Then in the 1950s a chemical company, to advance a weed killer, used a public relations campaign to declare white clover a weed.

http://americangardening.net/public-relations-campaign-attacks-clover ... Did Monsanto use a public relations campaign to declare white clover a weed?

[Clover] was actually how lawns were done in most of the US for a long time, until Roundup was developed. That shit kills everything except lawn grass, including helpful clover, so the makers went on an enormous smear campaign to convince everyone that clover is a weed. It's not.


Prior to European colonization, the grasses on the East Coast of North America were mostly broom straw, wild rye, and marsh grass. As Europeans moved into the region, it was noted by colonists in New England, more than others, that the grasses of the New World were inferior to those of England and that their livestock seemed to receive less nutrition from it. In fact, once livestock brought overseas from Europe spread throughout the colonies, much of the native grasses of New England disappeared, and an inventory list from the 17th century noted supplies of clover and grass seed from England. New colonists were even urged by their country and companies to bring grass seed with them to North America. By the late 17th century, a new market in imported grass seed had begun in New England.

Jenkins, Virginia S. The Lawn: A History of an American Obsession. Smithsonian Institution, 1994. ISBN 1588345165

Up until WWII, clover was commonplace in American yards. In fact, many grass seed mixes included clover, as it works as an excellent ground cover in areas with poor soils (since it produces its own nitrogen) and won’t hurt your grass.


That is good enough to believe clover was common/commonplace before grass. I mean, the other side (Roundup) said it themselves. I'm still skeptical of the supposed smear campaign by Roundup though. Are there any documents about what changed the American public to adopt grass instead?

  • 7
    I may miss some context, but are clover lawns not common today? Isn't it normal that clover grows along grass? The linked reddit post has some prominent acronyms I'm not familiar with. The only opponent of clover I'm familiar with is thumper. Is it common for people to dislike clover?
    – gerrit
    May 3, 2022 at 10:34
  • 9
    Why are people up-voting this question? The question is based on a total lie, "Roundup … kills everything except lawn grass", from someone named AmiTheAsshole. That's hardly the reputable source that is expected for questions on this site. Remove or replace that first reference, and I'll remove my down-vote. May 3, 2022 at 13:27
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    Gallusrostromegalus is the username (not AmITheAsshole)
    – adamaero
    May 3, 2022 at 13:30
  • 17
    Roundup (glyphosate) kills everything, grass included, so you can't use roundup as a selective herbicide. The claim is nonsense. Further, "weed" is not a precise botanical term; no scientist would say something is or is not a "weed." The definition of weed is a plant you don't want growing where you don't want it. That can mean grass in your flower bed or flowers in your grass.
    – user8356
    May 3, 2022 at 22:06
  • 4
    @IvanMcA, as long as this question mentions "Roundup", it is based on a blatant untruth. Glyphosate is a non-specific herbicide; it kills lawn grass. People commonly used it to kill grass that has grown into driveways and patios, or when preparing soil for a replanting to ensure that nothing but the new seeds will grow in it. ¶ If instead, the question referred to the company as "Monsanto", and their product as "weed-killer" or "herbicide", the claim would then at least be plausible. As it stands now, with the word "Roundup" in it, one doesn't have to be a skeptic to know it's not true.. May 5, 2022 at 12:46

3 Answers 3


Clover was undesirable in US lawns prior to the invention of Roundup.

Roundup (glyphosate aka N-phosphonomethylglycine) was invented in 1971.

However, in Suggested Guide for Weed Control 1967 published by the US Department of Agriculture, clover is considered a weed. See especially page 48 (Table 13: Weed control in lawns and other turf areas).

A 1954 reference, Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society, discusses clover being a weed and relatively primitive methods of control it:

Manuring forms an integral part of the control programme because Clovers tend to flourish in soils deficient in nitrogen. For this reason manuring of the turf in which Clover is a weed should be based on repeated applications of sulphate of ammonia or weathered soot...

The 1937 book The Lawn: How to Make and Maintain It says:

There is one weed that neither ordinary lawn sand nor hand - weeding will have any effect upon - clover

Also, glyphosate (the original Roundup) kills grass! So the first OP reference is way off when it says "kills everything except lawn grass".

  • 24
    I'm not sure this is true -- for example, from 1914: "Clover is not generally regarded as undesirable on the lawn ( indeed it is usually seeded over in order to get a quick green effect ) , and many people advocate its presence..." google.co.id/books/edition/Lawns_and_how_to_Make_Them/…
    – Avery
    May 2, 2022 at 23:14
  • 9
    @Avery clover was acceptable in 1914, yes. And the OP Smithsonian reference says until WW2. But first clover became undesired in lawns, and then Roundup was invented.
    – DavePhD
    May 2, 2022 at 23:27
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    The argument seems a lot more plausible if it were misattributed to "Roundup" but instead originated with some broadleaf herbicide. Clearly for glyphosate it's complete nonsense, regardless of the year it was invented. May 2, 2022 at 23:35
  • 43
    The definition of a weed is A wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants. So it's tautological to say "we don't want clover because it is a weed". If you want it, like it, cultivate it then it isn't a weed. In a monoculture regime, everything is a weed except the one plant you want to grow. May 3, 2022 at 7:45
  • 19
    The Royal Horticultural Society does not sound American. And something that's a weed in agriculture is not necessarily a weed in lawns. Therefore, I think your sources are not providing very strong evidence for the claim that in the US in the 1960s, there was a widespread opinion that clover was undesirable (and thus considered a weed) in lawns.
    – gerrit
    May 3, 2022 at 10:38

You have it half-right, but to get the whole story, we have to go back to World War II.

Insect-related diseases were a huge problem in every war before WWII, and often killed more soldiers than the enemy did. After WWI, the US government put a good deal of money into chemistry towards the purpose of finding effective insecticides.

Enter: DDT. Discovered in 1939 by a Swiss chemist, DDT was issued to soldiers to kill mosquitos, fleas and lice. Not only was it a wonder-chemical that translated to huge increases in farm yield back home, but the technique used to create it opened up a whole new world of potential chemicals just looking for purposes.

One of the most popular of these was called 2,4-D, developed in 1944 during an attempt at creating herbicides that would kill rice and potato plants so as to starve the Axis powers into submission. It had a weird property that made it insanely toxic to broadleaf plants, but relatively safe for grasses. This was great for farmers, as the vast majority of American crops were grasses, and the majority of weeds were broadleaf plants.

But the problem with dramatically increased yields feeding a relatively inelastic population was that eventually, profits would become static. So in 1946, the first name-brand 2,4-D was targeted at non-farmer consumers for use on their lawns: Weedone.

Clovers weren't commonly accepted in lawns before that point, but their root systems made them extremely difficult to remove, to the point that few even tried. Weedone solved that problem quite nicely.

  • 4
    Good answer, but can you support it with some references, and perhaps address whether "Weedone" encouraged people to consider clover a weed? May 3, 2022 at 20:16
  • 2
    I have taken the liberty of adding a reference myself as it was easy to find
    – Avery
    May 3, 2022 at 23:10
  • 5
    @Avery the reference says, however, "'white clover used to be a standard ingredient in every grass seed mix; 75 years ago no one planted a lawn without mixing a little white clover in with the grass seed,'" which is in direct conflict with this answer's (unsourced and incorrect) claim that "clovers weren't commonly accepted in lawns before that point."
    – phoog
    May 4, 2022 at 6:33
  • 2
    The current source states without giving a source "... and through aggressive marketing and advertisements, by the 1950s it began to be regarded as a weed." Essentially this is just a restatement of the claim the OP is asking about. I think we will need a better source.
    – TimRias
    May 4, 2022 at 9:00
  • I have added half a dozen sources. Let me know if these are insufficient.
    – Carduus
    May 5, 2022 at 12:47

According to Ted Steinberg in American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn (2006):

There was only one problem with 2,4-D. It killed clover, one of the most useful “weeds” found in the lawn. Clover, with its ability to take nitrogen out of the air and add it to the soil, provides the equivalent of a free fertilizer treatment. Scotts itself was so sold on clover's benefits that it even marketed, into the mid-fifties, a product called Clovex for better integrating it into the yard. But because it is a broadleaf plant, clover succumbed to 2,4-D, just as dandelions did. So Scotts hedged. “Are you for or against Clover?” asked the editors of Lawn Care in 1956. For those who favored it there was Clovex; for those against, Kansel, “to take it out of your lawn without injury to the grass.”

Scotts and the American public eventually soured on clover. ... Since clover and bluegrass evolved together ... taking it out of the grass mixture made the lawn that much harder to maintain. ... Clover's demise left America's lawns in a state of nitrogen deficiency. To make up for the short-fall, homeowners could have put down a Scotts weed-and-feed product designed to fertilize and "control" clover at the same time. "Do two jobs at once!" crowed an ad for a Scotts product called Bonus. Scotts promoted Bonus as a time-saver when, in fact, homeowners could have saved both time and money by just letting the clover grow. The only bonus, of course, showed up on the Scotts Company's bottom line.

Conclusion: Steinberg finds that a smear campaign against clover began as a way to sell the broadleaf herbicide 2,4-D. As an added bonus for the marketer, this made lawns much harder to maintain, which allowed them to sell fertilizers as well.

  • 2
    This June 1952 Texas government publication explains that clover is undesirable in lawns, despite the nitrogen benefit, and gives reasons babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/… Steinberg is placing too much emphasis on 2,4-D.
    – DavePhD
    May 4, 2022 at 13:21
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    @DavePhD Yeah, from a time when they were also encouraging people to use things like chlordane and lead arsenate on their lawns to "fix" nuisance things like... an ecosystem.
    – J...
    May 4, 2022 at 14:07
  • 1
    @J... but they don't suggest any chemicals to control clover, mowing frequently is their only specific advice.
    – DavePhD
    May 4, 2022 at 14:51
  • 1
    @DavePhD Indeed. I'm really agreeing with you - that the disdain for clover was more a product of general mid-century ideals; of a notion that nature was "primitive" and wild, and that the modern homeowner should present a shrink-wrapped and groomed diorama of a yard. It was as much keeping up with the Joneses as it was better living through chemistry. Unhealthy fashion - like foot binding or corsets in their time. Where toxic chemicals could achieve the desired ends they were used without reservation, but the fundamental ideals were the driving force, and not the the availability of means.
    – J...
    May 4, 2022 at 16:15
  • 3
    @J... In fact, just like corsets, the trouble comes from pointless misuse due to harmful fashion trends. A properly fitted and worn corset is rather wonderful and comfortable (while modern bras are often really bad). When someone tries to convince you to target extreme goals, you probably want to run away :D
    – Luaan
    May 5, 2022 at 13:50

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