Back in the day, lawn seed mixes included clover, because it grows in problem spots where turf grass struggles. Then clover fell from favor, and lawn lovers tried to eliminate it completely. Now clover is back in style. It’s tough, it’s pretty, bees like the flowers, it grows practically anywhere, and it stays green in the heat of summer (when turf grass has turned crispy). With its low-growing habit, soft green trifoliate leaves, and small white ball-shaped flowers, clover is pleasant to look at and walk on. One more reason to take another look at clover: Its roots fix nitrogen in the soil, which helps other plants in your yard.
Common name: Clover, shamrock, white clover, Dutch white clover
Botanical name: Trifolium repens
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 3 to 10
Height: 4 to 6 inches
• Sun: Full sun to part shade
• Soil: Average, well-drained
• Moisture: Medium
• Mulch: None needed.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or by division
Pests and diseases
• Few problems with pests or diseases.
• Like many ground covers, clover has a tendency to naturalize. It spreads by seed and by stolon. If you grow clover in your lawn, or use it as a lawn substitute, you may find it creeping into your vegetable and flower beds, just as turf grass does. Use edging to help keep clover out of places where it’s not welcome.
• You can walk on clover, but it won’t stand up to heavy foot traffic.
• No need to pull up your entire lawn to try growing Trifolium repens. Instead, gradually introduce clover into your yard by spreading the seed in bare patches and problem spots.
• Bees are attracted to clover. Rabbits like to eat it.
• Use clover in a meadow or prairie garden. Or use it as a cover crop—like a winter mulch, which is then tilled under—in your vegetable garden.
• Clover blooms in late spring.
• ‘Purpurascens Quadrifolium’ has dark burgundy leaves edged in mint green.
• ‘Dark Dancer’ is similar (maroon leaves with a green edge) but carries leaves in groups of four rather than three.
• ‘Dragon’s Blood’ has variegated leaves in green, white, and red.
All in the family
• Other plants in the Fabaceae family include soy beans (or edamame), beans, peas, alfalfa, peanuts, lupines, and sweet peas.
• There are three groups of white clover: wild clover, which has the smallest leaves; Dutch white, with medium-sized leaves; and Ladino clover, which is tallest and has the largest leaves.
• White clover is native to Europe but has naturalized across North America.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Trifolium repens courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden’s Kemper Center for Home Gardening)