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What is this To help gardeners understand which plants will grow well for them, the entire USA has been segmented into ‘Plant Hardiness Zones’.

Green Manures? I Don’t “Fallow”...

Plant a Green Manure and give back: Often as the growing season slows and we have been enjoying the fruits of our labor, we forget to give back to the garden. We pull plants when they stop producing and leave the garden untouched until it's time for fall yard cleanup.  We rake leaves, pick up sticks, and maybe rototill some compost into the garden to “put it to bed”.

The weather has chilled and the timeframe seems too short to plant anything else, so what can be done to help prepare the garden for the spring?  Be proactive and increase soil fertility without promoting weed growth; Plant a Green Manure!

'Green Manure' and 'Cover Crop': Two Interchangeable Terms

Canada Wild Rye Grass

For years farmers have been rotating their crops and planting “Green Manures” or “Cover Crops” in their fallow (unused) fields.  Green Manures are plant varieties which help to replenish nutrients to the soil that your plants have absorbed and used to grow and produce fruits and flowers throughout the season.

These specialized, nutritional plants store or “fix” these nutrients into the soil, or themselves, and then are turned back into the garden early in the spring (using a shovel or tiller). Use of green manures can drastically reduce or even eliminate the need for fertilizers in the spring.  But that’s not it! Other positive benefits of cover crops include:

 

  • Weed suppression. As cover crops establish themselves, they out-compete pesky weeds.
  • Creating habitat for pollinators and beneficial predatory insects.
  • Keeping the soil from becoming compacted or eroding. Wind and water can do enormous damage to unprotected ground in a short amount of time - green manures stabilize soils and protect against erosion.
  • Bio-accumulators/ Dynamic accumulators. Some varieties have extremely deep roots, which tap into nutrients deep within the soil and bring them to the surface.

So which plants make the best Green Manures?

The list is extensive, but below are some of the better-known varieties.

Partridge Pea

The Legume Family is one of the most widely used Green Manures. Consisting of many different types of clover, peas, vetch, and others, legumes contain symbiotic bacteria in their root systems, which help to fix nitrogen into the soil in a form that future plants can use.

You may have heard of using legumes in 'succession planting' - an idea that illustrates green manures in action. Because 'heavy feeder' crops like corn require nitrogen-rich soil to produce great-tasting ears, farmers and gardeners alike must figure out how to replace all of that nitrogen after each crop has been harvested. One simple answer is to plant beans or peas directly after corn - two well-known legumes that are infamous for leaving a slew of nitrogen in their wake. So, peas follow corn, which then gets planted again and is followed by peas (or clover, or beans), which then follow corn all over again - all in succession!

Other common green manures not in the Legume Family include Rye, with its deep roots and hearty characteristics, great at withstanding colder temperatures and decreasing erosion, as well as buckwheat and sorghum.

Planting Green Manures is easy

Hairy Vetch
  1. Plant Early-Mid Fall
  2. Let grow. Some hardier varieties will grow very slowly in colder temperatures, and then resume growth in the early spring. Others will die back after a hard frost (this is called 'winter kill').
  3. Come spring, mow down before it goes to seed and then till back into the soil.
  4. Always wait 3-6 weeks after tilling to plant your new crops.  This allows time for the nutrients to be released into the soil through decomposition.  Also, in the case of cover crops like Rye, the compounds which keep other seeds from germinating (one of its main benefits!) will no longer be present to interfere with your new plans.

Now do you “Fallow”?

Green Manures/Cover Crops can be as simple or complex as you want to make them.  You can mix varieties and calculate the exact amount of max nitrogen output per square foot or just scatter some clover and have a beautiful green carpet.  Naturally give back to your garden and its habitat to keep it healthy and producing so you can continue to enjoy it for years to come!

Happy Gardening!

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  • Annual Rye Grass Seeds

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  • Perennial Rye Grass Seeds

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  • Canada Wild Rye Grass Seeds

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  • Winter Rye Grass Seeds

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6 thoughts on “Green Manures? I Don’t “Fallow”...”

  • Carolyn Gentry

    What is a recommended cover crop for zone 7 with poor soil that is DEER RESISTANT?

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Hi Carolyn, thanks for the question! I went onto our site and used the filters in the left sidebar to enter your zone and soil conditions, but I did not see a deer-resistant cover crop appear in the results. However, we do have a deer-resistant wildflower seed mix that will work and that, depending upon your goals, can be used ina similar way to a cover crop. Wildflowers are not too picky about the soil they're planted in. They need your attention early on, until they become established - but then, they're very self-sufficient. I hope this helps. If you still have more questions, I encourage you to contact our Customer Service department for detailed advice: (877) 309- 7333. Happy Gardening - Jenny

      Reply
  • Erin Abraham

    Hi there, I'm planning for fall to plant a cool season cover crop in my horses' pasture and wonder if I have to till it into the soil to reap it's nitrogen-fixing qualities once it declines into warmer weather? I don't plan to till the pasture because it would disrupt the root system of the timothy grass that I'm carefully nurturing. I'm hoping a cool season cover crop will still benefit the soil even if it isn't tilled in... besides benefit the horses! We're in Austin, TX, Zone 8b. Thanks for your input.

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Hi Erin, great question! Most often, cover crops are tilled into the soil to re-capture the minerals that they've absorbed through their roots and leaves. However, some of these minerals should make their way back into your soil as they decompose (albeit at a slower rate), should you decide to leave them on top of your soil instead of tilling them in. Because of your warm weather and long growing season, you may have to commit to mowing down your cover crop so that you're able to recoup minerals without the risk of the planting re-seeding itself and dominating your field. Take a look at our Buckwheat, Austrian Winter Pea, and Fall Cover Crop Mix (new to our site by 9/1/17) offerings. If you're not able to time your mowing to prevent re-seeding, you can also investigate cover crops that naturally dieback in hot weather. Happy Gardening- Jenny

      Reply
  • Cathy

    Hi! I live in Idaho and have an ugly yard with some clover in it. I am interested in having clover only. How would I rid myself of the grass, and does a clover yard need to be fertilized? How is it on water use? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jenny

      Hi Cathy, an all-clover lawn would be beautiful - what a great idea. Ideally, to plant your clover lawn, you'll need to remove all existing growth first and foremost. From there, you'll seed your clover (Fall is a great time to do so) but I think that fertilizing is usually overkill for native plants like this. Further, native plants generally use less water, although you'll want to keep them consistently moist throughout their first season. After that, you should be good to go. Here are 2 links for you to copy and paste into your browser - 1 to a new article in Planting Clover to Improve soil Health and another to our selection of clover seeds. Happy Gardening! - Jenny
      https://www.americanmeadows.com/grass-and-groundcover-seeds/cover-crop-seeds/plant-clover-to-improve-soil-health
      https://www.americanmeadows.com/grass-and-groundcover-seeds/clover-seeds

      Reply
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