Whether you're looking to protect your soil through the winter or control weed growth through the summer, cover crops can help maintain a nutrient rich and bountiful garden.
There are many kinds of cover crops to choose from. Some of them you've likely heard of, and others most likely not.
Planting cover crops offers many benefits, and some can even be used throughout the growing season.
Cover crops should be selected based on what you're growing them with and where your growing them.
Benefits of Cover Crops
Also called "green manure" or "living mulch," cover crops can help add more nitrogen to the soil. They also help retain moisture, and aid in more effectively delivering rain water into the top soil where your crops' roots can absorb it.
Some cover crops are ideal for controlling weed growth. Rather than having large, out-of-control weeds sprouting up in your garden, you can have a less intrusive and more manageable cover crop that improves the quality of your soil.
Through winter's frigid temperatures and early spring's torrential downpours, cover crops provide a root system and ground cover to help prevent drying and erosion by wind and water.
Choosing a Cover Crop
What cover crop you choose should depend upon the growing conditions, season, geographic area, and your desired results.
In cold climate areas, it's important to choose a hardy crop that's able to tough out winter weather. The two most common cover crops for cold environments are rye and hairy vetch.
Southern states have a lot more to choose from, because they don't require such a hardy crop. Their mild winter conditions offer many options, and may lend opportunity for living mulches or green manure types.
Green manure is a category of cover crops often used in summer to improve the soil and add organic matter. Living mulch is a category of cover crops used for choking out weeds, and can sometimes grow alongside your primary crops throughout the growing season.
Caring for Cover Crops
Cover crops are relatively easy to manage. They don't require a lot of tending to, but should be monitored for healthy growth.
When your cover crop becomes overgrown, it's a good idea to mow it. Leave it long enough to serve its purpose, but trim it down to keep it under control.
When your cover crops are struggling, especially during very warm or dry periods, you may need to water them to keep them alive and healthy.
Tilling in Your Cover Crop
At the start of a new growing season, you may need to kill your cover crop. While some types can coexist with your primary crops, others will inhibit the germination of your seeds.
To kill your cover crop, mow it extra short. Let it dry for several days, and then till it into the soil. The tilling of the cover crop will allow the decomposition to release nitrogen into the soil while also providing other nutrients and organic matter.
Once tilled, wait several weeks before casting your primary crop seeds. This waiting period allows for the anti-germination compounds to dissipate. Once you've waited a few weeks, you can proceed with planting your new crop.
Planting Cover Crops - Find out How to Protect and Improve Your Soil in the Off Season. Our roto tiller how-to library can help you pick the perfect electric cultivator, gas cultivator, front tine rototiller, rear tine garden tiller or garden tiller accessory.