Planting cover crops in your vegetable garden is a great way to re-introduce nutrients and balance the alkalinity and acidity levels of the soil in your garden beds. Different cover crops will have varying effects on your soil depending on your climate and what was grown in that soil the previous season. Learn which cover crops to plant for best results in your garden for the next growing season!
1. Berseem Clover
This plant belongs to the legume family, and is incredibly efficient at fixing nitrogen back into the soil it is grown in. It grows to about 1 foot high and can withstand temperatures as low as 20° F. Don't let it go to seed in your garden through, as that can cause it to become and invasive weed during future seasons.
2. Hairy Vetch
Another member of the legume family, hairy vetch is a nitrogen fixer that can grow in a variety of soil types. Additionally it is cold and drought resistant, and can be planted in the fall and tilled back into the soil in the early spring as sheet compost.
3. Field Pea
This is a low growing legume that is very hardy, withstanding temperatures as low as 10°F. Field peas also mature late, so the chance of them going to seed before being tilled back into the ground is low. You can even harvest the young leaves for salads!
Buckwheat is an excellent cover crop choice if you are in need of major weed control in your garden beds as it basically wins over the competition of other invasive plants. Since buckwheat is cold sensitive, it is best suited to regions with warmer winters, unless planted in the summertime. Another great addition to salads!
5. Annual Rye Grass
If low nitrogen levels are not a problem in your garden soil, you may want to consider growing a grass such as annual rye grass. This plant germinates quickly and is very effective at controlling weeds. Plant it after you've finished harvesting the last of your fall veggie garden and trap the nutrients in provides by tilling it back into the ground in the spring before it forms seed heads.
6. Winter Rye
A slightly taller grass cover crop, winter rye is best suited for regions with very cold winters, as it can withstand temperatures as low as -30° F. Sow after the last vegetables have been harvested, but before the first frosts set it. Keep an eye on this cover crop as it will go to seed quickly once warmer temperatures resume in the spring.
Oats are easy to grow, and although they fix the least amount of nutrients back into soil, it is a cover crop very tolerant of wet soils. Oats are also rather hardy, surviving at 10 to 20° F.
Barley grows even faster than oats, but isn't quite as hardy of a cover crop, making it suitable for regions with milder winters. This plant is very tolerant of dry soils, but doesn't do well in an acidic environment.
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