Are you planting a fall garden this year or leaving it fallow? If you are not planting a fall garden, you should plant a cover crop. Cover crops protect the soil from erosion, maintain soil moisture, increase organic matter, suppress weeds, and recycle nutrients. For the best success, you need to pick the correct cover crop species for the job.
Cover crops or “green manures” are not harvested, but instead contribute to soil improvement where they are planted.
Most gardens benefit from the use of cover crops when planted, instead of leaving the garden fallow or unplanted. Cover cropping is a helpful tool to use with crop rotation to plant for pest and disease management.
In the fall, cool-season annuals work best. These cool-season annuals include Austrian winter pea, crimson clover, annual rye, oats, forage radish, and winter wheat.
Austrian winter pea and crimson clover are both legumes. They are a nitrogen source that attracts pollinators as well as help with building the soil and preventing erosion. Annual rye and oats are non-legumes that help suppress weeds, prevents erosion, builds the soil, and are a nutrient scavenger, meaning it scavenges and cycles plant nutrients.
Forage radish is a non-legume that suppresses weeds and is an excellent nitrogen scavenger and subsoiler. Winter wheat is also a non-legume that prevents erosion, builds the soil, suppresses weeds, and is a nutrient scavenger.
Legumes should be planted 6 to 8 weeks before frost and legumes should be planted 4 to 6 weeks before a frost. Seed 2.25 pounds of Austrian winter peas mixed with 2.75 pounds of winter wheat per 1,000 ft2. Seed 8 ounces of crimson clover with 6 ounces of annual rye or 1.5 pounds of oats per 1,000 ft2. For more information on cover crops, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu. Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7 p.m. on SCETV or mig.org.
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