- Author: Jutta Thoerner
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Jutta Thoerner UCCE Master Gardener
I would like some pointers for a successful cover crop planting. Robert B., Templeton.
Choose what time of the year you want to plant, because seeding can be done in the spring or fall. Let's start with some easy to grow cover crop seeds for fall. Buckwheat, phacelia, fava beans, bell beans, mustard and vetch do double duty as nitrogen fixers, bio mass providers and of course their ability to attract many beneficial insects to your garden. When planting in fall or early winter, the cover crop needs to be cut and composted in early spring before any of the flowers go to seed. Otherwise the plant will use the stored nitrogen for its own seed production instead of leaving the nitrogen in the soil and available for your plantings of veggies or flowers.
For a spring cover crop planting, rye grass is so prolific that if you are not cutting it down or tilling it under quickly, to ankle height, it can grow from ankle to knee high in days. Red clover is another spring cover crop and is often used as an interplant to protect small seedlings, like lettuce, from wind or frost. It will also attract many beneficial insects with its showy blooms.
If you decide on a legume rich mix, (40-60%) inoculate the seeds before planting. This will increase the sprouting rate of the legumes - peas or beans. Follow the instructions on the inoculant bag. Take some care to prepare the planting area, removing weeds and rocks, breaking up clots by using a rake and running the tines through the soil. Now sow in the raking grooves by dribbling the seed in. I always cover the seed, increasing my chances of good germination and a strong stand of cover crop plants, which will choke out any weeds in the spring. After seeding, cover the seed with soil, then gently press the soil down over the seed. A 2X4 board works well. Good contact of soil and seed also increases germination. Keep the area moist. If you time it right, Mother Nature will do the work for you./span>