When to Plant Microclover

Micro-clover has emerged as a popular addition to lawns in recent years. This miniature variety of white clover, known for its smaller leaves and shorter height, offers several advantages that make it worth considering. While micro-clover seeds are now readily available online and in-store, they can still be a bit pricey due to their limited supply. However, the benefits it brings to your lawn might outweigh the cost.

What is Micro-clover?

Micro-clover is a natural variation of white clover that was originally found in European sheep pastures. Over time, certain plants adapted to being regularly grazed by sheep by developing lower-growing foliage that was less susceptible to being eaten. Researchers in the Netherlands and Denmark were able to isolate a strain of micro-clover called ‘Pipolina’ that naturally stays low to the ground and has small leaves. This strain can easily be reproduced from seed.

Dwarf white clover (left); 'Pipolina' clover (right). Photo: DLF

‘Pipolina’ produces trifoliate leaves and white flowers similar to regular dwarf white clover. However, it never grows more than 6 inches (15 cm) in height, even without mowing. If you do decide to mow ‘Pipolina’ occasionally, it will stimulate denser and shorter growth, with a maximum height of 4 inches (10 cm).

The leaves of micro-clover are naturally smaller compared to those of regular white clover. When it regrows after being mowed, its leaves can be as small as one-third the size of dwarf white clover leaves. This smaller foliage blends better with the grass in your lawn, creating a beautiful green carpet.

Unlike regular white clover, which tends to form patches in the lawn, ‘Pipolina’ has a more spreading habit. Once established, it forms a carpet-like appearance, providing a more even effect.

Although micro-clover produces fewer flowers compared to regular dwarf white clover, the flowers it does produce still provide food for bees and other pollinators.

Mixed grass and micro-clover lawn. Photo: Gloco

The Benefits of Micro-Clover

Micro-clover is a legume that forms a symbiotic relationship with bacteria capable of fixing atmospheric nitrogen. This makes nitrogen available not only for its own growth but also for neighboring plants. Having micro-clover in your lawn can improve the growth of turf grasses, reducing the need for excessive fertilization.

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A lawn with micro-clover requires less fertilizer compared to a lawn composed solely of grasses. In fact, nitrogen-rich fertilizers are not recommended for lawns where micro-clover is desired to thrive.

Micro-clover is more tolerant of compacted soils compared to grasses and can even help lighten dense soils, reducing the need for aeration.

Thanks to its deep roots, micro-clover is more drought-tolerant than most grasses and can maintain its green color even in dry periods.

Micro-clover thrives in both sunny and partially shaded areas. However, it is not suitable for shady locations. (Note that turf grasses also struggle in shade.)

When it comes to resisting weeds, micro-clover outperforms grasses and can even outcompete them.

Unlike grass turf, micro-clover is highly resistant to dog urine and de-icing salts.

A lawn enriched with micro-clover discourages lawn-damaging insects, especially white grubs. These beetles tend to avoid laying their eggs in clover-dominated lawns as they provide an insufficient food source for their young.

Micro-clover is remarkably cold-hardy, even in USDA hardiness zones 3 and 2, as well as AgCan zone 4 and 3. Areas with snow cover during winter provide additional protection.

Disadvantages

Despite its numerous benefits, micro-clover does have a few drawbacks.

For instance, micro-clover seeds germinate slightly slower and less evenly compared to grass seeds. As a result, you may need to re-sow certain spots that don’t yield good results initially.

Using pelleted seeds, which ensure better distribution and germination, is recommended. Some suppliers, like Gloco in Canada, exclusively offer pelleted micro-clover seeds.

Micro-clover Lawn or Mixed Lawn?

While it’s possible to sow a lawn entirely composed of micro-clover, it is not without its challenges. A lawn with only micro-clover can be a little uneven, but still attractive with just one annual mowing. By mowing it 3 or 4 times per season, which is much less frequent than with a regular turf lawn, you can achieve a relatively flat micro-clover lawn.

However, it should be noted that having a monoculture of a single species is not ideal. A mixed lawn, in which various plants coexist, provides better resilience against pests, diseases, and other issues that may arise.

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Living Together

Interestingly, micro-clover seems to thrive when it shares its space with grasses and other plants. In the wild, white clover naturally grows in mixed company, typically as part of a meadow.

Another advantage of having a mixed lawn is that clover does not produce thatch, the accumulation of dead grass roots and leaves that forms a protective layer on top of the soil in regular turf lawns. Thatch can leave clover vulnerable to winter damage, especially in colder regions. While winter damage does correct itself as clover fills in over the summer, a monoculture of clover will exhibit more noticeable uneven growth compared to a mixed lawn.

Mixed grass and micro-clover lawn. Photo: Gloco

Installing a Micro-clover Lawn

You can sow micro-clover at any time when the ground is not frozen, ideally during cool seasons with abundant rainfall. In most regions, this would be around 2 weeks before the last frost in spring or late summer and fall, up to 4 weeks before the expected first fall frost. In colder climates, seeds sown too late in the fall may not germinate until the following spring.

Micro-clover thrives in sunny or partially shaded locations with soil that retains some moisture. The soil doesn’t need to be particularly rich, as clover can supply its own fertilizer through nitrogen-fixing bacteria in its roots. While micro-clover is drought-tolerant once established, it is not well-suited for hot and arid climates. It can grow successfully in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 10, especially where nights are not excessively hot.

Planning a Micro-clover Lawn

New Lawn, Overseeding, or Clover Only

To overseed an established lawn with micro-clover, thoroughly rake the area to create a slightly scratched surface for better seed penetration. Alternatively, you can top-dress the lawn with a layer of fresh soil for the seeds to root into. Sow the micro-clover at a rate of about 1/4 to 1/2 lb per 1000 ft2 (225 to 250 g per 90 m2). Keep the soil moist until germination.

For starting a new mixed lawn, begin by thoroughly weeding the area and working the soil to a depth of about 3 inches (9 cm). Rake the soil to even it out while removing stones and debris. Ideally, apply a top-dressing of 1/2 to 1 inch (1 to 2 cm) of good soil, although this step is not essential. Mix 5% of micro-clover seeds into the original grass seed blend and sow them evenly. Lightly rake the area to work the seeds into the soil and keep it moist until germination.

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To establish a clover-only lawn, follow the same steps as for a mixed lawn, but sow only clover seeds. The recommended sowing rate is provided by the supplier or approximately 1 to 2 lb per 1000 ft2 (250 to 500 g per 90 m2).

Maintenance

During the first year, water your micro-clover lawn in times of drought. You may not see many flowers in the first year, but don’t worry. Clover tends to fill in sparse areas quickly with its creeping stems. If any spots remain bare, lightly reseed them.

Once the plants reach a height of 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm), mow them to 3 inches (7 cm) or less. This will encourage the dense carpet of tiny leaves that micro-clover is known for. Depending on your preference for a slightly uneven lawn or a perfectly flat carpet effect, you may need to mow a few more times during the summer.

Leave the clippings on the lawn, as they are rich in nitrogen and other minerals that help fertilize the soil.

The Second Year

From the second year onward, continue mowing as previously explained and water only during severe drought. Allow Mother Nature to take care of your micro-clover lawn, as it will require less fertilizer, especially nitrogen, compared to a lawn composed solely of grasses.

If your micro-clover thins out in certain areas over time, which can happen as clover does not live indefinitely, reseed those spots following the overseeding technique mentioned earlier.

Micro-clover offers a new way to create a beautiful and resilient lawn.

Article adapted from one originally published on May 11, 2016, by Jardinierparesseux. Unless otherwise mentioned, photos are from Gloco.