Lesser Trefoil

Botanical Name – Trifolium dubium

Family – Fabaceae

Lesser trefoil general information


Lesser Trefoil

Lesser trefoil is sometimes referred to as yellow suckling clover

Lesser trefoil is an annual turf weed that is related to the clover family of Fabaceae (also part of the pea family). In fact this weed is often referred to as yellow suckling clover and like other clovers it is able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.

It is a major nuisance in all types of managed turf and lawns as it can easily tolerate a low cutting height. It is also found on grassland and waste areas and when left undisturbed, it is capable of growing over 30cm high.

Yellow Suckling Clover

Lesser trefoil is very common in fine turf as it can easily adapt to a low height of cut

Lesser trefoil spreads by creeping runners and seed, it anchors itself into the soil with a deep tap root, which enables it to withstand drought conditions. It is often confused with black medic, as the leaves and flowers have a very similar appearance (the leaf tips of black medic are sometimes pointed, where lesser trefoil are not).

Lesser Trefoil

Lesser trefoil will grow in most soil types, but thrives in nutrient deficient, non-acidic, free draining soils, typical of dry, sandy root zones. Once established it can spread aggressively, as it forms into large patches, eventually choking and suffocating the grass.

Lesser trefoil identification



The leaves are very similar to those of black medic

The leaves are similar to those of white clover, only smaller. They typically measure between 5 – 12mm long and 3 – 7mm wide. Each leaf consists of three leaflets (trifoliate) that are bourne on short stalks, with the centre leaflet on a slightly longer stalk. Although it is difficult to see, the leaves are actually slightly toothed.

Trefoil flowers

The small flowers of lesser trefoil are bright yellow initially, turning brown later in the season. They are produced in clusters and are approximately 12 mm across. The flowering period is between May and September.

Lesser trefoil roots

This weed produces tap roots, enabling it to withstand dry conditions

Prevention and control of lesser trefoil

Ensure the turf is kept in optimum condition with good turf care practices to prevent thin and weak areas of grass, which allow weeds to invade the lawn.

Raking lesser trefoil into an upright position, prior to mowing the lawn will help remove sections of the weed and eventually weaken it.

Regular mowing will help prevent and remove the seed heads. As lesser trefoil is an annual weed, reducing the amount of seed heads will prevent it resurfacing in subsequent years.

Using a grubber, pocket knife or small hand fork this turf weed can be removed, taking care to remove the whole plant.

Individual patches and large infestations of this weed can be treated using a selective herbicide. Although it is a little more difficult to control than white clover, it can still be killed with a single application, especially with the professional turf care weed killers.

Although numerous chemicals can be used to control trefoil, the most effective products contain mecoprop-p, which is very effective against weeds in the clover family.

Recommended chemicals for lesser trefoil control

2,4-D + Mecoprop-p
Fluroxypyr + Clopyralid
Fluroxypyr + Mecoprop-p
Dicamba + Mecoprop-p

Recommended products for lesser trefoil control

Professional products (The user requires the appropriate certificate/s to apply these products)

  • Headland Relay Turf (Mecoprop-p, Dicamba, MCPA)
  • React Ultra (Mecoprop-p, Dicamba, MCPA)
  • Everris Praxys (Clopyralid, Fluroxypyr, Fluosulam)
  • Bayer Longbow (Mecoprop-p, Dicamba, MCPA)
  • Barclay Holster XL (2,4-D, Fluroxypyr, Dicamba)
  • Mascot Greenor (Clopyralid, Fluroxypyr, MCPA)
  • Vitax Esteem (2,4-D, Clopyralid, MCPA)

Products available for non-professioanl use (These products are available from garden centres and DIY stores.)

  • Verdone extra (Clopyralid, Fluroxypyr, MCPA)
  • Resolva lawn weed killer (2,4-D, Mecoprop-p, MCPA, Dicamba)
  • Doff lawn spot weeder (2,4-D, Mecoprop-p, Dichlorprop-p)
  • Vitax Lawn Clear (2,4-D, Clopyralid, MCPA)
  • Weedol lawn weed killer (Clopyralid, Fluroxypyr, MCPA)