All over North America, people are making the choice to replace their grass lawns with easier-to-manage plants that don’t require so much care. Grass lawns not only require regular cutting, but if you want them to look bright green year-round, you’ll likely have to feed, aerate, de-thatch and water your lawn. Not to mention, some people also take the toxic route of spraying their lawns with herbicides to get rid of dandelions.
Clover is one such plant that requires less tending to than grass and actually helps local pollinators. It also requires little to no fertilization and is completely drought resistant. But with so many people stuck on the idea that grass lawns are the ultimate goal in life, it is difficult to get die-hards to make the switch. Going through a list of clover lawn pros and cons can help anyone make the decision if a clover lawn is the right option for them. But first, we need to discuss the difference between clover and micro clover, because there is quite a bit of confusion between the species!
What is Micro Clover?
Micro clover is an extra-small version of white clover (Trifolium repens) that has been around for decades in Europe. It can be used to create a mixed or pure clover lawn that are shorter than the standard Dutch white clover you see in parks.
Micro clover is basically a dwarf version of white clover, and doesn’t reach higher than 6 inches, even if you never mow it (1). If it is mowed occasionally, it will reach about 4 inches high. The leaves of micro clover are twice as small as those of white clover, and if you mow the lawn, the leaves regrow even smaller! It also doesn’t bloom as much or as often as standard white clover, and if mowed every now and then, it will not bloom at all.
The most widely available form of micro clover in North America is Pipolina. It is more difficult finding it in local garden centers, so buying micro clover online seems to be the best option.
While micro clover was designed for mixed grass/clover purposes, that doesn’t mean you can’t sow a pure micro clover lawn. In fact, a micro clover-only lawn has been tried and tested by many individuals with much success.
Micro Clover Lawn Pros and Cons
Before getting into a project, researching your options is key. That’s why I’ve curated my research to provide you with micro clover lawn pros and cons (so you don’t have to). What I’ve come to find is that micro clover is a much more sustainable and environmentally-friendly option over grass. This is particularly true with so many droughts happening nowadays – I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone switched to micro clover as a result.
So, without further adieu, here are some reasons why you might want (or might not want) to grow a micro clover lawn.
Why Micro Clover Lawns Are Better Than Grass
Are micro clover lawns better than grass? You can easily decide that for yourself once you read over this giant list of pros (compared to the tiny list of cons). First, lets start with the fact that clover fixes nitrogen in the soil (an incredibly important process that helps other nearby plants (and gardens) flourish.
1. Nitrogen Fixer: clovers are actually legumes, which improve the fertility and health fo the soil. By pulling nitrogen compounds from the atmosphere, and in turn putting that back into the soil, clover acts as a great natural fertilizer. Grass that is intermixed with clover will be healthier and greener, because of this nitrogen-fixing aspect.
2. Less Fertilizer: because of its nitrogen-fixing abilities, clover does not have to be fertilized. It acts as its own natural fertilizer!
3. Drought Resistant: with its deep roots, micro clover is much more tolerant to drought than most grasses and will remain green even when the rest of the lawn turns brown. Clover will also remain green during the hottest months of the year when the rest of your lawn may be turning brown. It also turns green very early in the season, and remains green until frost starts to set in.
4. No Mowing: as mentioned above, micro clover doesn’t require mowing, and if you do choose to mow, it doesn’t have to be as often as a grass lawn. At full height, micro clover will reach about 6 inches un-mowed, and 4 inches if mowed every now and then.
5. No Aerating: Unlike grass lawns, clover does not have to be aerated to stay lush and green (unlike grass lawns). Clover tolerates compacted soil better than grasses do, and even tends to reduce compaction (therefore, aerating is kind of pointless). That means more money in your pocket as you save from spending it on lawn care companies to aerate your lawn.
6. No Herbicide: clover is a broad-leaf plant, so applying herbicide will kill the plant. That means less chemical toxicity around your home, and better health for the planet.
7. Ground Cover: clover makes a great filler for spots of the lawn that are dead or just need some filling in. It is also perfect for being planted between paving stones, and looks great, too.
8. Beneficial for Pollinators and Wildlife: the flowers of clover are an important nectar source for pollinating insects like bees. If you don’t mow your clover very often, the plants will start to produce little white flowers that not only look super cute, but help the insects, too. Increasing nectar sources for pollinating insects like bees will improve our ecosystem at large.
9. Repels Pests and Weeds: clover helps discourage insect pests, most of which prefer grasses. It is also resistant to lawn weeds (like dandelion – even though dandelion is a very beneficial medicine), and can even smother them to death.
10. Sun or Shade: clover grows well in both sun and shade. While the shady parts will grow at a slower rate than the rest of the lawn, it won’t do as poorly as grass does when not given enough light.
11. Dogs Can Pee on It: clover is immune to “dog patches” – you know, those dead, dried out parts of the lawn that can’t stand the urea that comes from pee from dogs. While green lawns will turn yellow from dog pee, clover laws stay as green and lush as ever.
Why Some People Might Not Want Clover Lawns
The benefits of growing a micro clover lawn far outweigh the negatives. But there are still a couple reasons why people might not want a full clover lawn (2):
1) Clover stains clothing more easily than grass. However, this is more so for regular white clover than micro clover.
2) Clover might have to be reseeded every 2-3 years to maintain even stand in pure clover lawns (hence why some people might prefer mixed grass-clover lawns as this way, clover will reseed itself enough to maintain a consistent presence).
3) Clover is not durable enough for high-traffic areas. So if you make a lot of use out of your backyard, playing sports and roughing around on the lawn, you might want to consider grass instead.
How to Grow a Micro Clover Lawn
Getting rid of your current lawn to plant clover instead isn’t a process that happens over night. You can grow a micro-clover lawn in just about any season, but it is best if you sow during spring or early summer when temperatures are still cool. If you plant too late in the fall, it might not germinate till next spring.
You can attempt to overseed an established lawn with micro clover by raking the lawn well, and scratching the surface a bit. Then, sow at a rate of 1/4 to 1/2 lb per 1000 square feet. Keep the soil moist until germination.
To sow a clover-only lawn, utilize these steps below (3):
1. Remove Existing Lawn
While over-seeding an already existing lawn is possible, it isn’t as effective as removing the lawn first. If the seeds are broadcast over an existing lawn, germination will be greatly reduced (hence why raking deep into the grass to open up spots of soil is recommended). Removing your existing lawn would be the first step if you want a full-coverage micro clover lawn.
2. Cover with Topsoil
The next step is to lay down an inch or more of fresh topsoil to the planting area to give the new seedlings a helping hand at growing. Topsoil will help retain moisture for the first couple weeks after planting.
3. Spread the Seeds
According to West Coast Seeds, sow micro clover seeds densely at 50g of seed per 100 square feet. You can either sprinkle the seeds by hand, or by spreading with a lawn seeding machine. Spread the seeds evenly by seeding north-south/north-south, and then once more east-west/east-west. Keep some seeds left behind in case you have to fill any holes after the fact.
Water your clover until it is fully established (especially if you live in a hot, dry climate). Ten minutes of the sprinkler twice a day is sufficient, but water according to your needs (and your local climate).
5. Allow Grace Period to Establish
Prevent anyone from walking on the seeds for at least four weeks after sowing so that the plants have a chance of establishing themselves. Micro clover is a tough plant that can handle foot traffic, but it still needs those couple of weeks to establish.
When micro clover first grows, the leaves will be much larger. Once you start mowing it, however, the tight compactness of leaves will start to become apparent. According to West Coast Seeds, the plants respond to mowing by “hugging the ground more, with smaller leaves and shorter flower stems.” Over time, they take on a compact, snug appearance. As the roots grow along the surface, new clover plants will fill in any blank spots. If the clover looks not so happy after mowing, just wait a day or two for it to pick up!