Clover isn’t a weed

White Dutch clover
White clover on my lawn

You know spring has arrived when the aisles of big-box stores are filled with sacks of grass seed, lawn fertilizers, and garden poisons. The suburban obsession with green lawns is not ancient; probably inspired by the manicured landscapes of grand estates in Britain and Europe. It fills the coffers of lawn-care companies. I read we have more acreage under lawns in America than farming.

The public is coming around very slowly to see the harm. Lawns are barren deserts for wildlife above and below ground. A lush sward requires pouring pollutants into the soil and hence runoff, as well as the air (from motor mowers). Nothing breaks a peaceful weekend in the garden more than a booming mower except a blasting leaf blower. And yet, homeowners are still in love with a green curbside view of their property. Moreover, local ordinances and home-owner associations sometimes impose penalties on those who neglect to give their lawns a regular short-back and sides. This is happening in the Land of the Free where people otherwise have a castle mentality toward their property.

I won’t preach the conversion of lawns to shrubbery and native plants because many “radicals” have already made the case. Besides, I still have beautiful green lawns, although they are undergoing a succession from grass to clover. Call clover shamrock if a glamorous Celtic name is more appealing.

Fescue browns under the hot summer sun, warm season grasses yellow in winter, and Zoysia enter hibernation. But white clover has the virtues of a perfect mantle. It is green all year-round and drought resistant. Fertilizers are redundant for a plant that improves soil fertility. Clover competes with weeds, resists plant diseases, and can be mowed or grown ankle-deep to make flowers that feed pollinators. Did you know clover is edible in a pinch? And it is a lucky plant that keeps children busy on their knees searching for a four-leafed clover. Lawns shouldn’t be defined by grass. Clover isn’t a weed since weeds are plants in the wrong place.

By Roger Gosden

A British and American scientist specializing in reproduction & embryology whose career spanned from Cambridge to Cornell's Weill Medical College in NYC. He married Lucinda Veeck, the embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America. They retired to Virginia, where he became a master naturalist and writer affiliated with William & Mary.


  1. Great article. Such a shame we ever stopped letting Mother Nature grow what’s best (who can forget the wonderful sight of a wild grass/flower meadow in bloom?) and replaced health-giving plants with sterile, bland and overly tidy lawns which require so much maintenance, both physical and chemical. Why are humans such suckers for ‘fashion’?! Happy to say our front yard is full of ‘weeds’ but the bees and birds love them. Hopefully, in time, more people will come to see the benefits (to all but the agrochemical companies) of letting their manicured lawns return to a healthier, more attractive state.

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