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The effects of spatial location of white clover (Trifolium repens L.) within a perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.)/white clover pasture on stolon and petiole extension were investigated in two experiments, where patch size containing white clover (0·5 m, 1·5 m and 4 m diameter), location within the patch (inside and edge) and cutting height (4 cm and 8 cm) were varied. Stolon extension rate was greater on the edge of a patch (12·1 mm week−1) than inside the patch (7·2 mm week−1). Patch size affected both stolon and petiole extension rate, which were both greater in small and medium-sized than in large patches. It is suggested that the fastest spread of white clover in patchy sward environments should occur from small patches, which could double in diameter during a growing season. Manipulating the heights of vegetation within and outside large patches affected light quality (red-far red; R/FR) at ground level, which was greater under shorter than taller swards and greater under the canopy of the grass matrix than the grass/white clover patch. However, the height differences between adjacent vegetation had little effect on stolon or petiole growth. In May only, stolon extension at the patch boundary was greatest when both patches and the grass matrix had a height of 8 cm.