Bush Clover (Lespedeza) Guide: How To Identify and Grow Types of Bush Clover

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | May 7, 2024

Woman examines bush clover plant after learning how to identify 5 types of bush clover (lespedeza), colors and varieties, and how to plant and grow bush clover outdoors.

Many gardening beginners love the Bush Clover (Lespedeza thunbergii) plant because it can be staged off to the side or draped around a rock formation, yet still hold center stage in the entire garden environment.

Normally growing up to an average height of six feet, the Bush Clover plant has a nice eye-catching spread of blue-green leaves peppered by purple flowers that smell great and look good.

But if that color is too bold, you can choose from one of the many cultivars revealed below that have bright whites and mellow yellow flowers.

However, growing it unresponsively can be a bad thing, especially in states where the plant is considered invasive.

This complete guide explains everything you need to know about how to identify Bush clover plants, how to cultivate them in your landscape safely and how to ensure they flourish and become a beautiful addition to your outdoor areas without being an invasive problem.

Japanese Bush (Lespedeza thunbergii)

A deciduous shrub in the pea and legume family, the Japanese Bush goes by the name Lespedeza thunbergii. It has trifoliate, blue-green leaves and plenty of rosy-purple blooms on long, arching branches that will quickly enable it to become one of the favorite plants in your garden.6

Bush Clover

(Lespedeza thunbergii)

Flowering Bush Clover image in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Genus: Lespedeza
  • Leaf: The leaves are oval and one to three inches long, with a bluish green tinge.
  • Seed: The black and tiny seeds are one of the easiest methods to propagate this plant.
  • Blossoms: The flowers are a rosy-purple color and blossom in the summer or even into the fall.
  • Native Habitat: Amenable to various soil types as long as there is a good level of moisture and it drains away excess water. Frequently found in open fields, prairies, savannas, and roadsides.
  • Height: 3 to 6 feet
  • Canopy: 3 to 6 feet
  • Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Native Growing Zone: This shrub originated initially in China and Japan and grows well in USDA hardiness zones 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, and 9b.

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Data Deficient


Image Credit: Daderot11

Originating in Asia, this plant is now widespread in Korea, and eastern China, and in addition to those countries, it has been increasing in popularity in the United States since it was first introduced in the 1800s.

It was originally introduced to add stability to the soil in certain parts of the country, and since then it has become somewhat invasive, growing in places it was never intended to be.

Because it is self-seeding, it can quickly spread into cracks and beneath forest canopies to form dense thickets that risk impeding forest regeneration and smothering local flora.

In eastern and some southern states, it has actually been categorized as an invasive species and it is often unearthed and bagged tightly to prevent further encroachment from the seeds accidentally being shaken loose and spreading as far and wide as they please.

When controlled and planted in your garden, it is an ideal option for slopes, cottage gardens, and shrub borders as long as it is exposed to a full daily burst of bright sunshine for six hours and is rooted in moist and well-draining soil.

How To Identify Bush Clover

There are about 45 species that also include the Japanese Round-headed Bush Clover.2 They grow in subtropical regions in Asia, in other countries, and in USDA hardiness zones four to nine.

Many of these types of Bush Clovers have won awards for their brilliant flowers, arching branches, and unusually trifoliate blue-green leaves.

Bush Clover identification graphics showing Bush Clover seed, Bush Clover pink flowers, and Bush Clover leaves in circle frames with a flowering Bush Clover on the right.

The Lespedeza is a dense shrub that grows hundreds, if not thousands, of small, pea-like flowers in colors of bright pink, bright whites, yellows, and stunning purples that can emblazon your landscape with color late into the season when other plants are on the wane.

It is often grown as an ornamental bush that spreads up to widths of six feet and is just as tall, so it’s important to know when you’re embarking on your new landscape gardening project that you factor in how far apart to plant Bush Clovers to prevent a pile-up.

The last thing you’re going to want to see after researching the growing zones for Bush Clovers and where to grow them in your front yard so they get the maximum amount of sunshine a day is for problems to occur because you’ve planted them too close to each other. Allow up to 10 feet so they have more than enough space to spread outward.

These Japanese Clovers, as they are sometimes called, can be grown to cascade over walls to create impressive features, but they can just as easily be used along borders to highlight walkways or enhance flower beds.

When in full bloom, this plant is impossible to ignore and easily recognizable from the shape and color of the leaves, the distinctive flowers, and the sheer density that it displays in the middle of the growing season.

Being deciduous, it will die off in the winter, and, after a hard frost in your area, it is recommended to prune it to the ground so it will grow back strong, healthy, and vibrant the following year.

Bush Clover Growing Zone Guide

If you’re one of those gardeners who often forget to regularly water your plants, you’ll be happy to know that the watering needs for Bush Clover plants won’t take up too much of your time.

Once they are established in your grounds, they require very little care and attention and are very drought-tolerant, although when first grown in pots, they do need a small amount of watering about every nine days.

Soil quality is important and the ideal type drains well and retains a medium level of moisture so the roots can absorb water and nutrients at a nice and steady pace.3 Even if the soil composition is sandy or infertile, the Bush Clover will tolerate these conditions as long as sufficient sun exposure is regularly available.

To get your bush to bloom, it’s best with bright pink flowers or purple flowers, though, the ideal substrate is rich soil. If you have tested your soil before planting any seedlings and it’s found to be lacking in pH or other nutrients, simply mix in some coco noir or perlite into the soil to improve drainage and promote nutrient availability.

5 Best Types of Bush Clovers To Grow for Where You Live

The USDA Hardiness Zone map is an invaluable guide that benefits all landscapers, both professional and amateur.

With just a glance it’s possible to ascertain whether a particular plant species is going to do well in your backyard or is going to keel over dead after just one day in what it may consider to be inhospitable terrain.

Types of Bush Clovers graphics showing images of ‘Gibraltar’ (L. thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’), ‘Samidare’ (L. thunbergii ‘Samidare’), ‘White Fountain’ (L. thunbergii ‘White Fountain’), ‘Edo-shibori’ (L. thunbergii ‘Edo-shibori’), and Lespedeza capitata (The Round-Headed Bush Clover) images in round frames on green background.

Here is a list of just 5 out of the 45 species that would easily spruce up your entire landscape, as long as they are in the correct growing zone and cared for as they need to be treated.

1. ‘Gibraltar’ (L. thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’)

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9

Throughout the late summer and early autumn, the Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ is a popular species that produces a profusion of stunning, rosy-pink blossoms that cover its long, arching branches for many weeks.6

Compared to other plants in bloom at the same time, this one puts up a rather unusual and stunning display of fuzzy leaves that are softer, more delicate, and initially have a silvery shine before becoming blue-green.

2. ‘Samidare’ (L. thunbergii ‘Samidare’)

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 5–9

There are just as many of these beautiful purple blossoms as there are on the ‘Gibraltar,’ but they are somewhat longer, broader, and even deeper in color.

‘Samidare’ actually grows smaller than ‘Gibraltar,’ but it is renowned for its consistent habit and spectacular flower display.

The immature, silvery leaves also provide a beautiful contrast to the deep copper stems before they become green. Whether covered in shimmering ice or covered in snow, the winter season transforms the bare branches of this type of Bush Clover to make it appear just as impressive without its foliage.

3. ‘White Fountain’ (L. thunbergii ‘White Fountain’)

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 5–9

Known for its white flowers that emerge in early August and last into October, the White Fountain has attractive light green foliage during the blooming season.

As the season progresses, it displays weeping tips as the branches arch forward towards the ground. Before it begins flowering, the stems are more erect, and it will look like a different plant after only one year of planting, it will flourish into quite a dense and vigorous bush.

To keep its growing branches under control, pruning them back hard in early spring will also help to rejuvenate them and encourage new growth.

4. ‘Edo-shibori’ (L. thunbergii ‘Edo-shibori’)

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4–9

What makes this species such an outstanding specimen are the contrasting two colors of the flowers that not only draw in admiring states from humans but also beneficial pollinators; it is one of those plants that attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies in their droves.

As Bush Clovers go, it is a stunner, an ornamental bush that looks ordinary in the winter but shines in the summer.

Thanks to its ability to grow in planting zones four through nine, all you have to do is follow a few simple growing steps to completely enliven your landscape and be the envy of your neighbors.

5. The Round Bush: Lespedeza capitata (The Round-Headed Bush Clover)

  • USDA Hardiness Zones 3–8

This is one of the most common types of Bush Clovers that can be found growing wild in open fields and household gardens in most states. These plants, with their beautiful clusters of creamy white and purple flowers, will be a treat for you as they blossom at the beginning of summer.

The elliptical leaves have fine silvery hairs, but that, along with the colors of the flowers, can vary in size and shape depending on the Round-Headed Lespedeza capitata variety.7

In certain types, the leaves are trifoliate, with hairs on the undersides and clusters that can consist of between 16 to 40 pea-shaped flowers that have given this species its round-headed nickname.

So, What Is the Bush Clover Growth Rate?

If you sow the seed of the Bush Clover in a container under the right amount of daily sunlight, and many gardeners often wonder how much sunlight does Bush Clovers need each day, then you can expect it to grow nearly two feet in the first year.

When exposed to about six hours a day, the amount of time and how long it takes to grow Bush Clovers will vary depending on the species and the height you want them to reach.

Allow approximately four years for your Bush Clover plant to grow to its full height. It might take longer if you have a species that can grow beyond six feet and if you want to grow it that tall.

Growing a Bush Clover From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling

There is a large window of opportunity for when to plant Bush Clovers for the best yield that extends from mid-March to the middle of September.

This wide period of planting stretches over months instead of just a few weeks because of the many species and the methods employed to grow your Bush Clover plant to maturity.

Best Growing Conditions for Bush Clover Seeds

If you want your seeds to germinate in the spring, it’s better to sow them outside in the late autumn when they are dormant.

The seeds will start to sprout as soon as the weather warms up after winter, and after the rains of spring have commenced, it will take 14–21 days for the seeds to go through germination under ideal circumstances.4

Closeup shot of Round-headed Bush Clover (Lespedeza capitata), showing green with copper tips fuzzy seed pods.

(Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz12)

When planting seeds in the spring, it’s recommended to prepare them thoroughly by adhering to the following instructions:

  1. Gather your Bush Clover seeds and soak them in room-temperature water for 8 to 12 hours in a plastic soaking cup designed just for this purpose
  2. Once that time has elapsed, you need to rinse them through and shake your receptacle, which should have drainage holes, to remove any water still clinging to the surface of the seeds
  3. Place the cup aside to dry, and then rinse again twice in the following 24 hours, draining completely after each session
  4. On day three, you will notice the seeds beginning to sprout and clump together. Rinse them through to loosen them, and again rinse and drain three times over the next 36 hours
  5. Although this germination process may seem time-consuming and arduous, this repeated rinsing and draining process every 12 hours for the following two or three days will help the seeds sprout faster, and you will notice the difference from when you first started
  6. If you want to forego this method, you can choose to plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep in a container in the late autumn or early winter in your home
  7. After a few weeks of natural cooling, you can then move them outside to a mouse-free area where they will slowly sprout over the preceding two months when the weather improves in the spring

It is undeniable that while out in nature, seeds will remain dormant until the right circumstances are present for their development into the Bush Clover they were meant to be.

That takes time, however, whereas the mastery of a few easy pre-sowing seed treatment procedures will serve to break the seed’s dormancy and promote more uniform and rapid germination.

All of this means is you will be able to plant and grow your new plants a lot quicker.

Other methods of germination require scarification and stratification to turn your seeds into shrubs that involve storing in a cold environment for months which some gardeners prefer,5 but this method is often quicker and just as effective.

Growing a Bush Clover From Cuttings

A few planting tips for Bush Clover plants that you prefer to grow from a cutting will first depend on where and how you sever the cutting from the plant.

  1. Take the cutting from a plant before the flowers bloom
  2. Cut the selected branch at an angle of about six inches with a pair of shears that you have cleaned with rubbing alcohol
  3. Before filling a container with a ready-made potting mix, and then smear the cut end with a rooting hormone
  4. Poke a few holes in the mix, insert your cuttings, and tamp down the soil around them to keep them erect
  5. Water deeply, but do not oversaturate to the point where water is flowing over the brim
  6. Use a clear plastic sheet to wrap around the plant to retain moisture and encourage faster growth
  7. Place the pot in a warm location that is well-lit but not in direct sunlight as this can damage your plant as it grows leaves and turns into a seedling
  8. Get into the habit of keeping a close eye on the soil so it doesn’t dry out, and then water as and when needed
  9. As they grow, the new plants can then be repotted into individual containers until they are ready to be planted outside in your garden

Growing a Bush Clover From Seedlings

Care needs to be taken when transplanting Bush Clover seedlings from a pot to avoid stressing the plant, as this can affect how it grows in your garden.

  1. Extract the root ball from the container and gently loosen the roots
  2. Dig a hole wider than the roots and place the plant inside
  3. Backfill with the same garden soil but mix in vermiculite or perlite to aid in water drainage as well as some organic material
  4. Water around the roots thoroughly and monitor the moisture level every week until the plant has become firmly established in its new home, and in no time at all, it will attract all types of butterflies into your garden

The Best Companion Plants For Growing Bush Clovers

One of the reasons that landscapers recommend planting Bush Clovers is because they add much-needed nitrogen to the soil. Without sufficient levels of this vital component, many plants would lack the ability to create enough chlorophyll or proteins to survive.

Bush Clovers are hardy and easy to manage, yet the addition of certain plants nearby will help to keep harmful insects at bay, as well as add different colors and styles to your garden.

This has long been a technique used by landscapers to create a symbiotic relationship between similar or opposing species of flora or fauna to improve, extend, and protect the health of each other.

Top shot of a good companion plant for Bush Clover, lamb's ear plant showing leaves green and silvery leaves that looks similar to the ears of a lamb.

(Image: Grzegorz W. Tężycki13)

It can also reduce your workload if you can get the combination just right where one plant provides nutrients for another, one provides shade, and another draws in insects that will aid in pollination.

Some of the best plants to have as close neighbors for your Bush Clovers are:

  • Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)
  • Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica)
  • Alternate-leaved butterfly Bush (Buddleja alternifolia)
  • Climbing Rose (Rosa ‘Sally Holmes’)
  • Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis)
  • Purple Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii f.atropurpurea)
  • Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
  • Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

How To Stop Bush Clover Disease Before It Breaks Out

Prevention is better than the cure, and the key to Bush Clover disease prevention in the first place starts with the distance between the plants when you are first planting them.

Powdery mildew is one of the diseases that can plague your plants if you’re not careful. Although not immediately fatal, it can cause damage to the leaves, weaken your precious plant significantly, and stunt its growth and flower production.

To avoid all these headaches, ensure that the airflow is adequate by pruning and plant spacing so mold cannot fester between the leaves.

  1. Clean shears before and after use to avoid the transfer of any pathogens
  2. Clear away any dead leaves or organic material that may harbor any diseases
  3. The use of organic fertilizer with a copper additive will deter the growth of powdery mildew in your garden8
  4. Ensure your plant is getting its daily dose of sunlight
  5. A solution of baking soda, liquid soap, and water is an effective treatment to stop the first signs of powdery mildew before it can spread
  6. A simple strategy is to simply prune away any infected leaves to allow new, fresh ones to grow in their stead

What Are the Common Pests of the Bush Clover?

Fortunately, there are not a lot of insects that decide to plague Bush Clovers.

Beetles such leaf hoppers, long-horn, and broad-headed beetles seem to be the most annoying, but deer, rabbits, goats, sheep, cows, birds, and other small mammals are also pests that tend to feast voraciously on all parts of the plant.

Natural Pest Control for Bush Clover

If possible, the most natural method of controlling any insects that have infected your plant is to either pick them off by hand or cut away the infected section without causing any additional damage.

Failing that option, you can utilize the technique of companion planting, where beneficial bugs such as parasitic wasps are attracted by the other plants and will devour the pests feasting leisurely on your Bush Clover leaves.

Strong spraying of water from a hose is also an effective and simple method of knocking pests from their perch, as is regular spraying with insecticidal soap or even wiping down the leaves with it by hand to clean the bugs away.

Closeup of a Lespedeza bicolor showing green rounded leaves and tiny purple flowers.

(Image: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz14)

Those treatments work wonders for the small pests, but for the larger variety, the only effective treatment is to erect barriers, either a fence or netting, to keep them at bay while the plant becomes established and can recover quickly from quick chewing from a hungry herbivore.

A quick tip to deter rabbits and other mammals from even approaching your plants is for you to sprinkle a layer of red pepper in the area that will get right up their noses. It won’t harm them but will let them know that, as cute as they are, their presence is not wanted.

Bush Clover Facts

Despite its pleasant and attractive outward appearance, the Bush Clover is not appreciated the same in all parts of the United States.

In at least 15 states, it is an unwelcome sight as the roots are so competitive for water and nutrients, that the plant can hinder and harm other nearby plants. To that end, states such as North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, California, Minnesota, and Arkansas actively restrict its growth in the wild and have labeled it as an invasive species.9

Top shot of a bunch of Chinese (Medohagihouki) Bush Clover leaves and stems. on white surface.

(Image: keisotyo10)

Here are a few other interesting facts that are worth knowing.

  • Many Native Americans used parts of the plant to treat rheumatism, relieve joint pains, and make tea from the leaves and stems
  • An antidote for poisons was often made from the roots
  • Amazingly, the taproot can burrow as deep as eight feet and stretch as wide as three feet to absorb any traces of buried water long before other nearby plants can get a chance to slake their thirst
  • These plants, despite their water-stealing faults, are adept at enriching soils and making them more fertile for other plants to grow successfully
  • The prairie Bush Clover (Lespedeza leptostachya) exists in less than a hundred locations in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Illinois and is protected as it is classified as an endangered species

Interestingly, numerous hybrids have developed in nature where the seeds of two or more species have crossed paths and created varieties with a wider array of color profiles and flower shapes.

The Bush Clover plant, although it is considered invasive in a number of states, can be a beautiful addition to your home when planted and controlled correctly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bush Clover

Can You Eat Bush Clover Leaves?

Yes, the leaves can be used as a garnish, but they can also be eaten raw or cooked.

Can You Eat Bush Clover Flowers?

The flowers have long been used to make teas, and some species can be made into jellies and jams.

Are There Any Health Benefits To Eating Bush Clover?

Chinese alternative health practitioners have long hailed the health benefits of eating Bush Clovers included in their herbs and medicines to alleviate digestive problems, and to boost the immune system.1

Bush Clover Symbolism: What Does Bush Clover Symbolize?

In Japanese lore, the Bush Clover is a symbol of perseverance and hope.


1The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. (2014, August 23). All About the Immune System. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/all-about-immune-system>

2University of Maryland. (2023, March 2). Common Lespedeza or Japanese Clover. University of Maryland Extension. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://extension.umd.edu/resource/common-lespedeza-or-japanese-clover/>

3Stivers, L. (2023, January 24). Introduction to Soils: Soil Quality. Penn State Extension. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://extension.psu.edu/introduction-to-soils-soil-quality>

4Reed, J. (2021, March 22). Soil Temperature and Seed Germination. Penn State Extension. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://extension.psu.edu/soil-temperature-and-seed-germination>

5Evans, E. & Blazich, F. (1999, January 31). Overcoming Seed Dormancy: Trees and Shrubs | NC State Extension Publications. NC State Extension Publications. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/overcoming-seed-dormancy-trees-and-shrubs>

6NC State University & N.C. A&T State University. (2024). Lespedeza thunbergii. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/lespedeza-thunbergii/>

7Conservation Commission of Missouri/ (2024). Round-Headed Bush Clover (Roundhead Lespedeza). Missouri Department of Conservation. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/round-headed-bush-clover-roundhead-lespedeza>

8Grabowski, M. (2019). Powdery mildew in the flower garden | UMN Extension. University of Minnesota Extension. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://extension.umn.edu/plant-diseases/powdery-mildew-flower-garden>

9Donne, I. (2018, February 1). Understanding and managing invasive plant species – Gardening in Michigan. MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Retrieved January 31, 2024, from <https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/understanding_and_managing_invasive_plant_species>

10Medohagihouki. Photo by keisotyo. Public Domain. Cropped, Resized, and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 30, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medohagihouki.JPG>

11Lespedeza thunbergii – Longwood Gardens. Photo by Daderot. CC0 1.0 DEED. Cropped, Resized, and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 30, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lespedeza_thunbergii_-_Longwood_Gardens_-_DSC00814.JPG>

12Lespedeza capitata kz01. Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz. CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed. Cropped, Resized, and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 30, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lespedeza_capitata_kz01.jpg>

13Lublin Botanical Garden • Stachys byzantina ~22swcldo. Photo by Grzegorz W. Tężycki. CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed. Cropped, Resized, and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 30, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lublin_Botanical_Garden_%E2%80%A2_Stachys_byzantina_~22swcldo.jpg>

14Lespedeza bicolor. Photo by Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz. CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed. Cropped, Resized, and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved January 30, 2024 from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lespedeza_bicolor_kz03.jpg>