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My lawn is slowly being taken over by clover, I would be ok with this if the clover and the grass embraced diversity, but instead there are patches of one or the other. I understand clover likes soil with low nitrogen levels which probably explains the voracious spreading. I also understand it replenishes nitrogen back into the soil.

My question is, if I let the clover take over, and let it naturally replenish the soils nitrogen level, will the clover recede once the nitrogen levels rise? I am ok with the next year or two (our first kid was just born) letting this process happen, but only if I know I can eventually get back to grass with little effort. I am not ok letting the clover consume my lawn if in a year or two I need to rototill and reseed everything.

Is this approach ok for someone who doesn't have a lot of time to focus on his lawn? If another approach would be to get nitrogen back into the soil, what is a good method? I went to starbucks twice and got big bags of used coffee grounds and spread them over my lawn (pre clover attack) but judging on the current situation, I don't think it did much.

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If you're interested, I can give you a list of herbicides that may be of use. I've found that some are very effective against clover. –  J. Musser Jul 9 at 18:06
    
That would be great, it is white clover to be specific. Also there are dandelions and moss as well. If something works for all of them that would be ideal. My lawn is wet and shady in some areas, and dry and sunny in others. –  treeNinja Jul 9 at 19:31

4 Answers 4

My question is, if I let the clover take over, and let it naturally replenish the soils nitrogen level, will the clover recede once the nitrogen levels rise?

Unfortunately no. Clover is a very tough weed to control and cannot be controlled by fertilization.

You should do a soil test and determine how much fertilizer your soil needs. Depending on your soil and lawn management you will need to add about 4lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet each year. Preferably split into 4 applications, 2 in the spring, 2 in the fall. Unless your soil test indicates otherwise keep phosphorous low.

When the clover flowers, try to mow those areas at a height that will cut the flowers off. Bag them and dispose of them because the seeds are very tough.

In the fall you can dethatch then spray to kill the clover, I used some organic herbicides, then overseed the lawn to fill in thin areas. Keeping a healthy, well fed, and irrigated, disease free lawn will minimize the chances for weeds to germinate and take over the lawn. Proper mowing such as mulch mowing, mowing high, mowing frequently so you never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass as well as proper watering go a long way to control weeds. See my low and no cost lawn care tips.

After you rid your lawn of clover, if you see any knew clover coming up it's easy to pull when young but once established that's very difficult.

Some people don't mind clover in their lawn and in the 50's it was common to include clover seeds in grass seed blends but it has a different texture and color than many grasses.

This UC Davis article on clover might be helpful.

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Thanks for the info! My mower is of the mulching variety, and so I was hoping through the grass clippings, leaves and used coffee grounds i could start to increase the nitrogen levels but it sounds like that it might take me too long, and in that span the clover will just take over my lawn. Thanks for the advice looks like this fall I am in for some work! –  treeNinja Jul 9 at 16:26

I'm sorry to say that the clover will continue to grow and spread in your lawn over time. One of the issues with clover in lawn if you have young children is that it flowers - bees like the flowers, and its really easy to stand on one with a bare foot in summer, and only realise once you've been stung.

You don't say where you are, so I can't say whether there are any effective lawn treatments which will kill clover, other than to state that the only one that did work well in the UK for this was withdrawn from sale 20 years ago. That's probably true for Europe generally too.

Your only other option is to dig it out, patch by patch, and reseed those areas, but in the meantime, applying a high nitrogen feed to the whole area in spring should help to restrain its spread a bit.

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I am located in Massachusetts. Thanks for the information, sounds like I am in for some quality exercise when I finally do get around to tackling this clover. –  treeNinja Jul 9 at 16:21

Okay, this is only useful for those who are not averse to using chemicals. Most selective broad-leaf herbicides are effective with only one treatment, but may take two.

  • Dicamba (3,6-dichloro-2-methoxybenzoic acid), Often used as a three-way with 2,4-D and Mecoprop. Do not use under the driplines of trees and shrubs.

  • Fluroxypyr, often used in a three-way with 2,4-D and Dicamba.

  • Clopyralid (3,6-dichloro-2-pyridinecarboxylic acid) , the active ingredient in Lontrel.

  • Mecoprop (methylchlorophenoxypropionic acid), often used as a three-way with Dicambe and 2,4-D

  • 2,4-D (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), The third most used herbicide in the United States, and used in may herbicide combinations.

  • MCPA (2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid), a very potent herbicide, usually used in pastures, but also in lawns where other weed killers have failed.

Never underestimate the toxicity of these chemicals, and always wear proper protection when applying them. Generally it is best to keep kids/pets off the lawn for at least a week of application. Do not use in waterways/swales, to help prevent ground-water contamination.

I've been using these for years, with good results, but there are also other steps you can take, and they really help keep down clover (and other weeds, for that matter).

  • Mow high. Lawn grass generally likes being taller than white clover does. Also, the grass will do better in dry periods, which helps them stay thick.

  • Reseed bare spots when the clover is out. Weeds germinate best in open spots. Maintaining a thick lawn goes a long way in prevention.

  • Hand-pull seedlings you see, once the initial control has been done. This also goes a long way in weed prevention, and if you aren't using a pre-emergent, can save you a lot of money later from herbicide applications.

  • Fertilize regularly. There are many all-natural lawn fertilizers out there, and these will help your lawn grow thick and strong. Grass (of course) doesn't make it's own nitrogen like clover can, so providing this gives the lawn an advantage.

  • Water the lawn before the grass dies. Clover is more drought resistant than most turf grasses and gets a head start during dry spells when the grass stops growing. I've had too many customers who wanted weed control only, and complained when their grass died during a drought, from low mowing, no fertilizing, and no watering.

  • Many weeds will grow at a lower pH level than lawn grass prefers. Get your lawn tested, and adjust if necessary to 6.0-6.5.

Maintaining a decent lawn means work, but it doesn't have to be back-breaking if you don't mind the occasional use of chemicals.

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These will take care of dandelions as well, as you mentioned you have them in your lawn as well. They will not take care of moss. For moss control, see How can I remove the moss growing on my lawn? –  J. Musser Jul 9 at 20:50

Use glyphosate, Roundup and spray on the clover. Let it work for 3 weeks. Scalp your lawn, mowing it down to 1 1/2". The last time you'll be mowing it that short...

Thatch if there is an 1" of compacted roots, rake up the debris. If you haven't aerated, do so.

Use an aerator that pulls plugs of soil out of the ground and leave them on top to disintegrate.

If you can find a place that makes, sells and delivers this compost made from human poo and sawdust, get enough to cover your lawn one half to one inch. It shouldn't smell or look anything like the original products. Rake this into your lawn, mixing it in with the plugs and soil. The people you purchase this from should be able to come out and spray it on your lawn for you quite quickly.

Get a roller that you fill with water and roll over your lawn, raking when necessary to make a firm, smooth bed for your new lawn.

Then reseed with the best lawn seed for your area you can find. On the label it should say zero weed seed. Spread the seed with a rotary hand spreader. Keep going over it in all directions until you've used the amount of seed stated in the directions on your seed package.

Using a metal leaf rake, lightly rake the seed into the soil.

Roll your lawn again to get good contact of seed and soil.

Water with a fine sprinkler so that just the top inch or so is moist. Don't soak at this point. Do this 3 or 4 times a day or whatever it takes to keep the top moist, continually. When the grass is 3 1/2 " to 4" tall (this should take 2 weeks of watering), allow the soil to dry a bit and mow to 3". No shorter! Make sure your blades are sharp. At this point, use your bagger and put the clippings in your compost.

Fertilize with an organic, extended release fertilizer. I use Dr. Earth's Lawn Fertilizer because it is incredible. Worth the money and lasts longer. Comes with beneficial bacteria that will prevent thatch. Fertilize at least twice per season. Fertilize in the fall with a fertilizer lower in nitrogen than the phosphorus and potassium. Maybe Dr. Earth has a late season fertilizer for lawns by now.

I've redone so many lawns in my career, this was the least expensive, but lots of manual labor and religious watering. The hardest thing was getting people used to the idea of 3" lawns instead of 1" lawns. If your grass seed is like ours in the Pacific Northwest, it grows grass that has, genetically, large root systems. To feed these root systems, the grass needs a minimum of 3" top-growth. I used to use 2 1/2", but 3" made the difference. Any shorter and the grass is stressed. Stressed plants aren't able to compete with weeds. 3" shades the soil, keeping seeds from germinating that are deposited by birds and wind and also keeps the roots cooler, the soil from baking into bricks.

Once you've begun mowing you now need to train these roots to grow deep. This will save water in the long run and make your lawn drought-tolerant. Water so that the water soaks in down to 3" the first week. Allow to dry out. Don't water until your footprints on the grass stay down. Then water deeply, this time to 4", allow to dry until your footprints stay down. Allow to dry out before watering again. Keep doing this until you are watering 6" deep. Note the time it takes to water this deeply. It should take a whole week before you need to water again. Your lawn will be lush, cool to walk upon, no bees pollinating the clover and a deep, healthy green.

Never miss a week's mowing. In fact, mow twice a week if you can. If your blades aren't sharp you'll notice a 'haze' caused by the torn ends of your grass. Get a second set of blades you can sharpen and easily change out for the dull ones on your mower. Make sure the edges of your grass are the same 3" thickness, no lower.

After a few months, you'll notice your grass isn't growing as fast (grass slows its growth past 3" so you shouldn't be taking off much every week anyway) and the color isn't quite as green. Fertilize again just before you water. Use your hand spreader!! No throwing of fertilizer by hand! Blow it off your concrete walks, curbs back onto the grass so you don't risk iron-staining. You shouldn't have to bag your clippings unless you've missed a mowing. If you have, just don't take more than 1/3 of the blade off at a time. This will be tough as your mower will probably be on its highest setting already! I'd use my line trimmer to take off a little at a time with a few days in-between until I could use my mower. I'd definitely use my bagger to suck up the dead grass my weed wacker (line-trimmer)left behind.

Aerate once per year. Water deeply (early in the day as night watering will cause fungus amungus in grass and plaunts) and allow to dry out before watering again. Keep the length of grass at 3". Fertilize with extended release, organic fertilizer 2 - 3X per year. Let it go into winter at 3". Don' t walk on your lawn when it is frosted or frozen. Snow is O.K. If you do walk on your frozen grass it will kill it and you'll have to reseed your footprints in the spring.

How are your edges? Send a picture and I can give you information on how to do your edges, which are pretty important, visually. Also, if you can find that compost, use that on your plant beds instead of bark. You'll be blown away by your plants' health! Don't use coffee grinds! Too acidic! Lawns like a pH of 6.5-7.0. Get a soil test done to find the pH of your soil. If it is too low, use lime and the directions on the package to raise your pH. Do this while you are waiting for the glyphosate to kill the roots of your clover. You should have a second test done anyway after you get your grass growing.

And lastly, you could rent a sod-cutter (all these tools can be rented by the way) get rid of your entire lawn, weeds and grass. Then lime, compost, rake, roll, seed, fertilize, rake, roll and then re-sod. I'd check to see how expensive everything is either way. If you can't find the human sludge/sawdust that is completely decomposed, get bags of the best decomposed compost you can find. No peat moss, too acidic and sheds water. Decomposed means that you shouldn't be able to recognize anything in the mixture. No bad smells, no sticks, stones, chunks of plants. It should be crumbly and uniform in texture. Ask to be allowed to see, feel and smell the stuff before you buy it.

Once you've got a healthy lawn, all that work will have been worthwhile. Let us know what you decide to do and send before and AFTER pictures!

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Completely redo the lawn because of clover? Seems like a waste of resources. 'Then lime, compost, rake, roll, seed, fertilize, rake, roll and then re-sod.' Seed and then sod? –  J. Musser Jul 10 at 3:33
    
btw, turf grass does not like a pH of much over 6.5. References:1,2,3,4,5. You get the idea. This answer makes a lawn seem rather difficult and complicated, while it can be quite simple. I have been doing lawns simply for quite some time. :) –  J. Musser Jul 10 at 3:48
    
A lawn is only as good as the bed prepared for it. Lawns are easy to green, but that isn't true health. Once a good bed's done, proper maintenance is all that is necessary. Once I get the pH up between 6.5 and 7.0 it makes all the difference in the world. I own a great pH meter that I've used for 20 years. I don't have to wait for soil tests. Soil tests show that my pH meter is working, still. I've become a big believer in pH and knowing what different plants need. I just took a third master gardener course in 2012 and pH for lawns was still the same. I'll look into this more... –  stormy Jul 10 at 16:43
    
For pity's sake...I took the scenario totally opposite, which I am familiar. This is what I would do for a lawn that is half clover. If I wanted to do it right the first time. One can always get the gist of what I was trying to say and use it or modify it for their own, true situation. Hey I want you to understand that I am the Queen of Lazy Gardeners. I kid you not... –  stormy Jul 11 at 3:02
    
'the Queen of Lazy Gardeners' Love it! I guess then I'm the King of Hard Working Gardeners. Beat 60-75 hours/week! :) No, I get what you are trying to stay, but I think I picked up a tinge of 'preferring the easier way' from our OP. –  J. Musser Jul 11 at 4:33

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