Know Before You Grow: Cover Crops

Know Before You Grow: Cover Crops

Shop for Cover Crops

Cover crops keep the soil healthy and fertile during the dormant months, providing a natural and eco-friendly way to enrich your garden's soil.

Choosing Cover Crop Seeds

Selecting the right cover crop seeds is crucial to meet the specific needs of your garden. Here are some common cover crops and their benefits:

Winter Rye: An excellent choice for suppressing weeds, fixing nitrogen, and preventing soil erosion.

Crimson Clover: This legume fixes nitrogen in the soil, benefiting neighboring plants in spring.

Winter Peas: Another nitrogen-fixing legume that provides an added advantage of being a great forage crop.

Hairy Vetch: A vigorous legume that adds nitrogen to the soil while also improving soil structure.

Buckwheat: Perfect for quick growth, weed suppression, and attracting beneficial insects.

When to Start Cover Crop Seeds

The ideal time to start cover crop seeds largely depends on your region's climate and the first expected frost date. In general, it's best to sow cover crop seeds about 4-6 weeks before the average first frost date in your area. This allows the cover crops enough time to establish and provide sufficient cover for the soil during winter.

How to Start Cover Crop Seeds

Follow these steps to ensure successful cover crop germination:

  1. Prepare the Soil: Clear the garden of any debris, weeds, or remnants of previous crops. Loosen the soil gently using a rake or a garden fork.
  2. Sow the Seeds: Broadcast the cover crop seeds evenly over the prepared soil. For larger gardens, a seed spreader can be helpful.
  3. Lightly Rake: After sowing the seeds, lightly rake the soil to cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, about a quarter to a half an inch deep.
  4. Watering: Water the area thoroughly after sowing to encourage germination. Keep the soil consistently moist until the cover crops are well-established.

Special Considerations

Here are some essential considerations when growing cover crops:

Climate Adaptation: Choose cover crops that are well-suited to your local climate and soil conditions.

Mix and Match: Consider planting a mix of different cover crops. This diversity can improve soil health by addressing multiple needs simultaneously.

Avoid Winter-Kill: Some cover crops, like winter rye, survive winter and resume growth in spring. Others, like buckwheat, are sensitive to frost and die off. Plan accordingly.

Growing Tips

To ensure optimal growth and nourishment for your soil:

  • Regular Inspection: Periodically check the cover crops for pests, diseases, and signs of nutrient deficiencies.
  • Avoid Overcrowding: Ensure adequate spacing between cover crop plants to promote healthy growth.
  • Minimal Disturbance: Refrain from tilling the cover crops in winter, as their roots help hold the soil together and prevent erosion.

What to Do with Cover Crops in Spring

As spring approaches, it's time to incorporate the cover crops back into the soil:

Mow and Mulch: Mow down the cover crops before they go to seed, and leave the cuttings as mulch on the soil surface. This will help return nutrients to the earth and preserve soil moisture.

Green Manure: Turn the remaining cover crop residues into the soil using a tiller or garden fork. This process adds organic matter, improves soil structure, and releases nutrients for your new crops.

View All Know Before You Grow Topics