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Cover Crops

Crops that you can plant now to help your soil and prevent erosion.

Nashville, Ark. Sept. 23, 022– Properly using cover crops can come with benefits such as improved soil health, increased soil nitrogen and weed suppression options. Cover crops also provide biomass to increase soil coverage and organic matter. They may also aid in nutrient redistribution.

Cool season cover crops will continue to grow well past the first freeze. However, they should be started early enough to mature before the hard freezes are expected. There is a wider variety of cool season cover crops as compared to warm season cover crops. Grasses such as oats, wheat and rye will grow quickly and produce large amounts of biomass. Legumes as cover crops include winter peas and vetch. Legumes can return significant amounts of nitrogen to the soil. Crucifers, like turnips and forage radishes, improve the soil and prevent erosion. Turnips will also provide you with roots and greens to eat until they get tilled back into the soil.

Fall cover crops help protect the soil from wind and water erosion over the winter. The root systems of the cover crops help stabilize the soil while the broad leaves of some cover crops intercept raindrops before they reach the soil. Cover crops will trap nutrients left in the soil and prevent them from entering groundwater. This also ensures that the nutrients are available for future crops. Legumes help build up nitrogen in the soil by acquiring and fixing atmospheric nitrogen. Once the legumes die, the residue left behind breaks down and releases much of the nitrogen back into the soil. Cover crops will rapidly establish themselves after planting. As they do this, they will smother any existing weeds. After the cover crops are terminated, they leave behind a residue that helps suppress weed seed germination. Some cover crops will suppress weeds by competing with them for light, moisture, nutrients and space.

When should I plant cover crops?

Cover crops should be planted early enough to allow four weeks of growth before the cold weather sets in. They can be planted immediately after harvesting the primary crop from the garden. Tilling before planting the cover crops can help ensure the preparation of a seedbed and aid in weed and insect control.

For more information, you can contact the Howard County Extension office at 870-845-7517 or find helpful fact sheets on our website.

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

By Dawson Bailey
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
The Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Dawson Bailey
County Extension Agent - Agriculture
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
421 N. Main Nashville AR 71852
(870) 845-7517


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