What’s with All the White Clover?

“When’s the last time we’ve seen such a healthy stand of clover as this spring? What is going on and what do we do?”

White clover in lawn. Photo courtesy of Mike’s Organic Lawns

It’s been several years since we’ve seen so much white clover in our lawns. Weather patterns this winter/spring encouraged clover varieties to flourish, particularly the white clovers that caused our lawns to look like snow had fallen!

White clover is basically a cool season perennial legume with a Mediterranean background. Used as forage for many years, as illustrious a person as Benjamin Franklin noted its appearance in 1746. So we aren’t the first to comment on the ‘clouds of clover’ in our yards and landscapes. In recent years, clover has even been recognized as an alternative to regular turf grass lawns, suggesting shifting attitudes as “eco-lawns” gain in popularity.

Before suggestions for controlling its unappreciated residence in our lawns, there are a few advantages to clover that are worth noting. As an alternative to turf grass, clover is considered low maintenance as it doesn’t require regular watering, mowing, or fertilizing once established. Even during dry spells it remains green, and the entire time clover is growing, it’s adding nitrogen back into the soil very naturally, without the need for synthetic fertilizers.

One aspect about clover lawns that needs to be factored into any consideration is that it doesn’t tolerate heavy foot traffic, unlike many of our turf grass environments.

Clover is not grass-like at all, in fact it is considered a broad-leafed plant (“weed” by some). However, it is not the easiest plant to eliminate since seeds can withstand both cold and hot temperatures, and stay dormant for years before synching with preferred conditions and germinating happily!

Clover leaves have identified an entire culture via the Irish shamrock, and 4-leaf clover finds while not extremely rare, are considered lucky. A ratio of 5,000 3-leaf clovers per 1- 4-leaf clover gives an idea of its occurrence!

According to some sources, white clover was considered a regular component of healthy lawns until the 1950s, when post WWII landscapes became increasingly associated with turf grass groundcovers.

In addition to clover’s nitrogen-fixing abilities, white clover attracts bees, which prompts many beekeepers to grow a patch or two on their property. Bees are attracted to white clover’s nectar sources in spring; by spraying out clover, bees are deprived of some early groceries!

Mowing clover to remove seed heads will help keep the plant from spreading, but if you’re already covered in clover, another option involves using an herbicide. Before purchasing and using any herbicide, read its label to be sure your situation matches the product’s action! Killing clover may be your goal, but taking out chunks of you lawn may be an unintended by-product!

Post-emergent herbicides containing active ingredients dicamba, glyphosate, or quinclorac are recommended for clover control, but be sure to read and follow label directions carefully. Otherwise more than clover could be eliminated in the lawn or landscape!

By Sallie Lee, Urban Regional Extension Agent, Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Contact Sallie at leesall@aces.edu.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. ACES is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce.  Educational programs of ACES serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin.

Alabama Extension

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System operates as the primary outreach organization for the land-grant functions of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities and answers home-gardeners' questions each week on Birmingham Gardening Today.

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