Clover is a rather large genus of plants (Trifolium) in the pea family (Fabaceae). These all have one thing in common: their propensity for growing three leaves (hence, tri-folium). They are related to alfalfa (Medicago) and sweet clover (Melilotus), though they are in a different genus. All three are grown as agricultural crops in one form or another. Clover is useful as a source of natural nitrogen for fertilizing fields, forage for cattle and goats (it’s high in protein), and for its flowers (a favorite nectar source of pollinators such as the honey bee). Of course you don’t need to know any of that, because you came here looking to get rid of clover. Obviously it is growing somewhere you don’t want it. Perhaps it is slowly taking over your yard, or choking out some lettuce in your garden. Whatever the case, there are steps you can take to get rid of your clover problem and get rid of it for good.
Best Ways to Get Rid of Clover
Encouraging a healthy, well-fertilized grass lawn will keep out clover and other weeds. Grass, if dense enough, will prevent anything else from growing there. A problem with weed overgrowth is usually a sign of issues with your lawn’s health. A lack of nitrogen is what allows plants like clover to thrive; they don’t need soil nitrogen to exist, as they can absorb it from the air. An overly compact sod base can also lead to weeds. Yearly fertilizing, aeration, and de-thatching will help get rid of your clover problem, or even prevent one from ever starting.
Adjusting your mowing height will help control clover in your lawn. As tempting as it might be to just mow it all down as low as possible, clover is a perennial that can grow from its roots very easily. If the clover is growing in a mix of grass, allowing the grass to grow a little longer by raising the mower deck will help choke out the clover naturally. No sun = no growth.
Manually remove it from smaller areas before it spreads. Clover reproduces quickly via seed and has shoots that spring horizontally across the ground, spreading itself out. If you notice clover, or any weed, popping up where you don’t want it, pull it up. The sooner you pull it up, the better your chances for controlling a potential clover problem. Just be sure to pull carefully, loosening the soil around the roots, to ensure that you get everything out, or it won’t be long before the clover has grown back from its remaining roots.
Use a broad-leaf herbicide to kill clover in larger areas. Sometimes pulling every clover plant manually isn’t possible or practical. If you are trying to control clover in a grass lawn environment, you are lucky in that there are several herbicides available (2,4-D, Mecoprop, Dicamba) that will target the broad-leaf weeds and leave your grass to grow as it did before. Be careful when applying these chemicals, as they can kill most garden plants too, not to mention any bee that happens to be flying by.
Ripping everything up and starting over is another option. Sometimes the weeds win. In this case it is best to scorch the earth and start over. Not literally scorch—that might be dangerous. Apply an even coat of a broad-leaf herbicide, till the soil, add some mulch and fertilizer, and start over—whether that be with sod or reseeding. It would be a lot of work, but then you would know what you are dealing with, and it would be much easier to prevent weeds in the future with basic lawn care techniques.
The Three-Pronged Over-Winter Approach to Clover Control
- In the fall, apply a broad-leaf herbicide or something stronger (like Roundup) to your clover and weedy patches, or, use a plastic sheet to smother the plants.
- In the early spring of the next year use a pre-emergent herbicide or corn gluten to prevent seeds from sprouting in the area. Once the pre-emergent herbicide has diffused, work up the area, apply a lawn fertilizer containing nitrogen, reseed the area and keep an eye on it for weeds.
- If you can keep your lawn healthy and thick, most weeds won’t stand a chance. This means paying attention, looking for signs and symptoms, and making adjustments.
Let it be.
I have to be honest here: My lawn has run rampant with weeds this year and I couldn’t care less. As stated in other parts of the article, clover growth is a sign that your lawn is low on nitrogen. I figure I could spend the money to kill the weeds, and then fertilize my grass artificially, or let nature take its course. The clover, when it decomposes, is going to encourage a lot more grass growth next spring. That’s why it used to be part of lawn seed mixes before the golf course look was in vogue. Besides, it’s green, and from a distance greater than a few feet it is pretty hard to tell the difference from lawn. If you have someone who inspects your lawn any closer than that, then you have bigger problems in your life than clover!
Best Natural Methods for Getting Rid of Clover
Plastic sheeting. Plastic sheeting is a great way to kill an area of plants without using poisons that could harm other plants and animals. It’s as simple as covering an area with dark plastic, weighting it down to prevent it from blowing away, and giving it a couple of weeks in the sunshine. It will get hot, humid, and anaerobic enough under the plastic to cook and kill just about everything. This is great for removing large patches of weeds or grass to make a new garden spot. It is also useful if you wish to get rid of a patch of clover. You can order plastic sheeting from Amazon.
Corn gluten. A great natural product that acts as a pre-emergent herbicide. Corn gluten makes it difficult for seeds to sprout by drying them out, and it doesn’t necessarily hurt established plants. When it breaks down it can also benefit existing plants by providing nitrogen and other nutrients. You can get a bag of Concern Weed Prevention Plus Corn Gluten Meal at Amazon.
Vinegar. Another way to kill unwanted plants is to raise their pH level beyond their tolerance. This is easily done with cheap, versatile vinegar. Mix a gallon with an ounce of dish soap and spray on any plant you wish to kill. Be careful, as it can affect other plants through over-spray or drifting. This solution might not be effective on plants with deep taproots, or grassy-type plants. Their foliage might die off, but they will be able to return given time. Physical removal might be necessary to kill the roots.