Each type of cover crop (whether it be warm or cool season) has different benefits, so choosing the right type or blend of cover crop(s) is very important for your garden! We’re here to give you the tips on how to choose the right cover crop.
What Are Cover Crops?
Cover crops have many benefits for your soil. They provide a natural means to improve soil health, suppress weeds, slow erosion, help control pests and disease. While each cover crop variety has one or two main purposes, it is also beneficial to mix cover crops. Generally, cover crops are sown in your garden space after your growing season. So let’s go through them so you know how to choose the right cover crop.
Types Of Cover Crops
Brown Top Millet provides excellent ground cover for weed suppression during warmer months. It also makes a great livestock forage and green manure for adding organic matter to soils. Millet is a tall, bunching grass that can get up to 12 feet high. Because it is a bunching grass, it forms a “mat” over the soil and provides excellent ground cover. Matures in 60-70 days, making it a very fast-growing cover crop. Because it grows so fast, it is able to grow faster than the weeds that it is being used to suppress. Millet is an ideal cover crop for soils with low moisture, low fertility, and in areas with high temperatures.
Sorghum Sudangrass provides significant ground cover for weed suppression, along with reducing nematode populations as it decomposes. a bunching-grass cover crop that creates a dense mat of vegetation. The tall vegetation looks similar to corn, but with smaller leaf blades. It has deeply penetrating roots that loosen compacted soils, providing aeration and increasing soil drainage. Sorghum Sudangrass is a great addition to soils that have been heavily farmed and may be depleted of nutrients and organic matter. When mowed and incorporated into the soil as “green manure”, it adds significant amounts of organic matter.
Buckwheat is warm-season cover crop that grows fast and works well for small windows where soil building is needed between vegetable crops. grows very fast compared to other cover crop varieties. Because it grows so fast, it is a great option for planting in small windows between spring and fall plantings. A great strategy that will help to break pest and disease cycles to benefit future vegetable plantings. It will mature in 4-6 weeks and produces small flowers that are great for attracting pollinators and beneficial insects to the vegetable garden. Seeds will mature in 2-3 weeks after flowering, so the cover crop should be cut/mowed and incorporated during that time frame.
Sun Hemp adds a significant amount of nitrogen to garden soils, in addition to suppressing weeds and adding quality organic matter. Because it is a legume, this cover crop has the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. It has been reported to add over 100 lbs of nitrogen per acre. A summer annual that performs well in sandy soils and other soil types that may be nutrient-poor as a result of intensive farming.
Iron Clay Peas fixes nitrogen, suppresses weeds, and attracts beneficial insects. Great for planting between the spring and fall gardening season. Performs well in hot climates and is very drought-tolerant. traditionally used on food plots for hunting. However, it also makes a great cover crop to benefit your garden soil in the warmer months. It has many benefits as a cover crop including nitrogen-fixation, and weed suppression. Studies have shown that cowpeas are able to fix between 130-200 lbs of nitrogen per acre.
Black Oil Sunflower is an open-pollinated sunflower variety that can be grown for seed or oil production. It also works great as a warm-season cover crop for purifying soils. It’s used for sunflower seed or sunflower oil production. It can also be very effective when used as a warm-season cover crop. When grown as a cover crop, sunflowers work as a soil cleanser and help to remove any soil impurities that might be present.
SuperBee Phacelia is a heat-loving variety that can be used a cut flower or cover crop. Attracts pollinators, builds soil, and scavenges nitrogen. It quickly forms mycorrhizal fungal associations to improve soil biology for future vegetable crops. It has an elaborate root structure that can penetrate as deep as 30″ in some instances. This makes it a great option for improving aeration and workability in hard, clay soils.