While it trended decades ago, there is a resurgence in the interest of incorporating clover in turf grasses. In UMASS Extension’s Monthly E-Newsletter, Jason Lanier—UMass Extension Turf Specialist—addresses this topic. The question at hand is: “Recently, in videos on social media, I’ve been intrigued to see clover used in place of turf grass for lawns. Is this something I should consider for my New England lawn?
Jason Lanier clarifies that it’s important to distinguish whether you’re talking about an entire lawn of clover, or clover mixed with turf grasses. The benefits of clover include: low-maintenance, fast-growing, generally drought and heat tolerant, “attractive to pollinators, and perhaps most notably, fixes its own nitrogen supply from the atmosphere on account of a symbiotic relationship with special bacteria” (Lanier, Hort Notes 2023 Vol. 34:4). Since lawns are often criticized for their aesthetic, people overlook the functional work that turf does. These functions include: “helping to protect the soil from disturbance and compaction…providing a durable and uniform surface for recreation, preventing erosion, reducing dust and mud, and mitigating stormwater runoff, among many other beneficial services” (Lanier). Compared to turf, clover cannot accomplish all of these tasks as effectively.
Lanier goes on to discuss the impact of dormancy on clover, other weed susceptibility, best clover varieties, and more. To read Lanier’s response in its entirety visit ag.umass.edu.
Sean’s Take: Residential
Residential Clover is a unique plant and one that—in my opinion—deserves a more permanent residence on the homeowner’s lawn. It attracts pollinators, which are critical for global food production. In addition, clover creates bioavailable nitrogen in the soil from the air. My observations on micro-clover is that it’s not worth the price tag. Micro-clover often ends up cross pollinating with standard Dutch clover as bees feed. As genetics would have it, the dominant phenotype of Dutch clover causes micro-clover to express as a full-size plant after a few years. Consequently, you end up with normal sized clover in your lawn anyhow. So, don’t waste your money. If you or your client are a stickler for a lush lawn, over seed with turf type tall fescues which are more heat and drought tolerant.
Sean’s Take: Athletic Fields
As an athlete, I certainly don’t love seeing clover on sports fields. Clover can be problematic for cleat traction, ball rolling, and surface consistency. If you are seeing it everywhere, consider a higher nitrogen fertilizer, or perhaps more feeds per year. Rye grass, turf type tall fescue and Kentucky blue find a happy medium around 3 pounds of Nitrogen/1000SF per year. Accordingly, if you are underfeeding the turf, nature will find a way and the clover will proliferate and add the necessary nitrogen to the soil. Additionally, clover can thrive in lower pH soils which may be an easy sign to use more lime in your program. Lastly, for an athletic field, use an aggressive over seeding strategy to get a consistent turf playing surface. The combination of increased feeds and increase turf grass will outcompete the clover.
So, if you’re trying to reduce clover in your lawns, note that higher levels of “N can make the grass more competitive which in turn can crowd out the clover. Where N levels are lower, the clover is often more prevalent”. Therefore, switching to a higher “N” fertilizer (8-0-6) and an aggressive over seeding program will, over time, help turf outcompete clover.
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