Cool season cover crops should be planted after the summer garden starts to fade usually around September to early October depending on your area. They need to be planted and watered daily until they emerge and become established before your first frost. Cover crops are plants that are grown primarily to protect and improve the soil in a garden by added organic matter. They are also known as green manure crops or living mulch. They are used to “rest” or leave a garden area open when you aren’t using it to grow your vegetables.
Reasons to grow cover crops in the garden:
- Soil Health Improvement: Cover crops help prevent soil erosion. When the soil is covered, you will loose less soil. It also helps with improved water retention and better drainage.
- Weed Suppression: Cover crops reduce weeds in your garden by competing with space, water and nutrients.
- Nutrient Management: Certain cover crops like legumes add nitrogen to the garden. Heavy feeders such as summer vegetables deplete the soil of nitrogen.
- Pest Control: Some cover crops release compounds that deter pests or attract beneficial insects, which can help manage pest populations in the garden. Others support the beneficial microbes and earthworms underneath the soil. All of these are important for a healthy soil.
Popular cover crops include clover, hairy vetch, rye, buckwheat, and winter peas. Visit your local garden center or agricultural extension office for info on which one is best for your garden. Many college extension services have information on their websites. I check with the University of Georgia for my area extension.uga.edu/publications.
Incorporating cover crops into your garden can lead to healthier soil, improved plant growth, and more sustainable gardening practices overall.
(Wheat, Rye, Triticale and Buckwheat
(Mustard and Radish)
(Clover, Beans, Peas, Alfalfa, Vetch and Lentils)
A local company in the Chattanooga area sells a bag of various cover crop seeds that contains seeds that will grow in my area. They overwintered well and were still green the next spring.
About 4 weeks before I plant my spring vegetable garden I will cut it down with the weed eater and just allow it to lie there and dry out. I’ll turn it under with a trowel when I’m ready to plant.
Consider planting a cover crop in your raised beds, or row garden this fall. It can lead to a healthier soil, which is a great way to improve your harvest, and reduce the need for fertilizers.
Click here to watch my YouTube Video I made last fall and see the cover crops in my raised beds.