Using clover for lawns????? – Turfgrass Science at Purdue University

Using clover for lawns?????

Recently I was contacted by a major newspaper reporter who was writing an article about more sustainable lawn systems, or lawns that would required fewer inputs, and was inquiring about the feasibility of  using clover as a lawn turf. After a brief head-scratching and a few questions about his intent we had a nice conversation and it got me thinking about the practicality of this species for a lawn. First, by definition a “turf” is simply a “covering of mowed vegetation”. Thus, clover has the potential to be a plant that would fit into this system. Here is my short list of strengths/weaknesses of this plant species for a lawn. You can decide if clover would be the right lawn species for you.


  • Possesses green leaves like lawn grass species

  • Does not require nitrogen fertilization because it has the ability to fix gaseous nitrogen from the atmosphere (clover is a legume) = less fertilizer expense

  • Common white clover is a relatively decumbent species and would not be expected to grow higher than about 5-6 inches (=less mowing?)

  • Slow growth rate (=less mowing?)

  • White flowers which some may find attractive (there are other colors as well like Crimson clover, etc.)

  • Irrigation needs for lawn use are unclear


  • Does not form a very dense canopy, when viewed from above you will likely see the soil beneath the canopy

  • Vines may creep into areas like mulch beds, etc.

  • You would not be able to maintain a nice crisp edge along walkways or driveways

  • I would expect the maintained canopy to not be crisp and even but rather somewhat bumpy in appearance

  • Although this is not tested, I would expect this plant to not tolerate foot traffic very well or recover from intense use. Therefore there is a high potential for chronic bare areas (e.g. pet traffic, around children’s play areas, etc.)

  • The availability of sufficient seed or improved “turf-type” cultivars is unclear

The flowers attract honey bees (e.g. consider the “clover honey” you purchase at the store). While attracting bees may increase the ecological diversity of the turf system, many people might find this idea objectionable particularly if they plan to walk or sit on the lawn at the risk of being stung.  Also, contrary to popular belief this flowering period can be lengthy lasting not just a few weeks but actually months.

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