Cover Crops are a valuable tool for a home gardener to have. They protect soil from erosion, replenish nutrients between growing seasons, and improve soil health. If you want to learn the basics about cover crops and how they can help your home garden, check out our free cover crop grow guide. Here we break down the different types of crops and explore exactly what they do. For more of an in-depth look at what crops you can grow during the fall season, this is the article for you.
Why You Should Plant a Fall Cover Crop
Fall is the perfect time to build organic matter and increase the amount of nitrogen in your soil. As the summer temperatures fall, seeds readily germinate and generate enough growth before it is time to turn your young plants back into the soil. I prefer growing fall cover crops because they have the entire winter to decompose. While you can grow spring cover crops, I sometimes feel more stressed with timing it right so I am ready to plant my main garden in time. I also like to grow cool season plants in the early spring making it impossible to get a full cover crop in as well.
The biggest reason I plant a fall cover crop is to reduce soil erosion and replace lost nutrients. As we approach the dry winter season, soils lose their moisture and can easily be blown away. To help reduce loss during these winds, use plants to anchor the soil in place. Cover crop root systems act as a natural tarp while maintaining good soil structure to properly drain flashes of rain or snow.
This process of covering the land is actually how the earth naturally preserves its landscape. You can see it in action by observing a wildflower field. During the growing season, the flowers compete for prime growing space within a field. After their season has passed, grasses keep the soil from becoming too muddy and sliding downhill. When the spring returns, the overwintered wildflower seeds germinate and the process repeats as it replenishes the nutrients through decomposition and recycles the organic matter. You can use fall cover crops to achieve the same goals in your home garden.
Best Fall Cover Crops For Home Vegetable Gardens
- Garden Cover Crop Mix - Contains 9 of the most common cover crop seeds for the home garden. Plant this mix to improve every aspect of your soil for the next growing season. Plant in garden plots and raised beds.
- Crimson Clover - Nitrogen Fixing
- Fava Bean - Nitrogen Fixing, Increase Organic Biomass
- Field Peas - Nitrogen Fixing
- Hairy Vetch - Increase Organic Biomass, Nitrogen Fixing
- Oats - Weed Suppression, Reduce Soil Compaction
- Radish - Reduce Soil Compaction, Improve drainage
- Winter Rye - Reduce Soil-borne Diseases, Strong Weed Suppression, Reduce Soil Compaction
Fall Cover Crop Planting Schedule By Zone
Each oval shows the approximate start and growing time for cover crops in each hardiness zone. Exactly how long it takes to grow a specific cover crop for the best growth will depend on the individual plant. However, these times are a good start if this is your first time trying a cover crop. For more specific planting times consult our free grow guide.