Red Clover Growing In Lawns: Tips For Red Clover Weed Control And More
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Red clover is a beneficial weed. If that is confusing, consider its propensity for populating areas in the garden where it is not wanted and add to that the plant’s nitrogen fixing capabilities. It is a paradox; both a benefit and a pest whose presence in the landscape can be either planned or accidental. It is important to have full red clover plant info so you can make up your mind as to whether this plant is an angel or an imp.
Red Clover Plant Info
Red clover has naturalized to North America, although it originated in Europe. It establishes quickly, grows in almost any soil and is hardy in drought and cool temperatures. Red clover has lovely purple flower heads, which are produced in spring. Each head is made up of many small flowers. The plant itself may get up to 20 inches high but generally has a more rangy creeping habit. The slightly hairy stems bear 3 leaflets characterized by a white chevron or “v” on each. It is a short-lived perennial but easily and freely establishes itself.
The plant is a legume, which means it has the ability to fix nitrogen in soil. Farmers and gardeners all over use red clover as a cover crop and then till it in at springtime to release the nitrogen for use by other crops. In addition to cover crop or green manure, the plant is used as a forage crop and hay. It is also a healthy food and can be used as a tea, salad greens, or even dried and ground for flour.
Red clover in yards is often considered a weed but its beneficial properties and beauty should be considered before the gardener pulls the plant.
Red Clover Growing for Nitrogen Release
As a legume, red clover secures nitrogen in the soil which is of benefit to all other plants. Legumes harbor a nitrogen fixing bacteria called Rhizobium in their tissues. The relationship is beneficial to both organisms and the nitrogen is released into the soil when the clover is composted.
When red clover is used as a cover crop, it stops soil erosion, increases porosity, keeps weeds down and is then turned into the soil where it enriches it with the nitrogen loaded bacteria. Farmers and other soil management professionals know that red clover growing on land creates a better planting situation.
Red Clover Weed Control
If you are still not convinced that red clover is beneficial and simply must remove it from your garden, there are several methods of control. Red clover in yards can become invasive and take over wanted plant species.
Professionals control red clover with tillage and applications of dicamba, if necessary. The home gardener will need to use an over the counter product deemed effective as red clover weed control. Always follow the instructions on the container and use any recommended cautions.
Note: Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and much more environmentally friendly.
This article was last updated on
Keep in mind that clover only appears in lawns where there is low nitrogen. It is actually nature's way of strengthening your lawn when the clover grows, it adds nitrogen back into the soil. Eventually, your grass will grow stronger and will choke the clover out. If you can't wait for this to happen, or if clover is a chronic problem in your yard, there are other ways to deal with it.
Physically Remove the Clover
To organically treat and remove clover from your lawn, work toward restoring the nitrogen to the grass.
- Physically remove the existing clover by tilling the soil. The aeration caused by tilling will perk up your soil and prepare the ground to grow healthy grass again.
- Obtain some organic compost and add this to the newly tilled soil.
- Add some grass seed to the soil and water appropriately.
- Give your lawn some time, and green grass will begin to grow, replacing the spots where the clover was.
Apply Sugar and Water
Sugar, any type of cane or raw sugar will do, that is well watered onto the clover will help to kill it and remove it from your lawn.
- Sprinkle sugar over the clover in your lawn (approximately 5 lbs per 1000 square feet of lawn).
- Water it well until the sugar completely dissolves.
This will not immediately remove the clover from your yard, but it will kill the roots while it helps strengthen your lawn, so the clover won't be back next year.
Corn Gluten Meal
Corn gluten meal is sold at nearly all garden centers and nurseries. It will inhibit weed growth organically by releasing organic dipeptide into the soil.
- Spread about 20 pounds of corn gluten meal per 1000 square feet of lawn.
- Water it well and leave it to dry naturally.
Corn gluten meal will also inhibit other weeds from growing in your lawn.
Trifolium Plant Family
teamLumondi / Pixabay
The red clover plant is from the Trifolium genus, which means “3 leaf”. This family includes over 300 various flowering species, all of which are part of the legume family (fabaceae.) Having any member of this large plant family growing in your garden will greatly increase your soil’s health.
Red clover in particular (Trifolium pratense) is definitely my favorite garden cover crop. But why not white clover, arrowleaf clover, crimson clover, or any of the other varieties of the Trifolium family? By the end of this article, you’ll understand the love I have for this amazing little plant.
How to Prevent Clover in Your Lawn
There are a number of ways you can prevent clover from growing in your lawn in the first place.
Spread Organic Fertilizer
Using organic, slow-release, nitrogen-rich fertilizer will make your lawn less hospitable to clover. Some homeowners prefer traditional, fast-release fertilizer because it grows grass quickly and costs less. However, using organic fertilizer will lead to healthier growth in the long run. Common organic fertilizers include cow manure, guano, blood meal, bone meal, earthworm castings, and liquid kelp.
Use Corn Meal Gluten
Corn meal gluten releases organic peptides into your soil, preventing the clover’s growth. This won’t work on existing clover, but will prevent new seeds from sprouting—indiscriminately, so be careful not to use this method if you’ve recently reseeded your lawn.
Luckily, this measure won’t harm existing nearby grass. You can purchase corn gluten meal at your local garden store or online.
Mow Grass High
Clover grows best in grass less than 3 inches tall. This height stresses your grass, making it easier for clover to spread. Mowing your grass high gives it an advantage, making it easier for it to outcompete the clover.
3. Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Andrea_44 / Flickr (Creative Commons)
- USDA Zones 5 to 8
- Drought-tolerant ground cover
If you don’t have the time to mow your lawn regularly, perhaps it is time to replace it with thyme (if you’ll forgive me for that atrocious sentence)! Consider transforming part of your landscape into an aromatic thyme garden.
Thyme is drought-tolerant, often used in the sizzling heat of full-sun rock gardens, and available in a huge array of scents, leaf patterns, and bloom colors. They are hardy through zones 5 to 8, though growers in zone 5 may find that thyme won’t survive the winter as perennials.
It may take a bit longer to get established, but once it does, it should be hassle-free. For areas where you intend to walk, look for creeping varieties like Thymus praecox ‘Coccineus’ or wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus).
Also, if you have children running around your yard, the sensitive, delicate beauty of many types of ground cover won’t be able to handle their active games. No need to bar kids from being kids outside, though. Just plant appropriately! Both thyme and clover (see below) can handle walking, running, or somersaults.