Clover Lawns: 15 Things to Know Before Growing

Clover lawns have become increasingly popular in recent years as a low-maintenance, eco-friendly alternative to traditional grass lawns. Clover is a flowering plant that forms a lush green mat over areas of soil, providing many benefits. Here are 15 key things to know before converting your lawn to clover.

Introduction to Clover Lawns

Clover lawns involve seeding white or red clover over existing grass or bare soil to create a living carpet of green clover foliage and flowers. Clover lawns have deep roots that draw nutrients from the soil, require less watering and fertilizing than grass, and remain green even through droughts. The low growth habit of clovers means less frequent mowing. Clover flowers also attract beneficial pollinators.

Switching a traditional lawn to a clover lawn provides many advantages, but does require some adjustments in lawn care practices. Taking the time to understand clover growth habits and needs will ensure a successful clover lawn that thrives for years to come.

1. Climate Conditions for Growing Clover

Clover prefers cool, moist climates and does not thrive in extremely hot, arid regions. White clover grows well across most of the northern United States into Canada, while red clover has better heat tolerance for southern regions. Before planting clover, determine if your local climate and soil conditions are suitable.

Clover needs consistent moisture, especially during establishment, but draining soils are ideal. Standing water will cause clover to decline. Cooler regions with daytime summer temperatures around 70-80°F are ideal for clover growth. It can survive temperatures up to 95°F if sufficient moisture is present. In southern regions, clover may become dormant during the hottest summer months.

2. Sunlight Needs for Clover

Clover thrives best in full sun. Partial shade is okay, but with too much shade from trees or buildings, clover growth will thin out. Ensure the lawn gets at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. If shade is a problem, clover may survive better than grass but additional fill-in seeding may be needed.

For partially shaded lawns, choose a shade-tolerant white clover variety. Red clover prefers more sun than white. Adjusting irrigation practices can also help combat too much shade. Water less frequently but more deeply to encourage deeper clover roots that access lower soil moisture.

3. Choosing White or Red Clover Varieties

White and red are the two clover species most commonly used in lawn applications. Each has advantages and disadvantages:

White clover:

  • Lower growing; 6-10 inches tall
  • Tolerates close mowing to 2 inches
  • Survives partial shade better
  • Blends well when overseeded into grass
  • Perennial in most regions

Red clover:

  • Grows taller; 12-18 inches tall
  • Needs mowing height of 3+ inches
  • Prefers full sun
  • More aggressive, spreads faster
  • Usually grown as a stand-alone lawn
  • Biennial or short-lived perennial

Consider traffic patterns, sunlight, intended use, and desired maintenance level when selecting white or red clover. Blends combining both varieties are also available. Local nurseries can recommend suitable cultivars for your area.

4. Preparing the Site for Planting Clover

Proper soil preparation and timing are key to establishing a thriving clover lawn:

  • Test soil pH and adjust to between 6.0-7.0 if needed
  • Improve drainage of excessively soggy soils
  • Control any existing weeds
  • Work 1-2 inches of compost into soil
  • Level ground to prevent puddling
  • Plant clover in spring or fall when soil temperatures are cool
  • Irrigate frequently after seeding to maintain moist soil

Taking time to create ideal soil conditions gives clover the best chances for germination and growth.

5. Methods for Planting Clover Lawns

Clover can be established through different methods:

Clover seeds: The most common option. Seeds are sown by hand, spreader, or broadcast method. Cover lightly with soil or compost.

Clover plugs: Established clover transplants planted at intervals across the lawn. Plugs fill in more rapidly but are more expensive.

Overseeding clover: Adding clover seeds into existing thin grass lawns. The clover slowly fills in bare patches.

Clover sod: Pre-grown clover turf rolls installed for immediate coverage. More costly but offers instant results.

The size of the area, lawn use, and budget help determine the best clover planting method. Proper lawn prep is vital whichever option you choose.

6. Overseeding Clover into Existing Lawns

One advantage of clover is that it can be overseeded into grass lawns. This “renovates” the lawn by improving soil nitrogen, reducing runoff, and minimizing bare spots as the clover fills in.

To overseed clover:

  • Mow grass short and bag clippings to remove excess debris
  • Loosen top 1/4 inch of soil with a rake
  • Scatter clover seeds allowing good contact with soil
  • Water lightly daily to establish plants
  • Reduce grass mowing height to 2-3” to allow sunlight to reach clover

White clover’s low growth habit makes it ideal for overseeding without needing to kill off the existing grass first. Clover will gradually fill in around grass plants.

7. Clover Lawn Seeding Rates and Care

Recommended seeding rates per 1,000 square feet are:

  • White clover: 2-4 oz
  • Red clover: 4-6 oz
  • Clover blends: 3-5 oz

After sowing seeds:

  • Gently rake or roll seeded area to maximize soil contact
  • Water lightly daily until sprouting; avoid heavy irrigation that causes washing
  • Allow 1 mow when clover reaches 3-4” tall to encourage spreading
  • Weed early on to prevent competition for young clover

Proper seeding depth, moisture, and mowing height during establishment are key for good clover germination and coverage.

8. Watering Needs and Tips for Clover Lawns

Clover has relatively low water requirements once established but needs frequent irrigation for the first 2-3 weeks after planting until roots develop.

Tips for watering clover:

  • Water new seedlings daily in 5-10 minute sessions to keep soil moist but avoid runoff
  • Established clover needs 1-1.5 inches of water per week, from rain or irrigation
  • Water early morning or evening; avoid midday
  • Let soil dry slightly between watering for deeper root growth
  • Adjust sprinklers to avoid excessive watering of sidewalks and drives

The extensive root system of mature clover makes it naturally drought tolerant. Proper watering practices while plants are young will ensure good clover health.

9. Fertilizing Clover Lawns

Fertilization needs are much lower for clover compared to traditional lawns. Excess nitrogen encourages weed growth and reduces clover’s natural nitrogen-fixing benefits.

Clover fertilizing tips:

  • At planting time, compost or starter fertilizer helps establishment
  • Established clover only needs 1-2 light fertilizations per year
  • Organic fertilizers or a balanced 10-10-10 work well
  • Limit nitrogen to reduce grass competition
  • Fertilize in spring and fall for optimal growth periods
  • Ensure other nutrients like phosphorus and potassium are present

Avoid over-fertilizing clover, as its main perk is improving soils and reducing chemical inputs. Get a soil test if nutrients seem lacking.

10. Mowing Height and Frequency

Proper mowing height and patterns are key to a lush clover lawn:

  • White clover: Maintain at 2-3 inch height. Can tolerate close mowing to 1 inch.
  • Red clover: Requires 3-4 inch mowing height. Does not tolerate close mowing.
  • Mow frequently enough that no more than 1/3 of clover height is removed in a single pass
  • Allow flowering prior to mowing for pollinator benefits
  • Use a mulching mower for beneficial nitrogen return
  • Adjust blade height for season: raise in summer, lower in spring/fall
  • Avoid mowing when clover is wet or in hot mid-day

Leaving adequate foliage height and mowing frequency prevents harm to clover’s shallow roots and supports plant health.

11. Weed Control and Management

The extensive ground coverage of a healthy clover lawn leaves little room for weeds. But some weeding, especially during establishment, helps clover outcompete weedy species.

Weed management options include:

  • Manual hand weeding
  • Applying corn gluten weed preventer in spring
  • Spot spraying persistent weeds with natural herbicides
  • Adjusting soil pH to discourage weeds
  • Overseeding thin areas to thicken clover growth
  • Mowing high to reduce light reaching weed seeds
  • Maintaining optimal fertility and soil moisture for clover health

Avoid synthetic herbicides, as many formulations will kill off clover. Weed control is easiest when clover is mowed high and thick.

12. Dormancy and Winter Hardiness of Clover

Depending on climate, clover may become dormant and turn brown in extreme summer heat or cold winter temperatures. This is a normal protective mechanism.

Tips for clover winter dormancy:

  • Clover naturally re-greens with cooler temperatures and moisture
  • Avoid mowing dormant clover too short
  • Dormant plants still benefit from winter fertilization
  • Apply irrigation during winter dry spells
  • Scatter clover seed in spring to fill in bare patches

While clover will brown down when conditions are harsh, it remains winter hardy even in northern climates and rebounds each spring.

13. Traffic Tolerance of Clover Lawns

Thanks to its dense matting of stems and roots, clover withstands moderate foot traffic better than traditional turfgrass. Red clover in particular has good traffic tolerance.

For best traffic durability:

  • White clover performs better when mixed with grass
  • Avoid excessive traffic on saturated soils
  • Reseed high wear areas as needed
  • Adjust mowing height by season for optimal resilience
  • Let clover flowers bloom to encourage spreading
  • Overseed thin patches in fall or spring

While no lawn plant withstands heavy abuse, clover holds up better than turfgrass if managed properly.

14. Companion Plants for Clover Lawns

Certain grass varieties and perennial flowers make good companion plants for clover by filling in bare spots and adding color.

Some top clover lawn companions:

  • Low-growing grasses like dwarf fescue or microclover
  • Dutch white clover for mixing with grass
  • Self-sowing annuals like bachelor buttons
  • Low, spreading herbs like thyme or chamomile
  • Bulbs like crocus, grape hyacinth, or snowdrops

Choose companion plants suitable for mowing heights under 4”. Scatter companion seeds along with clover during planting. Additional flowers can be planted into established clover lawns.

15. Pros and Cons of Clover Lawns

Some key benefits of clover lawns include:

  • Fixes nitrogen in soil, reducing fertilizer needs
  • Drought and traffic tolerant once established
  • Flowers provide food source for pollinators
  • Minimal mowing and maintenance required
  • Stays greener in winter and summer stress
  • Few disease or insect issues

Potential drawbacks to consider:

  • Needs frequent watering when first establishing
  • Can appear ragged if not mowed properly
  • May require more weeding initially
  • Goes dormant and turns brown in extreme heat/cold
  • Some varieties have short life spans
  • Not as uniform texture as grass lawns

Weigh the pros and cons against your lawn care goals and needs before converting to clover. With the right growing conditions, clover offers an eco-friendly, low-maintenance alternative for many homeowners seeking to reduce water, mowing, and chemical usage in their lawns. Proper variety selection, planting, mowing, and care practices will lead to success with clover lawns.

Frequently Asked Questions About Clover Lawns

Does clover require less mowing than grass?

Yes, clover needs mowing far less frequently than traditional turf lawns. Red clover may only need monthly mowing once established, while white clover can be mowed every 2-3 weeks. Raising your mower height when possible also reduces maintenance.

What are the benefits of clover for soil health?

Clover’s dense roots draw valuable nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium from deep in the soil profile. As roots naturally die back each year, they decay and contribute organic matter. Clover also fixes nitrogen into a usable form for plants through nodules on its roots.

How much water does clover need compared to grass?

On average, clover requires about 30% less water than turfgrass once established. During initial planting, clover needs frequent moisture for good germination and growth. But mature clover has deep roots that access soil moisture more effectively than shallow grass roots.

How long does clover take to establish from seed?

It typically takes 1-2 months for clover seeded lawns to fill in adequately. Proper planting depth, consistent moisture, quick weed removal, and correct mowing height will speed up the establishment process. Overseeding into existing lawns takes longer as clover slowly spreads through the grass.

Does clover go dormant in winter?

Clover growth slows in winter cold but remains evergreen in most climates. In warmer regions, clover may become semi-dormant in response to drought or extreme summer heat. But it quickly greens up again once conditions improve. Dormancy is a protective mechanism that doesn’t harm the clover plants.


For homeowners seeking an eco-friendly lawn with reduced maintenance demands, clover can serve as a viable alternative to high-input grass lawns. Taking time to properly prepare soils, select suitable clover varieties, and follow best practices for planting, mowing, watering, and fertilizing will lead to a successful clover lawn. Paying close attention to clover’s needs while plants are establishing is key. With some adjustments in routine care and expectations, clover lawns can provide beauty, durability, and natural benefits. Reaping the rewards of clover’s self-spreading nature, nitrogen-fixing abilities, and tolerance of drought, shade, and foot traffic makes converting to clover an appealing option for many homeowners.