The Pros and Cons of a Clover Lawn
We've traditionally been taught to keep pesky clovers off our lawns. Now, more and more people are making a case for appreciating those once-vexing clovers. What was once considered a weed, is now often thought of as a hassle-free, eco-friendly option for landscaping. Before your next weeding marathon, we're here to answer all your questions and make a case for letting clover flourish in your lawn.
What Is a Clover Lawn?
Clover is a dense ground cover known for shamrock leaves. Some homeowners are choosing to foster clovers, specifically white clover, in their lawns alongside other turf or grass. Also known as Dutch clover, white clover is known for small white flowers that flourish in Southern climates. While some just stop wrestling their clover and let nature take its course for it to spread, others plant clover seeds. Once it grows, it's easy to care for and maintain. The result is a lively and biodiverse lawn blooming with attractive white flowers.
Why Is Clover Popular Now?
"What is a weed really," asks Dr. David Han, an Alabama turf specialist from Auburn University. "A weed is just a plant that you don't want there." Changing the intention and reputation of clover is all it takes to change its narrative.
Why now? "I think it's following up on a trend of the last 20 years. We're providing a habitat for the pollinators and reducing our use of mowers, blowers, and all kinds of equipment. We're reducing our lawn maintenance and it's a wonderful way to do it," says Teresa Watkins, the Florida-based landscape designer behind Sustainable Horticultural Environments. Plus, encouraging clover adds interest to a lawn. "Especially in the South, your traditional monoculture, one-species of grass certainly has got a bad rep. It's not 'in' to be growing just one variety of something in a lawn," says Han. Essentially, people are recognizing clover's benefits and following suit.
What Are the Advantages of Clover Lawns?
- They'll grow in low fertility soil (and even help it).
While Watkins explains that clover needs soil with a balanced pH to grow, generally, white clover does not need very high-fertility soil to prosper and spread vigorously. In fact, white clover is helpful to soil health because it works to feed nitrogen into the dirt. Jay McCurdy, a turfgrass specialist at Mississippi State University, explains that clover is a legume. "Legumes form symbiotic relationships with soil bacteria that are capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen," he says—no synthetic fertilizer necessary. Watkins compares fertilizers to vitamins: if fertilizers are supplements to give your lawn's soil the nutrients it needs, then clover is a nutritious meal.
- They're eco-friendly.
Eliminating the need for synthetic fertilizers is just one part of the equation for this sustainable pick. If you're embracing your clover rather than fighting it with herbicides, you'll be further reducing the amount of synthetic material introduced to your lawn while enhancing your lawn's biodiversity. Clover is good for bees and pollinators too.
- They can take the heat and frost.
"Warm season plants predominate lawns in the Southeast," reveals McCurdy. Whereas many grasses flourish in the spring and summer but go dull and dormant once the colder months hit, clover blooms in the winter. It's also durable enough to take the heat. In fact, white clover flourishes best in full sun, says Watkins who sees the potential for clover to flourish in USDA Zones 6-9 and beyond year round. Ask your local farm store for more clover varieties that best suit your local ecosystem and climate.
- They're low maintenance.
No need to worry about digging out clover. That's already a lot of time and effort saved. To make it better, clover demands significantly less watering and, most likely, less mowing.
- They're pet-friendly.
Pet urine can leave yellow spots of microblooms across your grass lawn, leaving it discolored and uneven, but clover won't falter.
- They are budget-friendly.
In addition to cutting down the fees associated with lawn maintenance equipment, fertilizers, and herbicides, buying clover seed is often less expensive than grass.
- They're pretty.
Though it may take a mindset switch to replace the stigma against them, clover blooms can be quite pleasing and the soft white flowers can add delicacy to a manicured lawn. "Whenever I see clover in a lawn, a meadow, or a botanical garden, I always stop and take photos. I just think it's so cute," Watkins says.
What Are the Disadvantages to Clover Lawns?
- They're susceptible to trampling.
Clover can handle some light wear and tear, but only to a limited extent. "Will it take the high school football team coming over and practicing on it," Watkins asks rhetorically. Probably not.
- They have a bad rep.
Even if you have had a change of heart about clover, your homeowners association may not feel the same way. If your neighborhood regulates "weeds," a clover lawn may not be welcome.
- They sometimes have bad timing.
We love that clover flourishes in cold weather. However, because most grass works on an opposite seasonal schedule, there may be some conflicts. If you have both grass and clover in your lawn, you might find that green clover stands out against dull grass in the wintertime.
How Do You Start a Clover Lawn?
"There's a recipe for success," says McCurdy. Really, it all starts by taking a step back. If you already experience clover pop-ups, cut out herbicides and mowing that will affect your lawn's clover and just leave your "weeds" be. To speed up the process or introduce clover to your lawn altogether, head to your local native nursery.