White Clover

March 17, 2015
  • White Clover close up

Clover In Lawns

Is white clover in your lawn bad? The secret to having a great lawn without chemicals is clover. For the past 50 years, clover has been considered a noxious lawn weed, but before that it was an important component in lawns and for good reason. Thousands of biological, chemical and physical elements above and below ground make up the particular ecosystem called your yard. These players will do most of the nutrient recycling, water conservation, and pest control for you, if you let them. Use of synthetic chemicals can suppress a variety of these natural chemical and biological processes. A simple example of this is white clover.

Identify Clover

It is an herbaceous, perennial plant. It is low growing, with heads of whitish flowers, often with a tinge of pink or cream that may come on with the aging of the plant. The heads are generally 1.5–2 centimeters (0.6–0.8 in) wide, and are at the end of 7-cm (2.8-in) peduncles or flower stalks. The leaves, which by themselves form the symbol known as shamrock, are trifoliolate, smooth, elliptic to egg-shaped and long-petioled. The stems function as stolons, so white clover often forms mats.  Stems can creeping as much as 18 cm (7.1 in) a year.

Clover Benefits

White clover was considered an attractive and necessary component of healthy turf until the 1950s, and was often included in grass seed mixes. Though not a native, it helps to deliver the essential nutrient nitrogen, through nitrogen fixing, to enrich the growth of grass. Clover does this without dominating grass because it is easily managed with mowing and fertilizing: mowing at 3” and withholding fertilizer will favor a reasonable grass-to-clover ratio of about 60/40. Higher mowing or using fertilizer will reduce the amount of clover. (Keep in mind that clover flower heads will attract a variety of bees. Trimming regularly with a mower during flowering season can minimize this.)

It is drought tolerant when not thickly planted, so the lawn looks greener without watering when cool season grasses have gone dormant in the summer. Plus, white clover has no serious pests. The advent of herbicides made it possible to selectively eliminate all non-grass plants, and clover, though not previously considered a weed, suffered collateral damage. Ultimately, it fell out of fashion, became classified a weed, and is now considered an aesthetic annoyance. Ecosystem-minded land managers, though, realize that clover helps turf and reduces a lawn’s nitrogen needs. This simple plant can save homeowners by reducing the need for additional nitrogen applications and reducing aesthetic lawn watering requirements.

White Clover Control

Clover can be naturally managed with taller mowing heights and proper nitrogen fertilization. Chemical control can be achieved with applications of our natural herbicide or with traditional synthetic selective turf herbicides. If an herbicide treatment is chosen, it is best to start treatments early in the fall.

For more information on white clover please visit UNL website.