Clover (Trifolium) is a low-growing plant that is primarily encountered in lawns. If its green leaves can sometimes go unnoticed, its small flowers that bloom will surely attract both gardeners and pollinators.
There are quite a number of varieties out there, some being annual and others being perennial. And one thing you may not know is that clover is, in fact, a legume.
The plant has trifoliate foliage, thus the Latin name, which means “three-part leaf.” But its capacity to grow and create mats across the soil’s surface is more important than its leaves or blossoms.
This spreading habit, which gives rise to the plant’s species name, occurs when the nodes along the plant’s stems come into touch with the ground. As a result, additional roots grow, basically producing new plants.
Clover does not require much care, as long as it grows in soil with good drainage and a bit of shade, so it makes for a great option for those looking to spruce up their lawn. What’s more, clover can also be grown indoors, in pots, with little to no difference in care.
Type Of Clover Plant
- 1 Type Of Clover Plant
- 2 White Clover (Trifolium repens)
- 3 Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
- 4 Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum)
- 5 Strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum)
- 6 Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum)
- 7 Growing Clover
- 8 Is a clover lawn better than a grass lawn?
- 9 BONUS: What’s the deal with four-leaf clovers?
- 10 In conclusion
Below, we will explore the most popular varieties of clover, as well as what you need to do to enjoy a beautiful clover lawn in your own backyard. Continue reading to find out more!
White Clover (Trifolium repens)
White clover, sometimes referred to as Ladino, is the most common variety of clover used for lawns. It is a low-growing, resilient clover plant, and because it grows and spreads really fast, white clover is an excellent ground cover.
White clover is the most widely cultivated type of clover and it grows natively in Europe, the British Isles, and Asia, but it has also been introduced as a forage crop in North America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
This variety grows best at temperatures ranging from 10 to 30°C (50 to 85 °F). While it can also withstand lower temperatures, it does not do very well during extreme heat seasons and drought. The flowers are, for the most part, white, but you can sometimes spot pinkish hues on the petals. Micro clover and Dutch clover are two common variations of the white clover.
If you’re wondering what to mix your white clover with to achieve the perfect garden, some great options are ornamental grasses such as blue fescue, Kentucky bluegrass, and perennial ryegrass. White clover makes a great companion plant to different types of lawns, pasture grasses, vegetable rows, and grain crops as it can tolerate mowing and grazing really well.
White clover makes a great forage crop for livestock being high in proteins, hardy, and adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions. Although the leaves of white clover are not very easy to digest for humans, this plant is edible and it can be added to salads and other leafy vegetable meals.
Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
Trifolium pratense, commonly known as red clover is native to Europe, Asia, and some parts of Africa, but it has been naturalized in many other regions. It grows taller and bushier than white clover, and it is another well-liked groundcover option.
Cow clover, meadow clover, and wild clover are other popular names for it. If you happen to live in a cold climate, red clover will most likely behave like an annual plant and wither after the first year, which means it has to be constantly replaced. In moderate and warm climates, it can thrive in both wet and dry soil as long as you make sure the soil is well-drained.
Despite its name, the flowers of red clover are not actually red but vary from pink to magenta. This ground cover complements garden plants such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, and dallisgrass. Other popular options to pair with it are bahiagrass and Bermudagrass.
One thing to keep in mind is that red clover can be harmed by powdery mildew and other fungal diseases. An interesting thing you may not know is that, in some parts of the world, red clover was traditionally used to lower symptoms of asthma, whooping cough, and even gout.
The red clover has great economic value in Chile, where the need for plants that attract pollinators is on the rise. An important pollinator that needs red clover in order to thrive is the Bombus ruderatus, commonly known as the large garden bumblebee.
Red clover has many different uses – it is a great fodder crop, it increases the fertility of the soil, it makes a wonderful ornamental plant, and is edible and can be used as a garnish and even ground into flour.
Crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum)
Trifolium incarnatum, commonly known as crimson clover, was first found in the Mediterranean region. Since the mid-1800s, however, crimson clover, often known as incarnate clover due to its blood-red blossoms, started being used as a cover crop to help fix nitrogen in the soil.
Despite the fact that it is not a native plant, red clover has become a significant source of nectar for honeybees and other pollinators in the United States, making it a very popular option for gardens as well.
Crimson clover is distinguished from other clover cover crops by its rapid establishment and maturity, an affinity for chilly weather, and capacity to thrive on poor, dry, sandy soils where perennial clovers do not establish well. This variety grows best in sandy loam, although it can thrive in any well-drained soil. It cannot, however, withstand thick clay soil or damp environments.
This versatile plant thrives at temperatures ranging from 4 to 21 °C (40 to 70 °F). Crimson clover will favour cool conditions and will perish in high heat or extreme cold. It can be used as an annual summer groundcover in cold, northern climes, planted in early April as soon as frost risk has gone.
Because it attracts pollinators and has nitrogen-fixing capabilities, crimson clover is a wonderful companion plant for fruit and nut trees, as well as blueberries. The flowers and the sprouts of crimson clover are aesthetically pleasing and are also edible.
They taste quite similar to alfalfa sprouts and can be used as an ingredient in salads, sandwiches, and other savoury dishes, made into tisanes, and even dried and ground into flour.
Another important aspect to consider when growing Trifolium incarnatum a.k.a. crimson clover is the fact that it is considered an invasive plant in some regions of the United States.
You might be wondering what the difference between red clover and crimson clover is – for starters the flower stems of the crimson clover are taller and the seeds are larger. Another important difference is the fact that crimson clover grows faster, tolerates shade better, and is more successful in reseeding.
Strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum)
Trifolium fragiferum, commonly known as strawberry clover will transform your lawn and give it its “pretty in pink” moment. Strawberry clover has similar growth and environmental needs as white clover, but because it tolerates salinity better than other clover varieties, it’s a much better choice for Mediterranean gardens, and coastal or river estuarine environments.
Strawberry clover has smaller pink blossoms, but the florets can sometimes be white as well. This is why it is often confused with white clover.
One way to tell them apart is by paying attention to the size of the flower – even when white, strawberry clover develops small flowers, whereas the more common white clover blooms bigger florets. If your dream is to wake up to birds chirping in your garden, you need to add some strawberry clover, as it attracts birds of all sizes.
Subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum)
Trifolium subterraneum, commonly referred to as subterranean clover, subterranean trefoil, or sub clover is native to northwestern Europe. If you’re wondering why it is called this way, it’s not because this plant grows underground, but due to the way it spreads – the seeds mature in a bur just under the soil surface in the spring.
Subterranean clover does not grow underground, as the plant’s name refers to geocarpy – a plant’s ability to develop seeds underground. This characteristic is not present in other types of clover, making the sub clover a unique variety. This clover seed needs to be either surface planted or just beneath a thin layer of soil, and, in no time, your clover lawn will just take off.
The plant is an annual legume that self-seeds quickly, which makes it a versatile plant that may be used to prevent weeds, control soil erosions, act as a soil conditioner, and natural ground cover for your garden.
Like its relatives, subterranean clover has a wide range of applications, from soil enhancement to attracting beneficial insects. There are various species that thrive in Mediterranean conditions, with the majority of them doing best when planted during late summer or early fall.
The plants will go dormant in the winter but worry not because they return to full growth and bloom next spring. Subterranean clover prefers somewhat acidic soil, as well as warm, rainy winters and dry summers. They thrive particularly in areas where they can enjoy rainfalls of around 15 inches (38 cm.).
Keep in mind, though, that because of its underground propagation, subterranean clover can be quite stubborn so you might have a difficult time if you ever want to completely get rid of it. It will likely be a process that spans over multiple years.
Clover thrives on clay or sandy loam soils. It’s recommended to check your soil’s pH, as clover does best when planted in soil with pH between 6 and 7. If the pH of your soil isn’t in this range, there are some gardening tricks to adjust it. Lime can be used to make the soil more alkaline or peat moss if you want to make it more acidic.
The most appropriate period for planting clover is just after the last spring frost. This period is usually rainy, which will help establish the crops, and common weeds haven’t started taking over the yard, which means there are plenty of nutrients left in the soil.
If you reside in a region with mild autumn weather, planting clover in the fall may also be an option. Just make sure you do so before temperatures go below 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) so that the clover takes root before wintertime.
- White dutch clover seed is a perennial used for erosion control, lawn alternative, food plots, green manure crop, pasture mixtures, ground cover, and many other uses.
- This perennial seed can be grown across the country for deer food plots, erosion control, pasture mixtures, and cover crops in USDA Zones 3 - 10
- White clover helps boost soil nitrogen levels, taking nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. It can also be used an a lawn alternative.
- White Dutch Clover can be seeded by broadcasting the seed on the prepared soil and raking it in lightly. Keep the clover seed continually moist until germination occurs which is usually within 14 days with temperatures of 65 - 70F.
- Seeding Rate: sow seed at 1/4 lb - 1/2 lb per 1,000 square feet or 8 to 10 lbs per acre
When properly cared for, clovers will spread by putting out a stolon – a stem growing horizontally along the surface of the ground. These stems produce roots at nodes, which help the new plants spread and eventually replace the original seedlings.
Mowing frequency and height have a big impact on the growth of your clover lawn. Clover grows best when cut often during the spring. If you choose to mow your clover less frequently during spring, you will start to see larger leaves forming.
This, however, leads to decreased stolon formation. The best solution seems to be frequent mowing without removing too much of the plant each time. This will reduce overall plant height while allowing stolons to keep developing.
Although clover may be able to tolerate dry ground, it is a plant that performs best in soil that is kept evenly moist. In dry soil, clover does not spread that much, so adjust watering according to your garden’s needs.
Clover is well-known for its resistance to pests and plant diseases. This, in fact, is what makes it such a great choice for many gardens if you’re ready to counter its spreading tendencies. Honeybees rely heavily on it for food, so you will be doing some good for nature as well.
Is a clover lawn better than a grass lawn?
Clover lawns have become a popular replacement for traditional grass lawns among avid gardeners. These lawns are usually made entirely of clovers or can contain a mixture of clover and grass to better cover the land. The reason why the grass is also added to the mixture is that it helps the lawn stay green for longer periods of time and prevents patches.
Clover lawn seems to have several benefits over grass lawn, including less mowing and lower watering needs, which saves money and improves your home’s eco-footprint. But perhaps the greatest advantage is the fact that clover has the ability to fix its own nitrogen, requiring little to no fertilizers or herbicides.
The most popular types of clover to use for lawns are either white clover, which stays green almost the entire year and blooms small white flowers to attract pollinators or micro clover, which comprises all small clover varieties. Micro clovers are a particularly good option for high-traffic lawns, as they don’t grow in clumps and will spread evenly.
We want to provide you with the best advice, so it’s only natural to also talk about the disadvantages that come with having a clover lawn. The main disadvantage of owning a clover lawn is the constant need for reseeding if you have a high-traffic lawn.
Constantly walking over a clover lawn will inhibit growth, and you may start seeing patches of bare land. The best way to prevent this is to combine your clover lawn with grass, but even then, you will need to reseed your lawn every 2-3 years.
BONUS: What’s the deal with four-leaf clovers?
There is so much to say about this mystical oddball of nature – the four-leaf clover. Some people spend their entire lives looking for that lucky four-leaf clover, while others talk about finding them all around. Well, before you go on a hunt for this seemingly rare finding, let us untangle the mystery.
It’s common knowledge that finding a four-leaf clover brings good luck, but did you know that St. Patrick is thought to have used the three-leaf clover to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish, and the fourth leaf is regarded to symbolize God’s grace? According to other sources, the four clover leaves symbolize trust, hope, love, and luck, while in the Middle Ages, a clover with four leaves was thought to bless the finder with the power to see fairies.
If you are determined to find a four-leaf clover, don’t waste time searching for it in red, crimson, or strawberry clover fields because this little oddity only happens with white clover. And if you are looking for a proper explanation as to what causes some cloves to develop four leaves, science is yet to come to a conclusion on that.
There are, however, some theories that explain it either as a natural mutation, breeding, a result of genetics, or as a consequence of the plant’s natural environment – exposure to certain chemicals in the soil.
While chances to find four-leaf clovers seem rare, it is believed you should be able to find at least one in a 13 square feet (1.2 square meters) area.
Clover can be a great addition to your garden if you are looking for a mat-forming plant that requires less mowing. Clover can also help you attract honeybees and other beneficial insects to your garden. Its delicate leaves and tiny blooms will brighten the space and keep you will enjoy a green garden all year long.
As you learned, clover, whether you opt for white clover, red clover, crimson clover, or other varieties, makes for a great alternative to grass, and you’re free to enjoy more time lounging on a blanket on the grass instead of worrying about mowing it. And, who knows, maybe you’ll spend this newfound spare time looking for four-leaf clovers to boost your luck?
Are you growing clover in your garden? Let us know in the comments!