How to Get Rid of Clover: A Lawn Guide

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The Celts of Wales revered the white clover.  They believed that this wild-growing weed would ward off evil spirits.  They also believed that you would receive magical protection and good fortune if you found the elusive four-leaf clover.

So, does having it in your lawn bring you good luck or not?

In this article, you’ll learn about everything you wanted to know about clover.   

You’ll learn the reasons you have an abundance of it growing with your grass and whether that’s a good or a bad thing. You’ll also learn how to get rid of them without destroying your grass, flowers, and vegetables.

Are you feeling lucky?

Clovers can be difficult to remove without a guide

Why Do They Appear?

Clover gets a bad rap.  Before World War II, it was mixed in with traditional grass seed and used to supplement the healthy growth of the grass.  Today it is seen as a problem.  And the reason that you have so much of that problem is because of the its ability to survive while your grass turns brown.

Here are the reasons that they show up and take over your grass.

Nitrogen Factory

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients for your lawn and garden.  It is responsible for the healthy growth of plants and is the reason for their lush green color.  Most plants receive their nitrogen from the soil through their roots.  Clover, a legume plant, receives it from the atmosphere through nitrogen fixation.

Nitrogen fixation occurs when specific bacteria converts the nearly limitless supply of atmospheric nitrogen into a form plants can absorb.  This is done through the symbiotic relationship between the root system of the the plant and the bacteria Rhizobium

The bacteria live in the its roots and absorb the atmospheric nitrogen through the soil.  The bacteria then “fix” the nitrogen.  The roots are then able to absorb the “fixed” nitrogen through the nodules on its roots.  The nutrient is then dispersed throughout the the plant.

Because clover does not need to absorb its nitrogen through the soil, any lawn with depleted nutrient levels is prime real estate for a clover invasion. 

There are several reasons that your lawn may have insufficient nitrogen levels.  Reasons include:

  • Compacted Soil
  • Overwatering
  • Soil Amendments That Have Not Fully Decomposed
  • Soil Runoff and Erosion
  • Improper Fertilization Practices
Clovers can be unsightly and invasive weeds

Improper Mowing Techniques

Mowing your lawn must be done properly.  If you make the mistake of mowing your lawn too short, you cause the grass to experience unnecessary stress and can also compact the soil.  Clover is mostly unaffected if you cut the lawn too short, and it loves when you decrease the nitrogen in the soil.

Clover is an invasive and opportunistic broadleaf weed that looks for ground with low soil fertility.  It looks for vulnerabilities in your lawns and gardens and, once it acquires a perfect target, it strikes.  It grows aggressively and has the advantage of producing its own nitrogen. 

Because of its aggressive growth, many people do not look favorably upon clover. But it wasn’t always that way.  There are some benefits of having it around your property.


Natural Fertilizer

Every time clover is cut with your mower, some of the nitrogen that is stored in the plant is released into the soil.  Furthermore, whenever the plant dies, all of the nitrogen it has stored is released to the earth as it decomposes. 

It Stays Green

Mother nature is the ultimate equalizer.  Even if your lawn is extremely healthy, all it takes is a bout with extreme temperatures during the hottest months of the year.  The temperatures will cause the grass to go dormant and leave you with brown spots on your lawn. 

Clover, however, remains green.

In the winter months, it will keep its lush, vibrant hue until the first hard frost of the year.  When it comes time for the spring bloom, it will sprout out of the earth long before your other lawn grass.

It Provides Weed Control

Clover grows persistently, aggressively, and vigorously.  Once it has taken hold of its domain, it is nearly impossible for other lawn weeds to effectively invade those areas.  This means that you’ll weed less and save yourself some time and your back some aches.

It Reduces the Need for Fertilizer

If clover covers about 5% of your lawn’s surface, it will provide the grass and other plant life with a sufficient amount of nitrogen.  5%!  You can spread it out throughout your lawn however you see fit, but, with such a small percentage to be covered, you could easily disperse in it in a manner that would make it nearly undetectable.  When this low growing weed is mowed or dies off, it decomposes quickly and returns even more nitrogen to the soil.  

Meeting the nitrogen requirements naturally also eliminates the need for chemical applications.

Clover can act as a source of nitrogen for your grass

Diversifies Your Lawn’s Plant Culture

Mix in some clover seeds with your grass seed if you’re overseeding your lawn and watch the results. 

As the clover seed sprouts, you’ll notice a drop in the number of insects and other pests around your lawn.  Your lawn will be less susceptible to disease and will deal with stress in a better manner.  Your lawn will be more drought-resistant and its heat tolerance will increase as well. 

The clover will reduce the buildup of thatch on your grass and help the other grass and soil with erosion and runoff.

By the time all is said and done, you will have significantly reduced the amount of irrigation you perform and drastically cut back the use of pesticides on your lawn.


Poor Aesthetic

When mixed in with grass, it can cause your lawn to look uneven and patchy. It’s weedy and misplaced appearance can seriously detract from the overall beauty of the grass on your lawns or flowers in your gardens.  If you prefer a lawn that is neat and kempt, it will ruin that appearance. 

It Isn’t That Tough

Despite its staggering growth rate, clover is a bit on the soft side when it comes to handling foot traffic.  It is not a plant that can be used on athletic fields or lawns with a lot of activity.  The traffic on these lawns will result in the appearance of trails and a weakening of the blooming body of the plant.

Clover flower can spread thousands of more seeds

It Attracts Bees

Clovers produce pearl size blossoms that are filled with nectar and are a favorite of bees. This will attract bees to your property, which for many gardeners is considered a good thing. But bees are not for everyone.

Killing Clover in Your Lawn

There are many methods that you can employ to get rid of them.  Some of them are natural, some chemical, and some manual.

Let’s look at these methods and you can decide which suits your personal preference.

Pull It Out By Hand

This method is best used on smaller patches. Loosen the soil around the plant and pull it from the ground, roots and all. 

Make sure that you remove it all. If you leave any of the root systems in the soil, it will grow back, and you’ll have to get rid of it all over again.

Pulling clover by hand is the best method if you only have small amounts

Sensory Deprivation

You can take a tarp or black garbage bag and cover the clover with it.  This will deprive the plant of oxygen and sunlight—both essential to the life of a plant.  Secure the corners with stakes or rocks to ensure the plastic doesn’t blow away.

This method takes a few weeks, but it will kill clover in that area.  However, it will also kill anything else that is trapped underneath the plastic.

Make a Vinegar Spray

In a spray bottle, combine 1 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of water, and 1 squeeze of a dish soap bottle.  Mix thoroughly and begin spot spraying the areas of clover.  The vinegar will absorb the moisture in the leaves and stems and dry it out until it dies. 

This process will take some time and some additional applications to completely kill all the weeds growing in those areas. 

Spray Broadleaf Herbicide

If you don’t mind spot spraying commercial chemicals on your lawn, then broadleaf herbicide products will do the trick.  Make sure to follow the directions on the label to determine when and how much of the weed killer to apply.

Don’t forget, proper lawn care practices dictate that you should don personal protective equipment so you avoid coming into contact with the caustic solution.

Use broadleaf herbicides to prevent damaging lawn.

Apply Corn Gluten Meal Over Your Entire Lawn

An application of corn gluten over your lawn every year in the spring acts as a natural pre-emergent herbicide product to prevent weeds from growing in the first place.  This organic alternative to caustic chemicals works by inhibiting a newly germinated seed from sprouting. 

The corn meal releases organic dipeptides into the soil.  These dipeptides dry out the clover weed seeds and make it harder for them to sprout after germination.

Use a Nitrogen Rich Fertilizer on Your Lawn

Clover preys upon lawns that are deficient in nitrogen and have low soil fertility.  Using nitrogen-rich fertilizer or weed ‘n’ feed products will ensure that your nitrogen levels are sufficient. The healthy and thick grass growth that results will not afford the weeds enough room to begin their hostile takeover.

It’s also important to remember that higher phosphorus levels in your lawn promote clover invasion on your lawn.  Keep that in mind when you go to fertilize your lawn.  Because you will need adequate phosphorus levels to keep your lawn healthy, but a surplus of the nutrient can support the growth of these weeds.

How To Kill It Without Destroying Your Lawn?

Let’s get the obvious method out of the way—good old fashioned manual labor.  You can spare the grass from its demise by digging the plants up.  However, this is usually used to get rid of smaller patches of clover in your grasses.  If you’re working with a ton of weeds, you’re going to have to take another route.

We have already discussed using corn gluten as an organic pre-emergent herbicide product.  It won’t harm the grass on your lawn. 

If you’re going to use a broadleaf chemical herbicide, you will need to ensure that the product is designed to control broadleaf weeds on your specific grass type.  The herbicide for your grass type will differ only slightly from other products for different grasses, but that slight difference is what will kill the clover without harming the grass on your lawn.

Also note, vinegar is not a selective herbicide. It will kill any and all plant life. If you use it and accidentally wind up spot spraying it onto your desired grass, then your grass will also suffer. 

Clovers can also be left alone

Mow Your Grass High

Clover is used as groundcover and is low growing.  They will typically grow no more than 8″, and even that is a rare occurrence.  By allowing your grass to grow higher than 3″ you prevent sunlight, water, and nutrients from reaching the clover underneath them. 

Mulch Your Lawn

Clover needs space and opportunity to grow.  It seeks out areas of your lawn that are stressed and thinning.  By mulching the areas where your lawn is compromised with a layer of homemade compost or organic mulch, you will make the ground inhospitable.  Mulch retains water and will keep the soil moist and cool while also keeping the clover underneath it from receiving sunlight.

Leave Your Soil Alone

Unless you’re disturbing the soil to dig up white clover around your lawn, ensure your soil is healthy and leave it be.

Clover seeds number in the thousands per plant.  You must avoid bringing these seeds onto the topsoil because this increases the likelihood that the seeds will become a mature plant and a nuisance in your lawn.  The seeds are typically brought to the surface by tilling and digging.  So give your ground a break, and keep the seeds where they don’t receive enough nourishment to mature.

Grow Plants Native to Your Area

Choose plants that are naturally occurring and evolving in your particular region.  These plants will thrive and grow voraciously.  This aggressive manner of growth by native plants will outgrow and suppress clover growth.

Check with your local lawn care and garden center to determine some of your area’s native plants.  Native plants will work the best because they have adapted to the climate and the soil conditions.  They have been and continue to be an integral part of the ecosystem in your area and, as such, will keep invasive plants at bay.

Clovers can prevent other invasive species from growing on your yard

Killing Clover In Your Flower Beds

So you’ve worked your fingers to the bone in your vegetable and flower garden, and the results have been unbelievable.  Just then, you spot that lucky charm growing in the dirt that you’ve spent so much time working in. 

What can you do?

Well, you can use some of the same techniques already covered that you can use on your lawn and apply them to your flower beds.  This goes for corn gluten meal, removing it by hand, and using a fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen.  You can even use the vinegar solution and the broadleaf herbicides if you ensure that you are careful when spot spraying and not coating the surrounding plants.

With lawns, there is a lot more room for error.  A garden, on the other hand, is smaller and the fruits and vegetables from it are brought to your family table to eat.  A mistake on your lawn may go unnoticed, but a mistake in the garden will definitely be seen.  So what do you do about that?

How to Avoid Killing Your Plants

You’ll need to pay attention to some things when handling these weeds that are appearing in your garden.

Let’s look at a few different ways that we can avoid killing the plants that you’ve worked so hard for.

Use Landscape Fabric

Before you fill your garden, line the area that you’re dedicating to the project with a weed barrier or landscape fabric before you fill it with your planting soil or much.  You can also use plastic sheeting, but you’ll need to perforate it so that water flows to the ground below and doesn’t pool on the plastic.  This barrier will prevent any sprouted clover seeds from making their way through the topsoil.

Isolate It

Find a planting pot, a cardboard box, or anything that you can set over the clover that isolates it within the confines of the container.  The container will need to be open on the top and the bottom, so you’ll have to cut the bottom out of the planting pot or cardboard box. 

Once you’ve opened the container, just set it over the clover, so it is contained within the walls of the receptacle.  With it isolated, you have essentially removed the risk of overspray.  Now you can use your vinegar solution or your broadleaf herbicide without worrying about accidentally spraying other plants.

If you’re set on using herbicides in your garden, this is the best way to keep them from damaging your desired plants.

Paint It

If you’re using herbicides on weeds growing near your flowers or vegetables, you can “paint them” with herbicide.

Find an old paintbrush.  Instead of spraying the clover, spray the paintbrush instead. Once you have coated the bristles, paint the weeds with the soaked brush like you’re Pablo Picasso.


What is the Best Herbicide?

Generally speaking, the best herbicide is selective post-emergent broadleaf herbicides.  The herbicides that contain Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, Mecoprop, and Dicamba have the best results.  These chemicals affect the clover’s normal growth patterns and will cause the leaves to fold inward, the weeds to twist, and the stems to crack after they are applied. Generally, Bonide’s Clover Killer, which contains Mecoprop, works pretty well.

Some homeowners swear by Glyphosate (found in Round up Weed Killer), but it is a non-selective herbicide and will kill any vegetation that it comes into contact with.  The herbicides listed above will not affect the surrounding grass but could damage immature plants in your garden.  So use caution when applying them in your flower beds.

How Long Does It Take for It to Establish Itself in Your Lawn?

If the temperatures are warm, clover will germinate and begin actively growing in 7 to 15 days. 

Is Clover Bad for Your Plants?

Despite being a weed, it will not harm the plants in your garden.  While its aggressive growth can certainly be a nuisance, it does not affect your plants directly in a negative way.  Its roots are not deep and will not usually enmesh themselves with the roots of your plants. 

Is Clover Bad for Your Animals?

When clover is ingested in large quantities by smaller cats and dogs it can potentially poison your them.  It sounds strange because clover is grown as a forage crop for livestock, but dogs and cats are not livestock. 

What’s the Best Way to Deal With Clover Around My Property?

The best way to deal with clover in your yard is proper lawn care practices and preventative maintenance.  Taking care of your lawn before a problem arises is the best way to handle any potential problem.

So ensure you are keeping up with your soil’s pH and fertility level.  Aerate your soil, water, and mow your lawn properly.  All of these actions add up to one thing…a healthy lawn and garden around your home that is resistant to invasion by clover and other weeds. 

When it comes to your lawn, you truly get out of it whatever you put into it.

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About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.

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