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How to Grow Microclover—a Lush and Easy Lawn Alternative

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How to Grow Microclover—a Lush and Easy Lawn Alternative

Lawn care can come with unique challenges. Sometimes, there are bare patches, or worse—bare patches where weeds have begun to grow. Or, perhaps your lawn requires too much water or simply takes too much work. But, there’s an easy way to fix some of these issues—microclover. Microclover is a crop that can be grown mixed with your lawn’s existing grasses or planted as a total replacement. Ahead, we reached out to experts to explain what microclover is and weigh the pros and cons of using microclover in your yard.

  • Teresa Watkins, horticulturist and University of Florida master gardener for 24 years
  • Jennifer Rensenbrink, master gardener volunteer with the University of Minnesota Extension

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What Is Microclover?

Microclover is a smaller variety of the more common Dutch clover, Trifolium repens, says Teresa Watkins, horticulturist and University of Florida Master Gardener. Microclover sits low in the grass—just 4 to 6 inches tall—so it doesn’t stand out like a weed and instead fills in the richness of the lawn. It can be used as a complete ground cover or to supplement an existing lawn.

Microclovers tend to be hardy and very cold-tolerant. They can be grown in colder climates up to USDA Hardiness Zone 2. At the same time, they can handle a little heat and can be grown in climates as warm as Zone 9 (though at the height of a hot summer, they may go slightly dormant).

Benefits of Planting Microclover

Our experts outline some of the benefits of growing microclover on your lawn.

Erosion Control

Microclovers can help control erosion because they develop a rather deep and fairly strong root system—roots that can help hold soil in place and prevent washouts from rain. “It is well known that clover species stop erosion and lower the need for fertilizers and herbicides,” says Watkins.

Nitrogen Conversion

“[They’re] also good for converting climatic nitrogen into important nutrition used by turf and plants,” says Watkins. Microclover is a member of the legume family—and like other legumes, it can take climatic nitrogen from the environment (a form useless to plants) and create a helpful form that can be utilized by plants and soil, increasing the health of the soil.

Reduced Mowing and Watering

“Growing shorter than the white and red clovers, microclovers can blend in most turf grasses easily and don’t mind being mowed,” says Watkins. “Microclover is also water-conserving, and its smaller dense leaves can help prevent weeds.”

Durability

Clovers tend to be pretty durable, so if your yard sees a lot of foot, pet, or wheel traffic—particularly concentrated in the same region—microclovers will generally stand up to the stress better than grass.

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Disadvantages of Microclover

For all its many wonderful benefits, microclover isn’t without a downside or two.

Blossoms

One potential disadvantage is that microclovers do bloom. The blossoms tend to be less conspicuous and less abundant than those of other clovers, but some homeowners may think the blossoms look too much like weeds. The blossoms can also attract pollinators—generally a good thing! But it may not be ideal for anyone with insect allergies and who spends time on the lawn.

That said, mowing will remove the blossoms.

Sun Requirements

Microclover needs plenty of sun; it won’t thrive as well in overly shaded areas. You may want to skip microclover if you have an overly shady lawn. 

Potential Spread

Your neighbors are another consideration. “The main disadvantage of clovers is that they do tend to spread and you might end up with confused or angry neighbors,” says Jennifer Rensenbrink, master gardener volunteer with the University of Minnesota Extension. “If you’re going that route, it’s best to talk with them first and make sure they understand why you’re planting it and why it’s great for lawns.”

How to Establish Microclover

The specifics of seeding microclover will depend on whether you’re adding microclover to your existing lawn or starting with a blank slate in pursuit of a lawn with solid microclover.

If you plan to add microclover to an existing lawn, prepare by mowing the grass short and then raking any bare areas for seed. It’s wise to test your soil pH before seeding (and amend as necessary) to give your microclover seeds the best possible start. “Microclover requires an organic-rich soil and full sun,” says Watkins. You can mix the microclover seed with sand to make it easier to sow and then sow as instructed on the seed package. Keep the seed watered regularly during the germination period. With the right conditions, microclover can take about two months to become fully established, says Watkins.

Watkins notes that while microclover is a perennial plant, reseeding will still be necessary as you go along. “Microclover will need to be reseeded every three to five years or mowed each year only after the flowers have gone to seed,” says Watkins.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you grow a lawn with 100 percent microclover?

    Yes, your lawn can be 100 percent microclover. If you’re OK with the look of a clover lawn instead of grass, microclover can make a dense, solid, uniform, and beautiful ground cover. “If it’s grown solely as a ground cover, it doesn’t need mowing or fertilizing,” says Watkins. For areas of your lawn that don’t see a lot of foot traffic or lawn areas that are too awkward or steep to mow, planting a 100 percent microclover lawn can be a real timesaver—and look great in the process.

  • How much does microclover cost?

    Prices of seed and seeding vary widely depending on the region and climate, but on average, you may expect to pay more per square foot for microclover than you might for other types of lawn cover. That said, if the benefits provided by the microclover help the health of your lawn, you may see reduced care and maintenance costs over time. 

  • When should microclover be planted?

    Plant microclover in northern lawns in March through April, says Watkins. “For the south, where there is still adequate rainfall and cooler temperatures, September and October are optimum months.”

  • Is microclover easy to maintain?

    Yes, microclover is very easy to maintain. Microclover lawns are low-maintenance lawns that don’t generally need mowing and require little to no fertilizer. Their deep root systems make it harder for weeds to break through, and their ability to convert nitrogen helps it to self-feed.