6 Vegetable Garden Cover Crops | Living the Country Life

6 Vegetable Garden Cover Crops

When planting cover crops in your veggie garden, keep these valuable versatiles in mind.
  • Getting Started

    Vegetable growers have the advantage of growing vegetables in different seasons with different maturity dates. This provides the flexibility to incorporate cover crops throughout the growing season. Cover crops are nutrient-rich winter blankets for soil. They hold soil in place, preventing erosion during winter, and then in early spring many cover crops can be incorporated in to the soil, where plants decompose and add valuable nutrients to your plot. Planting cover crops annually can make a measurable difference in the fertility and tilth of soil. 

    Plant your cover crops after finishing cleaning up the remains of your summer garden; in mild winter areas, do so in October. In cold winter areas, plant around the first light frost. Cover crops are usually direct-seeded into the soil. All-purpose cover crops like mustard grow quickly, cut easily, and attract pollinators. Cover crops generally add biomass and help with disease control. In early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked, till or dig the cover crop into the soil. The plants quickly decompose and the soil will be ready for planting in a few weeks. 

    Follow our advice on the most versatile cover crops and their uses!


    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017
  • Buckwheat

    Using cover crops in vegetable production systems can improve nutrient cycling, support soil microorganisms, and add organic matter. Buckwheat is often used to suppress weeds, prevent erosion and scavenge nutrients such as phosphorus and calcium. 

    Buckwheat should be planted in the spring or summer and turned under in the summer or fall. It grows the quickest in the shortest amount of time compared to other cover crops. 

    Buckwheat should be turned over no more than 10 days after plants begin to flower (four to seven weeks after planting) to prevent the plant from reseeding and becoming a weed. 

    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017
  • Fava Beans

    Cover crops are to be used in the vegetables' fallow period, which gives them usage flexibility. Fava beans are a legume, sown in early spring or late summer. If planted in early spring, you can grow late vegetables. Fava beans will grow in many soil types and have a medium drought tolerance. Its preferance for cool weather makes it a good cover crop to use in mountain areas.

    This particular cover crop is used to improve organic matter and is a natural source of nitrogen. 

    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017
  • Cereal Rye

    Cereal rye, or winter rye, is commonly used as a winter cover crop. It germinates uniformly, and grows well in the spring, so growers can manage it in different ways. It can either be tilled under before planting vegetables, or rolled down and used as a mulch to suppress weeds. Cereal rye is a popular crop that works well for vegetable growers of all kinds.

    Most fall-planted cover crops do not reach adequate maturation to provide winter soil protection, but cereal rye can germinate and grow under colder conditions than other cover crops. 

    Cereal rye is a very hardy cover crop that can be planted up until late October. Rye's deep roots help prevent compaction and have a postiive effect on soil tilth. 

    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017
  • Crimson Clover

    Crimson clover is a winter kill, herbaceous legume that should be planted in the spring or fall and turned under in the fall or spring. If planted in the fall, it should be done before mid-September. 

    It will grow well in poor soil and thrive in sandy or clay dirt. The primary growing areas for crimson clover are the Southeast and the southern Atlantic coastal states. 

    Crimson clover can be used as winter cover for soil protection or green manure crop for soil improvement. It can also be used to attract pollinators. 

    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017
  • Peas

    Winter peas are grown as green manures and cover crops because they grow quickly and contribute nitrogen to the soil. It is also planted in crop rotations because of its ability to break up disease and pest cycles. The cover crop is known to improve soil microbes and aggregation while assisting in soil water conservation.

    For winter cover, sow in the fall and turn under in the spring. 

    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017
  • Hairy Vetch

    Hairy vetch is a fairly hardy cover crop that does well in wetter soils and colder winters than other cool-season legumes. It provides good ground cover for erosion control during winter and spring, so it's best to plant in early fall and turn under in spring. 

    Hairy vetch is known as a valuable cover crop for adjusting nitrogen levels and as a great source of nectar for bumble bees during pollination. It is often planted with cereal rye in a mixture.

    It's common to grow safflower, corn, tobacco, orchards, vineyards, tomatoes and other vegetables with hairy vetch. 

    Date Published: October 6, 2017
    Date Updated: November 6, 2017

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