On this page:
More about healthy soil:
Cover crop workshop.
Field of grain. Photo credit: Andy Bauer.
Why cover crops are important:
Cover crops offer an affordable way to build better soil. They are not usually grown for harvest, but provide economic returns by keeping soil healthy for your future crops. They also reduce production costs by decreasing the need for fertilizers or pesticides.
Cover crops are sometimes called “green manure” because they can be incorporated into the soil to provide more organic matter and nutrients that will benefit your next crop.
Boosting soil health
Cover crops provide numerous benefits to you – and they’re very low maintenance! Once it has been seeded, you can usually leave it alone until it’s time to turn it over into the soil and start your next crop. Cover crops can effectively:
How do I use cover crops in my farm or garden?
On your farm, cover crops work well among both annual and perennial crops. If you grow annual crops, a cover crop can be planted when fields are fallowUncultivated land. between growing seasons. In Oregon, this typically means cover crops are planted in the fall and then incorporated into the soil the following spring.
For perennial crops, like those on orchards, vineyards, and berry farms, cover crops can provide permanent or semi-permanent soil coverage in the spaces in between crops. This is sometimes referred to as alley-cropping. When planting cover crops between rows, farmers should choose species that are easy to manage and won’t compete for water and nutrients.
The home gardener can use cover crops to protect garden beds when they’re not in use or to prepare an unhealthy plot of soil for future use. The cover crop can also be used as a surface mulch, helping to lock in soil moisture and prevent weeds from flourishing.
Which species work well as cover crops?
Cover crops are usually varieties of grains, grasses, and legumes. As with any crop, you’ll want to choose a variety that is well-suited for your climate. While there are many species that will work, it’s important to consider your goals. If you are aiming to stabilize soil, you should select grasses with fibrous root structures. If you are more interested in restoring soil nutrients, you may want to select a legume, which is able to replenish soil nitrogen. Mixtures of crops can be used to meet multiple goals and have the added benefit of increasing plant diversity.