimes can’t take the heat in summertime, so it should be planted into existing turf,” Watkins says. “It does come back each year from seeds and spreads.”

Clovers spread by underground stems called rhizomes, which easily allow the plants to creep through the lawn.

Benefits of a Clover Lawn

  • Requires no chemicals or fertilizers;
  • Drought tolerant;
  • Low or no mow;
  • Stays green year-round in northern lawns;
  • Pulls plant-nourishing nitrogen from the environment to replenish the soil;
  • Chokes out weeds;
  • Clover flowers support bees;
  • Rabbits like clover, and many gardeners say Dutch clover planted in the lawn reduces bunny interest in vegetables and other plants.

Drawbacks of a Clover Lawn

  • Difficult to remove clover stains from clothing;
  • Doesn’t hold up to heavy foot traffic by itself, though clover mixed with grass provides a tough turf;
  • As a short-lived perennial may need to be replanted every three years, especially if it does not self-sow or spread;
  • Bee allergy concerns. If that’s a worry, mow the clover to keep it from flowering.

What Kind of Clover Should I Plant?

Low-maintenance Dutch clovers and microclovers, strains in the family of white clovers, are currently the top choices. The main difference between the two is height — Dutch clover is slightly taller than microclover, which tends to have smaller leaves and is more compact. (Note that the height of clover will be somewhat restrained when it’s growing within a grass lawn.) Other than size, Dutch white clover and microclover share the same characteristics and growing requirements.

How to Grow a Clover Lawn

Spring is the best time to start a lawn of clover or to add clover to your existing lawn. Sow Dutch clover and microclover the same way. They do best in full sun but tolerate shade. Sow two to three pounds of seed per 1,000 square feet. The amount of clover seed to sow is the same for a new lawn or for filling in patches. Clover should germinate in less than a week.

Broadcast clover seed in existing lawns. On bare soil or sparse patches in the lawn, sow the seed, gently rake and water it in. If sowing in shade, consider doubling the amount of seed sown. Keep moist until the clover gets established. Fertilizer is not necessary.

As it grows, keep your eye out for the lucky four-leaf version!

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is speaker, freelance writer and editor. She's worked 20 years at a large independent garden center, and trials about 100 plants a year. President of GardenComm: Garden Communicators International, she blogs at hoosiergardener.com