White clover (Trifolium repens) is a low-growing perennial commonly found in lawns. People are generally unaware of its presence until it puts out small, white flowers, in late spring, which attract bees.
The foliage is trifoliate, giving it its genus name, meaning "having a three-part leaf". But of greater significance than either its leaves or its blooms is its ability to spread and form mats across the surface of the soil. This spreading, which is responsible for its species name, repens, takes place when the nodes along the plant's stems come into contact with the ground. The result is that new roots are put down, essentially forming new plants.
White clover is thought of as a weed by some homeowners. Indeed, this member of the pea family is considered invasive in some parts of North America. It has naturalized across much of the continent, not only in lawns but also in meadows and along roadsides. Others, however, see it as a bona fide ground cover. At the very least, it can serve as a helpful component in a lawn, having a number of good qualities lacking in your turfgrass.
It has greater drought-tolerance than turf and can thrive without applications of pesticides or fertilizer. It has other advantages too, including the fact that it aerates the soil, rarely needs mowing, and holds up well to dog urine.
Others wish to use it in conjunction with turfgrass in a lawn. It was traditionally added to grass-seed mixes for use in lawns where grass, by itself, failed to give good coverage.
|Botanical Name||Trifolium repens|
|Common Name||White clover|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||0.25 to 0.50 feet tall and 1 to 1.50 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial shade|
|Soil Type||Well-drained and evenly moist|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic|
|Bloom Time||May to June|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 10, USA|
|Toxicity||Clover, itself is not poisonous, but it sometimes harbors a fungus that is toxic to horses.|
White Clover (Trifolium Repens) Care
You will find that white clover does not require much care at all. Put it in a spot with slightly acidic soil and good drainage, throw in a bit of shade, and do not let the soil dry out completely. This basic care should be enough for the plant to thrive.
But, because Trifolium repens does spread aggressively, it may move into areas of your yard where you do not want it. Pulling it out will require extra landscape maintenance. So think carefully before you plant white clover unless you do not mind having it take over. At the very least, do not install it near flower beds.
White clover performs best in partial sun, but it tolerates being planted in areas that receive full sun.
The most important soil requirement for Trifolium repensis is good drainage.
White clover performs best in evenly moist soil. It tolerates dry ground but will not spread as much. This can actually be a good thing if you are concerned about the plant spreading out of control.
This highly useful ground cover is a nitrogen-fixer and therefore does not need to be fertilized. This saves you time, effort, and money. Take this fact into account if you are landscaping on a budget. White clover is also a popular crop for overwintering in the vegetable garden. Planted in the fall and tilled under in the spring before vegetables are planted, the clover adds nitrogen needed by your edible plants and also crowds out some of the undesirable garden weeds.
White Clover (Trifolium Repens) Varieties
In addition to the wild plant, improved varieties of Trifolium repens include:
- Micro clover: this is shorter, with smaller leaves
- 'Atropurpureum': sports chocolate-brown foliage with green margins
- 'Dragon's Blood': maybe the most attractive variety of white clover, bearing tricolored leaves (green, red, and white)
White clover is known for being particularly resistant to pests and diseases. This is part of what makes it an appealing choice in many garden landscapes, providing you are willing to overlook it's spreading tendencies. It is a major food source for honeybees.