Jordan Freytag + photo

Jordan Freytag

Aug 8
6 min read
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We've Got You Covered: A Guide to Cover Crops

We've Got You Covered: A Guide to Cover Crops

Cover crops offer a wide range of benefits to your garden or farm including preventing winter erosion when under-planting for weed control amid growing crops and revitalizing your soil with leftover biomass, also referred to as “green manure” which contain copious amounts of nutrients, said to increase yield of future crops. The best way to determine which cover crop might be best for you is to understand what each cover crop seed requires in terms of maintenance and what it offers the mini ecosystem of your grow area. Also, do a soil test and grow a small patch to see how the seed fairs. Most cover crops offer biomass and erosion-preventative properties whether legumes, broadleaf, and/or grass but understanding the differences between these types of cover crops allows insight into how it is benefiting your soil for it’s future crop.

Also, it is good to be familiar with the term "inoculation", a process by which seeds are treated to promote a culture of beneficial bacterium that works in conjunction with the cover crop to convert atmospheric nitrogen into soil nitrogen that plants can use when cover crops are turned under. Read more about inoculation here. Some of our seeds come pre-inoculated but not all as is stated on the cover crop seed product page.


Nitrogen fixers–adding 50 to 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre. Used to fix soils after cash crop production. These plants generally attract butterflies and other beneficial insects. Inoculation of seeds required before planting, although most come pre-inoculated. Legumes include Field Peas, Hairy Vetch, Crimson and White Dutch Clover, and Alfalfa.

Cereals, Grasses, & Broadleaf Species

Nutrient scavengers–although it is rare, if you find yourself with too much nitrogen in your soil plant any number of non-legume cover crops which continue to add biomass to your soil but draw 30 to 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre. These include Wheats, Rye, Barley, and Triticale.

Brassicas: Radish & Mustard

Pest managers–Spring/summer cover crops that help significantly control pests because they contain a higher amount glucosinolate than other brassicas, and this chemical compound wards-off harmful insects, especially when the plant cells are ruptured when the plants are mowed down. If allowed to go to seed, you may have a hard time getting rid of Mustard plants. Mustard and Radish are known for their rapid fall growth, which makes them a great weed suppressor. Try Daikon Radish and these Mustards: Pacific Gold, White Gold, Kodiak, Trifecta.

Cover Crop Mixes

Best of all worlds–although planting and maintaining cover crop mixes can require more attention and work, it can pay off, allowing you to accomplish multiple goals with your soil at once! Try these mix: Garden Cover Crop Mix. Looking for grazing cover crop? Try Dryland Pasture Mix and  Irrigated Pasture Grass Mix!

Cover Crop Seeds:

Warm Season:

We consider warm season cover crops to be those seed varieties that will germinate and grow to maturity in warmer temperatures. A warm-season crop can also be winter hardy, but it is rare.

  • Buckwheat A great summer cover crop that will spring-up and mature so quickly, you’ll be shocked. Very susceptible to frost. Grows and matures within six weeks, making it a great weed suppressor like mustard and radish. It is even possible to do more than one buckwheat crop per year if need be. Sow as early as May and harvest as late as September. 
  • Mustards  As mentioned before mustards help control pests as well as weeds. Due to its rapid growth in the fall, weeds don’t have a chance to take of the soil and grow. Mustard’s roots burrow deeper than other scavengers for nutrients, which also help ward-off soilborne pathogens. Expect about eighty percent soil coverage.
  • Winter Rye  Germinates extremely well in warm temperatures and once established it can withstand temperatures as low as 33°F. Rye also leaves behind a residue that makes it difficult for weeds to grow. High water usage.

Cool Season:

Cool season cover crops usually refer to the seed varieties' ability to germinate and withstand the winter months, or even grow amid colder temperatures. 
  • Alfalfa This upright variety is a cool season cover crop, ideal for spring and late-summer sowing, requires a lot of water and attract pollinators. Often inter-seeded with small grains and grows after grain is harvested. Seed in the spring for summer growth and late summer mowing.
  • Austrian Field Pea A cool season nitrogen fixer with low water maintenance. If grown to flowering stage, flowers attract pollinators. Used as a winter cover crop in the south where winter temperatures do not drop below freezing. Grow as a spring to summer cover crop in places of harsh winters. Try Dundale Pea also.
  • Crimson Clover Considered one of the best cover crops for the southeastern united states. Ideal fall and winter growth for this area of the united states. Not suitable for areas where a significant frost occurs. Medium to high water usage.
  • White Dutch Clover Tolerates shaded areas better than other cover crops. A perennial great for pasture and orchard growth, bringing beneficial pollinators.
  • Fava BeansSow in early spring; compared to field peas, Fava Beans need to be planted earlier because it can germinate in cooler temperatures.
  • Hairy Vetch A cool season cover crop that can withstand frost! An ideal cover crop for more temperate climates. Releases nitrogen quicker because of its rapid decomposition habit. Beneficial to soils during or after growing a high-nitrogen-demanding crop.
  • Winter Rye Germinates extremely well in warm temperatures and once established it can withstand temperatures as low as 33°F. Rye also leaves behind a residue that makes it difficult for weeds to grow. High water usage.
  • Triticale Another grain with a great biomass production, but not as hard to control as Rye. Very Winter Hardy.
  • Hard Red Spring WheatPlanted in early spring, this crop isgreat at weed suppression and added biomass. Make sure to turn under one month before planting summer crops.
  • Hard Red Winter Wheat - When seeded in early fall, Winter Wheat goes dormant in the winter holding soil in place. It ensures growth as early spring weather warms. Plant in fall for full cover crop growth or plant in spring for half -growth for biomass.
  • Yellow Pea - Plant in early fall or spring, this cool-season cover crop suited for more temperate climates, making it ideal for the northern United States. Similarly, it is suitable for winter growth in the southern United States. Sometimes grown on to maturity and harvested as a dry pea for split pea soup.

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Janelle Huston AKA Garden Glam Goddess

I loved your article. It was very nice. It is always interesting to learn about the language of flowers. This is a wonderful advertisement for a gift that can be given to friends and nonromantic relationships. Perfect for “Galentine’s Day” and “Palentine’s Day.” Thank you.


I learned a lot from this article! We give our cat wheatgrass but never knew how good it was for them! I just bought some seeds to grow our own so our cat can have it all the time.

Kathie Hitt

This is amazing! I had no idea you could grow your own popping corn. Will be definitely adding to my fall gardening plan to surprise my family. Thank you!


Thank you for the helpful information! As a beginner gardener it has been tempting to start everything indoors. It’s helpful to know that it best to directly sow some crops.


Beauty berry is one of my favorites bug repelling plants. Great article.


I love nasturtiums. Great article.