If you want your lawn to resemble the lush fairways of a golf course then clover is the stuff of nightmares. It invades your lawn, and because most varieties hug the ground closely it can be tough to spot and destroy early. Before you know it, clover is among your grass, stealing territory and conquering your yard.
The good news is, there are several ways to get rid of the clover in your lawn. Whether you prefer an all-natural approach for clover control in lawns or you decide you need to take more drastic measures, there are several effective approaches for removing clover. But before learning about how to get rid of clover, first, we should get to know the enemy.
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How to Identify Clover
Because clover is so sneaky, you may not even know you have a clover infestation until you spot the telltale little white flowers in your grass that signal the presence of the invader. In order to stop clover from taking over your lawn, it’s helpful to know the characteristics of the plant and the environments it craves.
Varieties of Clover
The most common variety of clover—and likely the clover you want to get rid of—can be identified by its triple-leaf formation and small white or pinkish blossoms. This is known as White Clover (Trifolium repens). It grows in many climates and is an extremely hardy species. It is a very low-growing plant, often growing lower than grass-height.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is identifiable by purple-red blossoms and long leaves. Red Clover grows much taller than White Clover and is generally less frequently encountered. Don’t worry—the two species are closely related and what kills one type of clover will work on the other.
All varieties of clover flowers attract pollinators. If you see bees hovering around low-lying flowers in your grass, there’s a good chance you’ve got a clover infestation.
Clover Growing Regions
According to the US Department of Agriculture clover grows in climate zones 3–10 and is present in all 50 US states, as well as 12 of the 13 Candian provinces/territories. It’s almost impossible to escape clover, meaning it must be dealt with.
Is Clover a Weed or Grass?
Clover is not closely related to the grass in your yard. It is actually part of the legume family, which means its closest relatives are peas and alfalfa. This is good news because certain chemical control methods that target clover will leave grass unharmed.
Clover is classified as a broadleaf weed, a category that includes other common weeds such as dandelions, poison ivy, and brambles. This is important because herbicides and methods for broadleaf weed control are effective ways to kill clover.
Is Clover Bad for Your Lawn?
There’s no simple answer to this question. It all comes down to a matter of opinion. Because clover brings some qualities which actually improve soil for grass growth, it can be seen as a benefit to lawns. However, it can also choke out all the grass in the lawn if left to its own devices. What starts as a patch of clover can turn into a yard full of triple-leafs and white flowers.
So, what makes clover so unique? Why is it invading your lawn in the first place? The answer can be summed up in one word: nitrogen.
Clover as a Soil-Improver
One of the great benefits of clover is that it belongs to a family of nitrogen-fixing plants. It thrives in soil devoid of nitrogen and actually acts to reintroduce nitrogen to the soil. So what? Why is this good?
Low nitrogen content in your soil is terrible for grass growth. Nitrogen-depleted soil causes grass to yellow, taking us further from our ideal emerald green lawn, as well as attracting invasive species of weeds. If you observe patches of your yard infested with clover, you will likely see that the grass growing in among the clover is much greener than it is in clover-free areas. This is because areas where grass and clover mix are more nitrogen-rich.
Many farmers and ranchers seed fields with a mix of clover and grass as a natural way to maintain soil health and promote the growth of the grass they cut for hay. In fact, clover grows best in soil with low nitrogen levels.
Will Clover Take Over Grass?
Clover can be extremely invasive, and the answer is, the less nitrogen there is in your soil, the more clover will thrive. At the same time, low nitrogen levels will make your grass sickly, creating a perfect storm for a lawn takeover.
While it’s possible to maintain a balanced clover/grass mix that will retain healthy soil and allow the growth of both species, burnt-out lawns are ripe for complete clover domination, leaving little or no grass behind.
How to Get Rid of Clover: A How-To Guide
Whether your lawn is currently losing a siege to clover or you want a grass-only yard without clover mixed in, the main question is how to get rid of white clovers without destroying the lawn. There are several ways to remove clover from your yard without damaging or killing grass in the process, and some tactics that are even beneficial to grass growth.
Get Rid of Clover in Lawn without Chemicals
If you want to get rid of clover in your lawn naturally, there are plenty of options open to you. Depending on the particular situation in your lawn, one or more of these natural clover killer tactics may apply.
1. Apply Natural Fertilizer
Remember, clover thrives in low-nitrogen environments. In order to make your lawn unsuitable for clover growth and encourage your grass to thrive, use a slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer. Clover will die off and your grass will reconquer portions of your yard previously lost to the clover menace.
There are several commercial high-nitrogen, organic fertilizers available on the market today. Many can be found at your local hardware, home and garden store, and online. Be sure to choose one that is formulated to provide fertilization over an 8-week period, which results in better long-term lawn health.
Natural fertilizers high in nitrogen include feather meal and aged poultry manure, both of which are great at combating clover and improving grass health. If you have a compost pile and wish to make your own high-nitrogen fertilizer, adding horse manure or alfalfa pellets to your compost will boost the nitrogen content of your compost and compost tea.
Avoid using quick-release fertilizer when trying to remove clover from lawns. These types of fertilizers can burn plants and actually end up damaging the soil, resulting in lower nitrogen levels over time and actually promoting clover growth. Some commercial fertilizers, as well as natural fertilizers such as bat guano and blood meal, are quick-release fertilizers that may provide a short term fix but cause long-term devastation to your lawn.
Use When: clover infestation is widespread and/or when clover is mixed with grass.
Do Not Use When: clover infestation is localized to small areas. Spot-treating lawns with fertilizer is not typically impactful.
2. Block Air and Sunlight
Clover needs exposure to air and light to survive. Because of this, one natural way to rid your lawn of clover is to deprive it of these needs. Simply cover the clover with dark plastic sheeting or trash bags and weigh the sheeting down with rocks to suffocate the clover. Within 2–3 weeks, the clover should die off.
Because this method will result in bald patches in your lawn, be prepared to either re-seed the bare soil or keep it weed-free as grass reclaims this portion of your yard. Depending on your climate or growing season, reclaiming bare spots may take significant time.
Use When: clover has fully taken over an area of your yard and choked out all grass.
Do Not Use When: clover and grass are mixed in an area.
3. Use Weeding Tools
Clover can of course be removed by hand. By digging with a trowel or other tool to loosen the soil, the entire clover plant and root system can be removed. Clover plants have relatively shallow roots, so removing them to prevent regrowth is easier than with some other invasive weeds.
Use When: clover patches are small and isolated.
Do Not Use When: clover infestation is large and/or mixed with grass in yard.
4. Apply Corn Gluten Meal
Corn gluten meal is more of a preventative measure than a clover removal option. Corn gluten meal—a natural product—is available at most home and hardware stores. Applied to a lawn, corn gluten meal dries out seedlings, preventing the growth of clover and other plants. This will stop clover from taking root in your yard.
However, corn gluten meal does not discriminate. It will also prevent the germination of any grass seed present, so do not use it if you have recently seeded your yard.
Think of corn gluten meal as a barrier to keep a lawn recently freed of clover from being overtaken again, or to prevent it from spreading any further. If you’ve just gotten rid of all the clover weeds in your grass and want to keep it from coming back, apply corn meal gluten.
Use When: grass seedlings have sprouted, to prevent clover invasion.
Do Not Use When: lawn has been recently seeded or you plan to seed in the near future.
5. Use a Natural Herbicide
A simple, natural clover killer can be created by mixing vinegar with dish soap (combine a dime-size portion of dish soap for every cup of vinegar). Using a spray bottle, apply this solution to clover plant leaves and stems. The dish soap will cause the vinegar to cling to the clover leaves, allowing it to eat through the leaf cuticle, killing the plant.
The one issue with vinegar-based herbicides is they do not kill weeds down to the root, so your clover problem may continue to reappear.
Use When: clover plants can be isolated from grass.
Do Not Use When: spraying clover will also affect grass.
6. Increase Your Mowing Height
This solution may seem paradoxical at first. Clover is a low-growing plant so your impulse might be to mow low in order to chop as much of the clover as possible. Unfortunately, mowing at a low blade height will cut all surrounding grass low, giving clover a better chance to reach sunlight. This actually causes clover to grow more vigorously.
By increasing your mowing height, you allow grass to reach the sunlight and cast clover in shade. This will slow the spread of clover and allow your grass to reclaim lost territory. This is an especially effective method in combination with a slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer.
Use When: clover and grass are mixed.
Do Not Use When: clover is isolated.
Get Rid of Clover in Lawn with Chemicals
In some cases, drastic measures need to be taken. Clover is hardy, fast-growing, and loves to sneak in among your grass. If you want to kill clover without killing grass you may consider using a clover herbicide. The gloves are off. All options are on the table. It’s time to choose the best weed killer for clover.
What to look for in a Chemical Herbicide for Clover
Clover are broadleaf plants, which differ greatly from grasses. The best weed killer for clover is one formulated for broadleaf weed control. Commercial weed killers for broadleaf control contain chemicals such as animocyclopyrachlor, fluroxypyr, quinclorac, and triclopyr which target broadleaf plant and root systems, leaving grass unharmed. 2,4-D is another great option for killing clover. When looking for a clover weed killer, be sure to choose a herbicide with one or more of these chemicals if you want to rid your lawn of clover without harming grass.
There are also “Weed and Feed” combination herbicides and fertilizers that are very strong options for clover control. These products combine broadleaf-specific weed control with slow-release, high-nitrogen fertilizer. Be sure to choose one with at least an 8-week release cycle. By using a combination herbicide/fertilizer you will kill any existing clover in your yard and increase your soil health, which will prevent clover from returning.
Both herbicides and “Weed and Feed” products are available at most hardware and garden stores.
Organic Herbicide as a Clover Killer
If you’re looking for a weed killer that doesn’t kill grass, it may seem at first glance that chemical herbicides are the only option. Most “organic” weed control options contain vinegar and, as we discussed, killing clover with vinegar solutions has the unintended side effect of killing grass as well.
However, there are non-toxic selective weed killers on the market. A.D.I.O.S. is perhaps the best known and most effective of these products. It is lawn safe, non-toxic, and destroys broadleaf plant root systems by depriving them of water. If you want to spray for clover in your lawn but are worried about the safety of children, pets, or nearby bodies of water, A.D.I.O.S. is a very strong option.
When searching for an organic clover killer, be wary of any marketed or labeled as “Weed & Grass” killers. These products are good for spot treatment of clover patches but will destroy grass along with clover.
Embrace Clover or Remove it?
Clover has several natural benefits for your lawn, including its nitrogen-fixing properties, the fact that it attracts pollinators, and the fact that it prevents the invasion of other weed types. Having a mix of clover and grass promotes healthy grass growth and can result in a greener lawn with less work and cost on your behalf. Considering these positives, you may decide to embrace clover as a friend rather than foe. In fact, grass seed mixes with nonflowering species of micro clover are commonly sold and can be a great alternative to a grass-only lawn.
However, if clover is not a part of your vision for the perfect yard, the tactics explained in this article will provide you with an arsenal of tools for battling invasive clover. By using a combination of strategies, such as herbicide, fertilizer, corn gluten meal, and a higher mowing height, you can combat clover more effectively and move quickly to reclaim your lawn.