While clover lawns are increasingly popular as a ground cover, if it’s competing against your grass for space and resources, it becomes a problem that needs attention. You may have had to deal with clover in your yard before, and if you have, you know it’s a common weed that stays around throughout all growing seasons.
Clover is one of the first plants to grow in the spring and will stay green until the first frost of fall. When winter comes, the clover sprouts die back, but their root systems remain dormant in the ground. However, perennial clovers aren’t difficult to get rid of if you take the right steps.
Identifying Clover In Your Yard
The most common clover is white clover, which can grow to be about 8 inches tall and will stand out amongst the lawn’s greenery. Clover is a compound weed, meaning it has small groups of leaves on each stem, usually 3 (and 4 if you’re lucky). These little round leaves bunch together and grow in masses that crowd out the grass.
In addition to white flowered species, clover may have purple or yellow flower heads, all of which put out seeds in the fall. They also have a robust root system that spreads out quickly with stolons, or above ground extensions. When clover is present, it’s competing with your grass for space, nutrients, moisture, and light.
Why Does Clover Show Up?
Clover seeds are carried from fields and yards to other places by birds and wind. The resilient plant is able to tolerate poor quality soils since it fixes most of its nitrogen requirement from the air, which allows it to thrive in all sorts of ground types.
While its presence may be a sign of low nitrogen in the soil, clover grows well in healthy lawns, too. Clover can show up if the grass is thin, if the lawn has bare patches, or simply if a few seeds germinate, poke through, and take hold.
Does Cold Weather Kill Clover?
Just because its green sprouts die back when temperatures drop doesn’t mean the plant itself has died. Clover is a perennial plant, meaning it goes dormant in the winter. The clover’s roots will rest underground and resprout in the spring. Like dandelions, clover’s hearty root system can live on for many years if untreated.
How Do I Get Rid Of Clover In My Lawn In The Winter?
Broadleaf weeds like clover and dandelion are most effectively targeted when their leaves are present to absorb herbicides. Post-emergent herbicides can be applied to clover whenever you see it from spring to fall, but in winter, their leaves are shed and the roots go dormant, so it’s much more difficult to target.
The best time to apply herbicide to clover is in the late summer or fall, so the leaves and roots will absorb the herbicide and the cold winter weather will prevent any roots from surviving the damage.
Applying a preemergent in the late winter for early spring growth will block seeds from germinating, but any dormant clover root will resprout when the temperatures are right. Anything that may target the clover roots can damage your grass roots, so it’s best to spot treat clover when its leaves are out.
Weed Killer For Clover
If clover does make an appearance in your lawn, a foliar herbicide (one that is absorbed by the leaves) is the best to get rid of it. These post emergent herbicides are known as systemic weed killers since they are absorbed by the plant and passed throughout its leaf, stem, and root system. This is the best way to target broadleaf weeds, since destroying the root prevents it from regrowing the next year.
An application of pre emergent in the late winter or early spring can prevent any present clover seeds from sprouting and give your lawn the chance to grow in fully and without competition. As with any weed, the first line of defense is the health of the lawn itself. Healthy, dense grass will monopolize the light and space, suppressing present weed seeds.
Selecting An Herbicide For Clover
Since clover is such a common weed, there are many broad spectrum products that will work on it in addition to other weeds like creeping Charlie, dandelions, and chickweed, among many others. Check the labels to be sure it targets clover, and that the product is safe on your type of grass.
Most products for clover will be liquid post emergent formulas that target broadleaf weeds like clover. Make sure you know which type of clover you have (white, red, or yellow) since red and yellow are heartier species of clover than the white flowered ones.
Post emergent herbicides are safe for your lawn when you use on them weeds that spring up in the grass since they are selective, meaning they don’t affect grass the way that they do the weeds. They interfere with an enzyme in broadleaf plants that isn’t in grassy plants, which is why they don’t damage your grass the way they do the weeds.
Using A Surfactant
Many spray-on weed killers are made with a surfactant, or a substance that helps reduce water tension so the liquid is wetter and soaks the weed leaves better. Plain liquid tends to bead on the spacious surfaces of broadleaf weeds, and the leaves can’t absorb it very well. With a surfactant, the water will spread and be more efficiently taken up by the plant.
If you’re mixing your own herbicide to apply with your own sprayer, it’s recommended to add a surfactant to your solution so the liquid adheres better to the clover’s foliage.
How To Apply Herbicide For Clover
Before applying a weed killer, read the labels for the rates per weed type and per grass type. Many plants have temperature restrictions since especially hot weather may evaporate the formula before it has a chance to be absorbed completely. It should be done when temperatures are below 85 degrees, so spring, early summer, and fall are all fine times to apply if you’re seeing clover growth.
Ready-to-go weed killers that you can purchase in bottles are usually spray-on and produce the fine mist that is necessary for the liquid to best adhere to the leaves. If you’re using a handheld or backpack sprayer, a fan tip nozzle will issue the droplets in the light spray that’s most effective.
In any case, make sure to spray on top of the leaves for good coverage, and not to apply in windy conditions. The herbicide may irritate skin, so be sure to wear gloves, long pants, and long sleeves when applying.