How do you plant cover crops? It’s actually not that hard. In fact, its magnitudes easier than the crops you’ve been used to planting like tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies!
A level landing pad of fresh soil, an even but thick distribution of seeds, covered by another inch of fresh soil. Then wait for the magic to happen! In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know about planting your first cover crop and we’ll do it fast!
What are cover crops?
Cover crops are unique crops that are planted almost solely to protect our garden soils. It’s always been fascinating to me to cultivate a plant not for the harvest but simply as a placeholder in the offseason but that’s precisely what cover crops are for.
They reduce and eliminate erosion, mitigate temperature extremes and improve the soil by building organic matter, stability, air moisture, and nutrient retention. Pretty amazing stuff from one simple plant.
Why and when should cover crops be planted?
Normally cover crops are planted in the fall to provide that winter protection and for maximum effect. The truth is they can be planted at any time and still provide a variety of benefits.
However, most cover crops need at least a three-month growing window to achieve the maximum effect. This does include the germination time so plant accordingly.
We’re having a crazy late winter here this year, this has pushed back the planting of my summer crops by at least a month. However, this will allow me to get a quick cover crop into these two pepper beds here. so let me show you how I do it.
How to plant cover crops
Cover crops like the fall rye are normally grasses or other quick-growing shallow-rooted type plants. The easiest way to plant them is to prep the bed first with a perfectly flat, moist landing pad of fresh soil.
Next, simply broadcast the seeds on top of that soil. Now seeding rate does vary between the different varieties of plants but I aim for at least 30 to 40 percent coverage with the seeds themselves.
This is going to allow them to balloon to 100% coverage or more once they start growing. Cover those seeds with about a half inch of potting soil or sifted compost and wait for the magic.
Grasses like fall rye are best cut down right before the seeding stage. This prevents them from sprouting back up.
I’m not going to get that option here with these beds it’s too quick of her turnaround. So I should be prepared for some sprout back after I cut it down. No big deal though.
Benefits of a cover crop
Cover Crops Have Many Benefits. Soil protection is tops on that list, and rightly so, but their advantages in our gardens go beyond just being a living barrier.
Let’s look at the 3 main benefits of growing a Cover Crop both in or dormant fall/winter beds as well as squeaking them out in the spring when possible!
Well like we’ve already touched on and as part of the name itself, cover crops provide cover. When planted as a thick blanket crops like this fall rye here provide a living protective barrier against erosion, desiccation, wind, temperature extremes, and even frost heaving.
2. Build up the soil
And they go a step further than just protection, cover crops can actually build your soils. First-year garden beds almost always sink. Upwards of 20 to even 30 percent.
We’re lucky here because we have large amounts of compost to build them back up. But it’s a losing game. It’s a losing game without that binding action of an extensive root system.
Cover crops solve this by building and binding that soil and they do this by increasing organic matter, improving the stability of the soil profile, especially at the surface, and increasing air, water, and nutrient retention. All things that a healthy soil needs.
3. Weed control
And the third benefit for our cover crops that’s immediately tangible is weed control. By growing as a thick cover this fall riles smother and outcompete any weeds, both from below and above.
Existing weeds are going to be choked out with ease and incoming weed seeds won’t even have a chance to get started.
Thanks for reading guys.
FAQs on how to plant cover crops
Which cover crop grows fastest?
Fast-growing crops such as buckwheat, Austrian winter pea, Berseem clover, sorghum-Sudan hybrids, rye, annual ryegrass, sudangrass, and oats are perfect for providing temporary cover between crops or on delicate areas.
How late can you plant cover crops?
Although you can plant them later in milder climes, September is an excellent time to sow fall cover crops that will remain in the garden over the winter. Plant cover crops whenever the soil is warm enough to work with and up until midsummer if you wish to grow them in the spring and summer.
Can you mix cover crops?
To use a cover crop for several purposes, it may be possible to blend different species together.
Is Flax a good cover crop?
Flax can be used as a possible cover crop or fiber/oil crop in several minor grain and corn rotations.
How can I cover crops without tilling?
Before it goes to seed, cut the cover crop as short as you can and leave the clippings where they fall.
How long do cover crops take to germinate?
Typically, annual rye seeds germinate in 7 to 10 days. If you plant your cover crop at least three to four weeks before the first hard freeze, it will have enough time to establish itself and safeguard the soil.
Is buckwheat a good cover crop?
The perfect cover crop for no-till farming is buckwheat.