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Planting Cover Crops and Green Manure

Posted Oct 08 2011 1:00pm
A cover crop is a quick-growing crop used to cover exposed ground, prevent erosion or soil compaction, and block weeds. Cover crops such as buckwheat, clover, rye or other grains and legumes add nutrients and humus to the soil when they are cut down, turned under, and allowed to decompose in place. A cover crop that helps build soil health is called green manure.


Cover crops can protect and build the soil in all seasons. Cover crops protect the soil and the beneficial activity of soil bacteria, fungi, and earthworms from heavy spring and fall rain, hot summer sun, and winter winds. Deep-rooted cover crops draw phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals to the soil surface at the same time they are aerating the soil.


Cover crops and green manures can be planted As a gap-filler between growing seasons or between plantings of food crops.

As soil builders in any season: plant a warm-season cover crop followed by a cool-season or winter-hardy cover crop.

As a temporary living mulch to keep weeds down between rows and beds of crops and prevent erosion or compaction.

As a permanent mulch around perennial vegetables and fruit trees and bushes.


Timing. Cover crops can be planted:

In early spring to hold the ground until warm-season crops such as peppers, tomatoes, and melons can be planted; plant early spring cover crops 6 to 10 weeks before warm-season crops turning them under 2 weeks before planting your vegetable crop.

In late spring or early summer (mid-season) after the harvest of spring leaf and root crops and before the planting of summer or fall crops. A heat-tolerant, fast-growing cover crop such as cowpeas or buckwheat can bridge a gap as short as one month.

In late summer or fall after warm-season crops have been harvested; plant winter cover crops at least 6 weeks before the first killing frost. Some winter cover crops will die with the first freeze; others will survive winter and begin growing again in spring.

During growing season as a living mulch to suppress weeds and moderate soil temperature in hot weather; allow 4 weeks for cover crops to begin protecting planting beds and surrounding areas as green pathways.

For a full year to improve infertile or compacted soil or to rejuvenate worn-out soil. A year-round cover crop can choke out perennial weeds and reduce root-knot nematodes as well.


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