Cover Crops for U.S.

September 8, 2016
Barley cover crop

Once your fall crops are done, replenish the soil for the months ahead with cover crops—and give next spring’s plantings a healthier start.

Below is a guide for which U.S. cover crops to plant by region.

What are cover crops?

Cover crops are legumes and non-legumes such as grasses that provide fast-growing ground cover to amend and improve the soil.

Examples of cover crops include: red and sweet clover, peas, buckwheat, oats, rye, and what. Here in New Hampshire, once we harvest and clean an area out, we often plant winter rye.

Why plant cover crops?

Cover crops return nutrients to the soil! They also prevent soil erosion and topsoil loss, block weeds, break up soil compaction, provide organic matter, and restore fertility. If you ask your local CSA or farm stand, you’ll find that many cover their empty fields with cover crops as an alternative to animal manure as fertilizer.

Cover crops may be used in any size of garden. Though cover crops were traditionally used by farmers, they’ve become increasingly popular in backyard gardens thanks to the way they give back to the soil.

When to plant cover crops?

Plant in the late summer or early fall (after harvest) in northern areas and any time in the South.

In most regions, it’s best to plant right after harvest. The cover crops need 4 weeks before a fall frost to get established. Buckwheat can be planted earlier in areas that have already have been harvested.  In the spring, you pull, cut, or till under the cover crops.

Click U.S. Cover Crops to enlarge the chart below.

Click here to see full chart.

 Click here for our chart of Canadian cover crops. 

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Reader Comments

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transplanting flowers

Hi :) Could you please enlighten me as to what the timeline is for transplanting flowers in zone 4b? How many weeks before the 1st frost can I safely transplant a flower/bush, and for them to settle in. Thanks. Sandy

US. Cover Crops

I have a question that I've been unable to get 'Search' to understand or answer. I'll expand on it here.
I reside in SE. OK. near the SW. AR. border. What would be the best Fall cover crops to sow that would be good for my largely clay soil and on which my few goats and various fowl can feed? Thanks.

Cover Crops

We would recommend contacting your local Cooperative Extension Service. They will know more about your area and should be able to recommend a cover crop that best suits your soil and any other needs!

Question about Cover Crops

Hello, my question is what do you do if you want to plant more than one kind of cover crop? I want to use cover crops to prevent weeds growing, prevent the soil from eroding, and lastly, make the soil rich in nutrients.

Cover Crops

The Editors's picture

Hi Reily,

You can plant multiple cover crops in one plot much the same as you would when planting one crop. Be careful of one outgrowing another, though. Find ones with similar or the same days to maturity. We hope this helps!

Cover crops/gardening

There needs to be a new region added to the planting guides - Rocky Mountain region. With our very hot, dry summers and very cold, dry winters and high altitudes, most of the advice and guides are only partially helpful. I would love professional advice from professionals familiar with our climate.

Rocky Mtn cover crops

The Editors's picture

Thank you for your comments, Linda. We will try to provide some help.

• Techniques recommended for/in Idaho may have use for you (great info here—perhaps the best of the lot, actually):

• The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union cites “Sow True Seed” company on one of its pages (, with a link. (Sow True’s web pages are a little tricky; some links are “dead,” such as “About” and the information—including a lot on cover crops—appears below the “boxes”; you’ll understand when you see it.)

• If you are in Colorado (or near) this page may be of value: Do a search/find for “cover crop” or turn to pages 76 and 108 for information. (We did not review the entire doc.)

ª If you are in or near Montana, experts at the State University there did extensive study on cover crops and may be able to provide guidance; see the names/emails here (at the bottom):

• New on using radishes as cover crops:

• buckwheat is a traditional high-altitude cover crop (proper variety is essential):

• Barley is recommended for high altitudes here (and elsewhere):

We hope this helps, Linda.


How do you control grasshoppers for summer and then block them over the winter and hatching in the spring in michigan

getting rid of grasshoppers

The Editors's picture

We looked into a number of sources about this and only one in Australia mentioned the use of cover crops—specifially, white clover, because it attracts insect predators. Buckwheat was also cited as an insectary. Perennial flowers also help to attract natural enemies. There were numerous other ideas for which we can not vouch with direct experience:

• You could try introducing a natural fungus/organic pesticide —Nosema locustae, available as “baits,” commercially called Nolo Bait and/or Semaspore Grasshopper Control—that grasshoppers eat and which causes them to become weak and eventually die. The fatal effectiveness is about 50%, with fewer hatches the year after you use.  The percentage may vary with the amount used. Google the product names for more information.

• Some sources recommend tilling the soil (do not forget to do fence rows and borders) in autumn to bring overwintering eggs to the surface and repeating in spring.

• We have heard pro and con reactions to one source’s idea of using ordinary white all-purpose flour (not self-rising) to defeat grasshoppers. We have no hand’s on experience. It is said that when they feed on foliage that has been dusted with flour, their mouths gum up and they can not eat any more, become ill, and eventually die (no details on that timing). The process involves dusting plants in the morning of a heavy dew and no/little wind. Rinse the plants in two days with a light shower from a hose or the like. Repeat in a week, if necessary. Be aware that for some users the flour gummed up on their plants from rain or even the rinse.

• Finally, keep ducks or chickens. They love grasshoppers!

For the record, we also consulted a couple of coop extensions including yours in Michigan (as it happens, as of 2013 —the date of the post— grasshoppers were not a significant concern but see the links at the bottom of the page; if that’s not enough, you could ask Michigan again). Click through:

From Michigan:

From Oklahoma:

From Nebraska:

i planted red clover in the

i planted red clover in the spring... it did great, got much taller than i expected. Need to find out what to do with it now.... let it go through the winter or dig it in now?

Traditionally, red clover is

Traditionally, red clover is cut twice a year when it is at 50% bloom or greater. With this harvest system farmers end up cutting too late to obtain maximum forage quality. More recently, farmers have been cutting red clover three times during the summer to get a higher quality forage. However, with a three-cut system, farmers are concerned that they may give up yield and persistence.