Cover Crop FAQs

General Cover Crop FAQs

What are cover crops?

A cover crop is a plant that is used to improve overall soil health by reducing erosion, fixing nitrogen, suppressing weeds, and controlling pests and disease. 

Why use cover crops?

Cover crops provide many benefits and selecting the right one for your farm depends on your needs.

Here's a few examples,

If your farm or garden is facing significant erosion from wind and water, cover crops can be planted to lock soil in place.

If you're attempting to reduce your inputs, cover crops may also help you fix nitrogen into your soil.

There's a cover crop for every situation and what works best for your farm, won't work on you neighbors. 

We recommend you reach out to your local Extension office or NRCS location to get help on the right cover crop mix for your farm.

What types of soils can cover crops grow in?

Cover crops can grow in all kinds of soils. 

As an example, our most popular clover, FIXatioN Balansa Clover, can tolerate poorly drained soils with moderate salinity. It prefers soils with pH ranging from 4.5 - 8.0.

To determine what works best for your type of soil (i.e. loamy, sandy, silty, etc), consult your local Extension or NRCS Office.

How do your terminate cover crops?

Producers can terminate cover crops in several ways. 

The most common are using commercially available herbicides, however many organic farms use mechanical methods, like rollers or crimpers to terminate cover crops before flowering. 

What works best for your farm will depend on your comfort level and available equipment.

Can you use cover crops for lawns?

Absolutely, cover crops like red clover can be seeded into existing lawns to provide you with additional benefits including weed suppression. 

Choosing the right cover crop will depend on your region, climate, and goals. 

Here's a good starting point to learn more about cover crops

What are spring cover crops?

Spring cover crops are those that bloom during the months of March, April, and May. 

Here's a helpful PDF with the blooming stages of some common cover crops.

What are winter cover crops?

Winter cover crops prepare the soil for spring and prevent winter weeds.

Winter cover crops differ from region to region, but from a management point of view, there are two types, winter-killed and overwintered. 

Winter-killed cover crops are those that are planted in late summer or early fall with the expectation that they will die back in the cold of winter. 

The dead plant matter will keep the soil covered, thereby suppressing weeds and providing dead plant matter for soil organisms to consume.

Overwintering cover crops are the opposite, they are cold-tolerant and can survive stretches of freezing temperatures (some like our FROSTY Berseem Clover down to -14 degrees F). 

Overwintering cover crops are great for fixing soil Nitrogen for spring cash crops.

Most common types of cover crops?

The most common type of cover crop is a cereal rye

Cereal Rye is a favored cover crop due to it's tolerance of soil conditions and management practices. It can be a great entry point into using cover crops for building soil health.

Other common types of cover crops are

  • Crimson Clover
  • Oat
  • Buckwheat
  • Hairy Vetch
  • Daikon Radish
  • White Clover
  • Red Clover
  • Alfalfa
  • Peas
  • Triticale
  • Sorghum-Sudan 
  • Fava Beans

Each cover crop serves a different purpose and can work well with other cover crops to provide you with synergistic benefits.

Where to start with cover crops?

The best place to start is to familiarize yourself with the common types of cover crops.

We have a helpful guide available for free here.

The next place to go would be your local University Extension or NRCS Office to discuss your goals.

Other helpful resources are available below to continue your journey to better soil.

How do you plant cover crops?

There's several ways to plant cover crops. Each seeding method will require changes in your seeding rate, but here's a quick rundown.

It's also important to note that seed-to-soil contact is very important for establishing cover crops.

  • Broadcast Seeding - you can use equipment or even broadcast seed by hand by throwing cover crop seeds into existing stands or bare soil
  • Drilled - the preferred method is to drill cover crop seed into your soil to ensure proper germination. This can be done with special or custom equipment.

    You can even do this directly into a cash crop stand.
  • Aerial - you can use an airplane or another aerial mechanical mean to seed large areas. This is can also be considered a broadcast method
  • Interseeder - a fairly new technology is to sow cover crops in standing rows while applying post emergent herbicides and fertilizers. 

What are the benefits of cover crops?

Cover crops provide several soil health benefits including nitrogen contribution, weed suppression, and more.

Check out this list of the most common benefits.

Here's what you'll find on the page linked above.

  • Nematode
  • Water Management
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Weed Suppression
  • Forage Enhancement
  • Quick Growth
  • Beneficial Insectary
  • Erosion Control
  • Compaction Management
  • Nutrient Recycling
  • and more

What's the best cover crop?

It really depends on your farm goals. 

If you're looking for biomass, FIXatioN Balansa Clover is an answer.

If you're looking to reduce soil compaction, daikon radish or another cover crop with a long taproot is ideal.

There's many combinations of cover crop recipes available in our free cover crop basics guide that can help you determine the best cover crop for your needs.

What are types of forage cover crops?

Some common types of forage you'll find on pastures are:

  • Annual Ryegrass
  • Peas
  • Cereal Rye
  • and more

Read more about the best forage for cattle.