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.