How to Improve Your Soil Quality with Cover Crops
Cover crops can provide many benefits for your garden. Whether you have a large or small space, these plants give you an easy solution to many of the issues you may have in your garden.
Here’s what they are, when and how to grow them, and their benefits.
Cover crops are plants you put in open or empty spaces in your garden to benefit the soil. Planting cover crops is as easy as it is beneficial.
First, you need to choose the right cover crop.
Here are some of the cover crops you might choose to plant in the fall:
- Annual ryegrass is easy to establish. It dies back over the winter. Use 2 oz/100 square feet.
- Perennial ryegrass can be established. It has an extensive root system. Use 1 oz/100 square feet.
- Winter rye can grow in low pH soil at cool temperatures. Use 3 oz/100 square feet.
- Oats die back in the winter. They can grow in low pH soil, but it’s important that they have good drainage. Use 4 oz/100 square feet.
- Winter wheat needs fertile soil that isn’t wet or low pH. Use 3 oz/100 square feet.
Some cover plants can be planted in the summer. For these plants, use 1 oz/100 square feet except for buckwheat, which needs 3 oz/100 square feet.
- Sweet clover is great for higher pH soil.
- White clover grows well in low pH soil but needs to be treated with an inoculant.
- Tall fescue can become weed-like.
- If you plant buckwheat, it’s crucial that you don’t allow it to mature. Otherwise, it will reseed.
Plant the cover crop when you have empty garden space during the time of year when that specific cover crop grows well. Start by raking the garden area where you want to plant them. Remove any large stones or other debris. Sow the seeds by broadcasting at the right rate.
Then, rake them again and water them with a finely-misting hose. They grow with little or no extra care. If you’ve used a perennial cover crop, cut it back once if it becomes too tall in the spring.
Benefits of Cover Crops
Cover crops have many different benefits. Like manure, they add organic material to fertilize your garden naturally. When you work them into the soil, their root systems make open passages that help water and air move easily and decrease the soil compaction. They also eliminate the damage to your soil that would otherwise be caused by weeding, tilling, and harvesting, as well as by foot traffic. In this way, they protect the soil structure. They not only retain the soil, but they decrease erosion and slow down the runoff, thereby minimizing the impact of rain on the soil. With the cover crops in place, weeds don’t grow.
Cover cropping can improve your soil dramatically with very little effort. They offer a simple way to increase the fertility of your soil in a very natural way.