How to Plant a Clover Lawn, and Why You Should Jump on this Trend

Once considered a weed, clover is having a moment as an easy-care, drought-tolerant grass alternative.

a bee on clover

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Recently, clover lawns have been having a major moment on social media. That may seem surprising, given that clover has long been counted among the legion of lawn weeds to battle. But in the wake of climate change, dwindling pollinator populations, and an overall rethink of how we as a society maintain our yards and gardens, lawns dominated by turf grasses have begun to decline in lieu of more environmentally friendly lawn alternatives. Enter clover. 

As someone who has planted multiple yards in clover, I’m here to tell you that this much maligned plant is actually one of the best grass lawn alternatives out there. This tough perennial plant has a long list of pros, including the fact that it doesn’t require as much care as grass to look green and gorgeous. Here’s what you need to know to plant and grow your own clover lawn.

How Clover Became a Lawn Weed

First, let’s consider how we all got so obsessed with the perfectly manicured grass lawn for so long. In the 1500s, lawns were for the livestock of wealthy landowners in Western Europe. There, low-growing grasses and other plants grew with ease in this region’s climate and ample rainfall. Animals did the mowing as they grazed around large estates, and provided fertilizer, too.

As the centuries rolled by, lawns began to catch on as a symbol of wealth in other places such as the newly founded United States. As a space for socializing, games, and strolling, the popularity of lawns grew. Similar to the earlier European lawns, the first American lawns included many different kinds of meadow plants, providing habitat as well as aesthetic value. Various species of herbs, wildflowers, sedges, and grasses flourished in these mixed lawns that were initially tended only by livestock.

With industrialization and urbanization, lawns became the monocultures we know today that are predominantly made up of various grass species. Like any monoculture, it takes a lot of resources to maintain a perfect carpet of green grass. Plus, our modern lawns provide little in the way of value for vital pollinators and other wildlife. All of this is quite costly, both for your wallet and the environment. 

Benefits of Clover for Lawns

Clover–specifically white clover (Trifolium repens)–is a perennial plant native across much of Western Europe and Central Asia. Largely viewed as a weed in the past, this plant has dominated the lawn alternative movement. Why? Because it’s easy to grow, looks good, and offers several other benefits.

The small, deep green leaves of clover can quickly blanket a space. The stems stay low to the ground, typically growing no more than six inches tall and easily mixes well with grasses. It’s easy to mow, but clover won’t need that very often. And after mowing, clover lawns will quickly recover and “fluff” back up within a matter of hours to days. If left unmown, clover will bloom like crazy with flowers that attract pollinators–several species of bees are particularly drawn to white clover flowers. Of course, people with bee and wasp sting allergies should be careful around clover while it’s blooming.

Clover is quite hardy, growing in USDA Zones 3-10 and is rarely bothered by diseases or pests. This plant grows densely, minimizing weeds without the use of chemicals. It tolerates foot traffic about as well as most grasses do, and doesn’t die back from dog urine. It also easily reseeds, helping to renew itself and fill in bare spots

Belonging to the legume family, clover has the ability to fix nitrogen in the air with the help of soil microbes. This means that the plant needs very little, if anything, in the way of fertilizer and can grow in a wide variety of soils. Clover lawns require far less water than grass, and they can tolerate more shade than just about any turf grass option.

If you want a completely no-mow lawn, look for the micro-clover variety called Miniclover. It grows just 4-6 inches in height while providing all the benefits of regular clover. Purple and mint green varieties of clover are also available if you’d like more color options. If you have clover already established in your garden, you can allow it to continue to slowly spread along with your existing grass. Check with your local extension office about the best options for your local conditions. 

How to Plant a Clover Lawn

In many areas of the country, white clover is often classified as a “weed” by homeowner associations (HOAs), as well as both local and state governments. Before you plant clover, check for any ordinances or restrictions where you live. Sometimes these rules only restrict planting in the front yard while leaving more flexibility in the backyard. 

Once you’ve decided you’d like to plant clover in your yard, be sure to only use white clover, which is the type of clover that works best for lawns. In cold winter areas, plant in early spring. In mild winter areas, planting in fall is usually preferred. The easiest way to plant a clover lawn is to start with seeds, typically available at hardware stores or online.

Ideally, clover should be mixed in with an existing lawn. Pure clover tends to go dormant in cold winter areas, leaving bare patches before it grows again in spring. Intermixed grass will help keep things looking good until then.

Before seeding, you’ll want to first dethatch your lawn. Using a rake, scrape away any leaves, lawn clippings, or other debris from the established lawn. This will expose the soil and leave it ready for seed application. Next, grab a handful of clover seeds and lightly sprinkle them across the prepared lawn. A hand-powered seed spreader will work too. There’s no need to apply clover seeds heavily as they’ll grow fast and quickly fill in the gaps. Finally, sprinkle a little topsoil over the seeds. Be sure to add enough to cover the clover seeds, but not so much that the grass is completely covered as well. Then, water well and keep moist until you begin to see seedlings pop up in a couple of weeks.

Care Tips for Clover Lawns

Caring for your clover is easy and once established, it will require very little effort. In regions with regular precipitation throughout the year, watering is rarely needed. In dry summer regions, watering just once or twice a week is usually more than enough. Unlike grass lawns, clover never needs fertilizer. Thanks to the ability to get nitrogen from the air, clover feeds itself and improves the soil without your help.

Keeping your clover lawn free of weeds is important during the first couple years of growth. According to Aaron Steil, Consumer Horticulture Specialist with the Iowa State University Extension, be on the lookout for a few species that can be detrimental. “Crabgrass, foxtail, spotted spurge, plantain, and purslane are a few common weeds that do not produce flowers that are beneficial for pollinators and should be removed.” He also notes that hand-pulling is the best option. “Many herbicides used on lawns are broadleaf herbicides that don’t kill grass, but kill other plants. If these products are used on a bee lawn, they are likely to kill the clover.”

Other Lawn Alternatives

If you’re not quite sold on adding white clover to your lawn, there are several alternatives available. Existing grass lawns can easily be overseeded with other low-growing plants that will coexist while providing a more traditional look. Some mixes, such as Bee Lawn from Twin City Seed Company are scientifically-backed options for creating pollinator habitat. Bee Lawn contains white clover, self-heal, and creeping thyme. According to James Wolfin, graduate student at the University of Minnesota, over 60 bee species were identified foraging in the Bee Lawn Mix planted around Minneapolis. Wolfin points out that this number is a little higher than the number of species found on clover only lawns. 

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