Over the last three weeks, we have been flooded with questions on how to plant a fall cover crop. Cover crops are the single best way to recharge your garden’s soil with organic matter. And that’s just where the benefits begin!

fall cover crop
A thick growing cover crop of annual rye

A fall cover crop also helps to eliminate next year’s garden weeds by keeping the soil covered. That in turn all but eliminates winter soil erosion. Most important of all, a fall cover crop helps to fix nitrogen levels in the soil, setting the table for a successful garden next year. Oh, and by the way – it’s easy and inexpensive to plant.

So with all of the questions, we thought it would be a great time to go over the process of planting a fall cover crop.  

How To Plant A Fall Cover Crop In Your Garden

A cover crop is nothing more than the planting of your garden with an annual seed crop such as rye, clover or buckwheat. 

The crop germinates in the fall, then becomes dormant over the winter. In the early Spring, it briefly comes back to life until turned over back into the soil.  More on that later in the article.

fall cover crop
Annual rye seed – ready to be sown as cover crop in our garden rows.

Once your summer crops of tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers have ended there run, it’s time to clear them out and plant a cover crop. 

To plant, begin by gently raking the soil surface. There is no need to disturb the soil with heavy digging or tilling. A simple raking of the top 1/8″ of soil will allow enough space for the cover crop to germinate.

Next, sow a generous amount of seed on your garden or raised bed soil. Think of it much like you would if you were sowing grass seed. We use about a pound of seed for each of our 18″ wide x 20′ long raised rows. 

fall cover crop
Cover crops protect and nourish your soil.

Take a garden rake again to lightly stir the seed into the soil. Don’t worry about the seed being completely covered by the soil. Slight raking is more than enough to allow for germination. Most seed will germinate on its own in 7 to 14 days – and there is no need to worry about watering unless you have an extended dry period of a few weeks or more.

Turning Over The Cover Crop

Although the cover crop can be turned over by hand or with a cultivator, we now opt to simply mow it off a few times with a mulching mower, and then plant the new garden crops right through the soil. See : The Best Garden Experiment Ever

Either way – a fall cover crop is the best way to recharge that garden soil! Happy Cover Cropping – Jim and Mary.

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4 thoughts on “How To Plant A Fall Cover Crop In Your Garden

  • September 9, 2016 at 12:45 pm
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    Can I safely assume you are using winter rye, an annual grain and not annual rye grass?

  • September 9, 2016 at 9:04 am
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    I would like to try some fall veggies this year, atmleast kale, collards, and maybe some cool weather herbs like cilantro. If I do that, will it be too late to plant a cover crop once the fall veggies are done?

    • September 9, 2016 at 11:02 am
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      I have the same question, I planted a fall crop of lettuce, snap peas and beans. Will it be too late to plant a cover crop when they are done?
      And since I have never done a cover crop, which would be the best recommended for NW Ohio?
      Thank you.

    • September 15, 2016 at 8:09 am
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      Your articles are great but I have to say that it is frustrating when I have important questions and I can’t seem to get a reply when I post one. I’ve posted several questions since I joined and, most times, never get an answer. I see that lots of questions from others do get answered so I wonder why mine don’t.

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