Protect Your Turf: The Benefits of White Clover

Learn why adding white clover to your yard can deter critters from munching on your precious garden.

  • Adding clover to your lawn distracts rabbits and similar nibbling pests from lilies and other vulnerable plants.
    Illustration by Bill Kersey
  • Spilled birdseed will attract ground-feeding birds, but it will also attract mice and other pests. Clean up the spilled seed or feed only what the birds (and squirrels) will eat in one day.
    Illustration by Bill Kersey
  • Loose birdseed and unsecured trash bins are magnets for squirrels, raccoons, and other pests.
    Illustration by Bill Kersey
  • “The Guide to Humane Critter Control” by Theresa Rooney helps gardeners keep away pests without damaging them or their gardens with pesticides.
    Illustrations by Bill Kersey

The Humane Guide to Critter Control (Cool Springs Press, 2017) by Theresa Rooney helps gardeners keep way pests and critters from their precious gardens safely and organically, as not to hurt the critter or garden. In the following excerpt, Rooney discusses the benefits of adding white clover to your lawn.

Rethink Your Lawn

If you love your turf (and lots of people do), there are things you can do to minimize pest damage. Perhaps you thought I would say pull out all the turf and plant native plants and trees? If you have children or pets, you may need space for them to romp. A nice turf can highlight a beautiful garden. Turf can cool your yard and soften the sound of the neighborhood. Now, here comes the crazy idea—consider adding white clover to your turf.

We Americans have had a love affair with our turf for a long time. Before the 1950s, we allowed clover and dandelions in the grass. Mostly because we didn’t have all the herbicides we do now. But in the 1950s, herbicides became popular. The seed and chemical companies were pretty smart. If you kill all the broadleaf weeds—that may actually benefit the grass—you now have to fertilize the grass. If you cut the grass shorter you may need to water more and use more fertilizer and herbicides. Instead of a short manageable meadow we were to aspire to billiard table-flat green lawns.

If you add clover to your lawn, you may find the rabbits prefer it (and truly they do) rather than your lilies. Woodchucks too prefer clover—it is one of their favorites. Clover is also a great bee attractor and often found in “bee lawns.” Bee lawns are an alternative to traditional grassy spaces that include low-growing plants that flower and provide nectar and pollen for the pollinators. This may include creeping thyme, clover, low-growing sedums, violets, or Canadian ginger. Fescue is also the grass often used in these mixes, as it is a slower-growing grass and doesn’t need the fertilizers that Kentucky bluegrass does. Some of these plants can take a bit of foot traffic and others very little, so they need to be planned and planted according to how the area is to be used. You may find that as you increase the diversity in your landscape, your pest problems seem to lessen or even disappear entirely.

Clover is also a nitrogen fixer. The nodules on its roots allow the plant to pull nitrogen from the air and store it in those nodules. As the roots die, the nodules release that nitrogen back into the soil to the grass roots. If you use a 30-0-15 fertilizer on your lawn, that first number represents nitrogen, the very thing that clover provides free. The clover will not need to be mowed as often as your grass may need to be mowed. More time saved for you. As you add diversity to your turf grass you may notice it seems healthier. It is more able to grow thick and lush. More able to withstand some insect damage, or avoid damage altogether, because the soil is so healthy that none of the “bad” soil insects get out of control. Using products on your lawn that aren’t organic or natural may decrease the soil health and resilience of your lawn, forcing you to use even more products.

What about those dandelions? If you can, let them be! Just mow the flowers before they go to seed—it will keep your neighbors happier. The dandelions are an early flowering plant. They may be one of the few plants in flower when female bumblebees come out of hibernation and are starving. Just recently, the rusty patched bumblebee was put on the endangered list. Yes, a bumblebee is endangered. There may even be some already extinct, as they have not been seen in years. To me, the bumblebee is an iconic part of summer—hearing the lazy buzz and seeing that seemingly impossible-to-fly bee slowly fly past is a treat I enjoy every time.

2/8/2021 4:42:30 PM

For the first time ever this summer in NZ I am experimenting with the 'No Mow' method, which my local city council is trialing alongside one of our city's small rivers, The Avon. I already had good plant diversity with white clover, dandelions, chickweed and yes, docks (which I keep to the edges. )I have seen a huge increase in my lawn's plant and insect numbers and biodiversity in my garden. The birds feed on the grass seed and there is improved water retention of the soil from being protected from the sun. Natural paths have developed where the dogs run and play and my cats love nestling amongst the plants in our "field." It will be interesting to see how the plants change going into winter.

9/7/2019 7:50:58 PM

I planted white clover in my high tunnel of fruit and berries. It does a good job of encouraging pollinators, and it helps keep the weeds down. Smells wonderful, too! It loves the high tunnel warmth and grows 18" tall instead of the regular 4", so we have to mow it. I have to pull the clover away from the tree trunks and smaller berries. We have neighborhood coffees there during the summer, and they are very popular.

2/2/2018 8:15:53 AM

My flowering lawn, with clover, dandelion, chickweed, henbit, violets, grape hyacinth, and more all mixed in with the turfgrass plays a big part on the success of my veggie garden, I am sure. There are plenty of pollinators in my Georgia garden, doing their good work right when I need them to, because the yard provides food for them almost year round! Thanks for the post. -Amy



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