Is white clover suitable for lawns?


Please confirm or update what I have heard about white clover:

  • It is more drought tolerant than regular lawns (fescue mix for example)?
  • Do bees like it?
  • Will dog urine not kill white clover unlike a regular lawn that leaves dead patches?
  • How tall does it grow?
  • How frequent do you have to mow?
  • Is it a durable substitute for lawns? (walk on, play sports on, picnicking, etc.)
  • Is there any other information on white clover that would be helpful?


Jonathan Foster, Community Education Assistant

Clover is a lovely plant that often gets a bad rap in lawn circles, largely due to its persistence in yards dedicated to turfgrass. I have compared notes with my horticulturist colleague, Rebecca Long, and hope we can provide answers for you.

Clover is more drought tolerant than many types of grass and is absolutely a viable alternative for some dry lawns (though the fescue you mention is one of the more tolerant grass varieties), though it will require plenty of irrigation during establishment. Rebecca’s personal experience and our colleagues at the UNH Coop Extension agree that it will remain green during conditions that typically brown grass, although there is some evidence from our more southerly neighbors at the UMD Coop Extension that higher temperature summers may give different results. Obviously, any plant will eventually suffer from drought, but the difference should hopefully be noticeable in our relatively cooler Maine summers. Additionally, clover is a favorite pollinator plant for bees, as evidenced in the previous source and this article from the Michigan State University Coop Extension. Rebecca cautions (regrettably from personal experience…) that this can result in bees posing a walking hazard for bare feet or sandals, so be aware of that angle.

For height, a 4-8″ max height seems to be a pretty reliable expectation. Keeping it mowed to the lower end of that may help keep it neater and more “lawn-looking,” though it may also interfere with the flowering that attracts bees, so you’ll have to find a balance you’re happy with. Keep in mind that clover readily self-sows, which is helpful when you’re growing it as a crop, but it can also be a little weedy–something to keep an eye on in your flower beds and on the periphery of your yard. Clover does tend to be clumpier and less dense than grass (though white clover is better about this), so it is very often mixed with some grass seed (commonly fescue) instead of grown as a straight 100% field to avoid patchiness.

Clover will tolerate some foot traffic, but I am hesitant to recommend it for heavy traffic areas. It tends to be quite slippery when wet and will crush more easily than turfgrass under prolonged impact. This Purdue Univ posting has similar reservations about its use under those conditions. If you are interested and it’s a feasible trip during the growing season, Rebecca mentions that the Oxford County Extension office in South Paris has a clover demonstration lawn for observation.

The pet urine question is a little trickier. While there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence making the claim online, I’m unable to find any support from sources I consider strongly evidence-based for clover being more resistant to yellowing. So… maybe. I’m sorry not to be able to give you a more definitive answer, but we try to limit our responses to ones backed up by scientific studies and there just aren’t that many that I can find.