Fall-planted cover crops provide many benefits to gardens – The Oakland Press

Put your garden to work over winter by planting a cover crop this fall. Covering the soil with plants that are turned into the soil or smothered and allowed to decompose in spring provides many benefits.

Fall-planted cover crops protect the soil from erosion over winter and reduce stormwater runoff into nearby waterways and storm sewers. They also help reduce weeds by forming a dense mat that increases organic matter, adds nutrients, and improves the soil quality for your plants. These crops also help conserve soil moisture, and many provide welcome habitats for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Oats, winter rye, winter wheat, crimson clover, and hairy vetch are common fall-planted cover crops. The crimson clover and hairy vetch are legumes that can add a lot of nitrogen to the soil when they decompose. Try combining these with non-legumes when possible. Consider purchasing a cover crop mix like the True Leaf Market no-till pollinator-friendly cover crop mix which contains both and helps support pollinators.

Most cover crops go dormant over winter and resume growth in spring. Annuals like daikon radishes and oats are killed by cold winter temperatures. This makes oats a good choice if you want to get an early start to planting in spring.

Plant fall cover crops at least four weeks before the first killing frost to give them time to establish. Cereal rye is an exemption and can be planted right up to the first frost. You can plant the whole garden bed or just the area between vegetables that are still growing.

Remove any weeds, plants, and mulch when planting garden beds.  Loosen the soil and rake it smooth before seeding. Just remove the mulch, loosen, and rake the soil between the rows of actively growing vegetables when planting cover crops in these spaces.

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