Does mowing clover help it spread?

Clover is a common plant found in many lawns. It’s known for its low-growing habits and clover-shaped leaves. Some people view clover as a weed, while others see it as a beneficial ground cover. So what happens when you mow clover – does it help it spread or not?

Quick Answers

– Mowing clover too short can damage the plant and promote horizontal growth, potentially helping it spread.

– Leaving clover taller and mowing around it may discourage spreading by promoting upward growth.

– Clover’s tendency to spread is mostly dependent on soil fertility, moisture, and overall lawn management.

– Proper mowing height for lawn grass can help minimize clover encroachment without directly impacting clover growth.

How Mowing Impacts Clover Growth

Clover is a perennial plant that spreads via rhizomes and stolons, which are horizontal stems that root at the nodes. So mowing that damages these horizontal stems and forces the plant to generate new offshoots could theoretically promote clover spreading across the lawn.

However, clover also spreads through seed dispersal. Upright seed heads develop at the ends of vertical stems. If these are regularly removed by mowing, it may reduce seed production and offset horizontal spread through rhizomes and stolons.

Additionally, clover has a prostrate growth habit, meaning the stems tend to grow along the ground. Frequent mowing that cuts off the plant’s growing tips encourages lateral growth. Leaving clover unmowed promotes upward growth as the stems reach for sunlight.

So from this perspective, frequent mowing may encourage clover’s horizontal spreading behavior, while infrequent mowing results in more upright growth that inhibits lateral expansion.

Proper Mowing Height for Lawns with Clover

The ideal mowing height for a lawn with clover depends on the type of grass:

Grass Type Ideal Mowing Height
Tall fescue 3-4 inches
Kentucky bluegrass 2.5-3.5 inches
Perennial ryegrass 2-3 inches
Fine fescue 2-3 inches

Maintaining the proper mowing height encourages deep grass roots, which can help the lawn out-compete clover. This minimizes the need to actively mow or target clover itself.

How Soil Conditions Affect Clover Spread

While mowing habits can influence clover growth patterns, soil fertility is a key factor determining clover’s overall ability to spread in a lawn.

Clover thrives in low nitrogen soils and tends to aggressively expand and fill in bare patches. Grass requires more nitrogen to flourish. So if soil fertility is poor, clover gains an advantage and can readily spread throughout thin, sparse turf.

On the other hand, if the lawn soil has adequate nitrogen levels, the grass can better establish a dense stand and prevent clover encroachment. So even if clover stems are damaged or stimulated by mowing, the grass acts as a barrier to expansion.

Ways to Discourage Clover Spread by Improving Soil

Here are some tips for creating less hospitable soil conditions to restrict clover spread:

  • Perform regular soil tests to monitor nutrient levels
  • Apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer in fall and spring
  • Use compost or compost tea to increase organic matter
  • Overseed thin grass with desirable turf varieties
  • Dethatch and aerate compacted areas to improve drainage

Correcting issues like low nitrogen, poor drainage, or bare patches removes the openings clover looks to exploit. This indirectly limits its ability to expand, without having to mow or target the clover itself.

Moisture Levels and Clover Growth

Soil moisture also plays a key role in clover’s ability to spread. Clover has a relatively deep root system, so it tolerates dry conditions better than shallow-rooted grass varieties.

During periods of drought stress, grass may thin out or go dormant. This allows clover to gain a foothold and spread across weakened turf. Its horizontal stems root down easily into open bare spots.

Conversely, maintaining consistent soil moisture prevents drought stress on grass. Healthy, vigorous turf is better able to choke out clover spread. So while mowing habits play a minor role, irrigation practices that encourage deep grass roots have a much greater impact.

Tips for Managing Lawn Irrigation to Discourage Clover

  • Water early in the morning to reduce evaporation
  • Apply approximately 1 inch of water per week, adjusting for rainfall
  • Use infrequent deep soakings to encourage deep root growth
  • Let soil dry slightly between waterings to prevent fungal issues
  • Avoid frequent light sprinklings that lead to shallow roots

Proper lawn irrigation keeps grass healthy and robust without constant moisture, creating an environment less suited for clover expansion.

Should I Mow Clover Directly?

Rather than mowing clover itself, focus on proper heights and frequencies for the surrounding grass. This minimizes clover’s ability to gain a foothold while avoiding stimulation of new clover growth.

If clover patches are already present, you can mow over them at the same height as the existing turf. But avoid shearing the clover dramatically shorter than the surrounding grass, as this can stimulate lateral expansion.

Spot treating sparse clover infestations with targeted herbicides is another option. But improving overall lawn health through proper mowing, fertility, and irrigation practices provides better long-term clover prevention.

Key Points About Mowing Clover

  • Mowing alone has little impact on clover spread compared to soil fertility, drainage, and lawn health.
  • Maintain proper mowing height for the turfgrass type to encourage deep roots that resist clover.
  • Spot treat sparse clover patches instead of mowing if desired, but improve cultural practices for better prevention.
  • Avoid scalping clover significantly shorter than the surrounding lawn, which can stimulate growth.

Other Methods for Controlling Clover

In addition to proper mowing, fertilization, and irrigation, other clover control options include:


Slitting soil and overseeding with grass varieties that match existing turf will fill in thin or bare areas that clover could otherwise invade.


Thatch buildup blocks water, nutrients, and air from reaching grass roots. Dethatching improves growing conditions to support healthy turf.


Core aeration relieves soil compaction, allowing better development of deep grass roots. This improves density to resist clover spread.

pH Adjustment

Bringing pH into the ideal range for the turfgrass type optimizes nutrient availability. This gives grass a competitive edge over clover.


Mowing practices have relatively little direct impact on clover spread compared to proper fertility, irrigation, and overall lawn care. Focus on maintaining grass health through ideal soil conditions rather than specifically targeting clover mowing.

If clover is already present, continue mowing at the proper height for the turfgrass type without excessively scalping clover. Improving cultural practices provides better clover prevention over the long-term by creating an environment favoring vigorous grass growth.

Targeted herbicide applications, overseeding, dethatching, aeration, and pH adjustment also help limit clover spread. But healthy grass that effectively fills in the lawn is the ultimate defense against clover becoming established and expanded across thin or bare patches.

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