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Perennial Planting Guide
Step by step instructions on how to plant your bare root or potted perennials when they arrive.
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How to plant a cover crop
Learn about varieties which help to replenish nutrients to your soil.
Thrives in areas with cold freezing winters and hot summers.
Thrives in areas with hot temperatures.
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Understanding your garden needs and matching plants to your local climate will help you reap the greatest rewards. Different cover crops perform different functions, and are best suited to particular regions of the country. Use the tips below to select the right cover crops for your garden!
Cover crops can perform a wide range of jobs to improve your garden soil. Are you looking to add nitrogen, fight pests, or stabilize erosion-prone soils? Each job calls for a different cover crop. Cover crops can:
We'll also help you select cover crops that fit your garden timeline, target growth rates, plan for termination, and your region. Use this guide to identify the best cover crops for a thriving garden.
Provide Nitrogen: Cover crops add nitrogen to soils through one of two methods: nitrogen fixing and nitrogen scavening. Nitrogen-fixing legumes such as clover, vetch, and peas convert atmospheric nitrogen in soil into forms that can be used by your plants. Nitrogen scavenging plants capturing excess nitrogen before it can run-off, and store the nitrogen in plant tissues. Excellent nitrogen scavengers include radish, rye, sudangrass, and sorghum-sudan hybrids. Grains are also good scavengers.
Improve Soil Structure: One of the best cover crops for aerating compacted soils and improving water infiltration is tillage radish, or daikon radish. Clover, vetch, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, rye, and mustards all promote healthy soil structure. These cover crops produce byproducts that help soil particles adhere to one another resulting in a good crumbly textured soil.
Add Organic Matter or Biomass: Organic matter provides many benefits to soils. Most cover crops provide some amount of organic matter to soils, but plants differ in the benefits they provide. Succulent plants, such as legumes, break down quickly in soils. They provide nutrients, but leave behind little lasting biomass. Fibrous plant tissues such as grasses and grains, break down more slowly. They will tie up nutrients, but build stable humus, or organic matter, in soils. Perennial clovers such as white and red clover can provide both benefits, with the leaves breaking down quickly while the roots and stems contribute to biomass accumulation.
Reduce Soil Erosion. Cover crops that provide good cover and a dense root system help stabilize soils and combat erosion. Clovers, annual ryegrass, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, rapeseed, mustards, Austrian winter peas, cowpeas, and crown vetch are good cover crops for erosion protection.
Pest Management. Some cover crops produce compounds that help fight soil-borne pests, while others are excellent at attracting beneficial insects. Here are a few pest-fighting plants:
Provide Weed Control: Cover crops suppress weeds by preventing seed germination, through competition, or by producing a chemical deterrent in the roots, called allelopathy.
Manage Nutrients: Nitrogen is not the only nutrient managed through cover crops. Cereal rye is excellent for nutrient cycling. Buckwheat and brassicas improve availability of phosphorous in soils. Though known for nitrogen fixation, legumes also help cycle phosphorous in soils.
Provide Lasting Residue/Mulch: Crop residues from ryegrass, yellow blossom clover, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, rye, and barley provide a long-lasting mulch to suppress weeds and conserve soil moisture.
Similar to Red Clover, this legume is more adaptable to a variety of soil types and is extremely easy to grow in almost any condition. Perennial. (Trifolium hybridum)...
Annual Rye Grass can be planted as a companion or cover crop to help prevent soil erosion. It is extremely easy and fast to grow. Annual. (Lolium multiflorum)...
Arrowleaf clover is an annual, winter cover crop for southeastern states. A deep root system conditions soils and fixes nitrogen. Plants remain productive over a long growing season ...
This cover crop is low-growing and can be planted to help enrich soil, as well as prevent common garden weeds from coming up. It also delights with white, purple and red blooms. Ann...
Like vegetables, some cover crops are better suited to cooler growing seasons while others thrive in the summer heat. Winter cover crops are widely used to protect and condition soils during the fallow cold season. Warm-season cover crops are commonly used in the spring or summer, to balance soil nutrients between other crops. Use the following list to select cover crops according to the time of year.
Plant biology is another factor affecting cover crop selection. Some crops are fast-growing and perfect for quick cover between other crops. Others are perennial, providing an excellent living mulch. The following traits can help guide you in selecting an appropriate cover for your unique situation.
This grass is extremely easy and fast to grow. It can be planted for soil stabilization and will also attract wildlife. Perennial. (Elymus canadensis)...
This cover crop is extremely adaptable and is used for soil stabilization. Perennial Rye Grass is fast-growing and easy to grow. Perennial. (Lolium perenne)...
A great winter companion or cover crop. Helps with erosion control, fixes nitrogen, and increases organic matter if seeded after crops are harvested in the fall. (Secale cereale)...
After the role of a cover crop has been filled, plants are generally terminated or killed to prepare planting beds for the main crop. Crop termination also returns nutrients and biomass to the soil. Many cover crops are terminated to prevent them from going to seed and becoming weedy.
Understanding how a cover crop will be terminated or killed is critical to plant selection. Some cover crops used in large-scale farming operations are killed using herbicides - but this is obviously not an option for organic gardeners, and one we don't generally recommend. Before planting a cover crop, know how to terminate its growth cycle and select crops that fit your termination plans. Following are common techniques used for different crops. Also note that timing can be critical in terminating certain crops such as ryegrass (see “Timing Cover Crops Correctly in Your Region”).
As with any crop, it is important to match cover crops to your winter hardiness zone. Some cover crops may be winter-killed in one region, but go dormant in warmer climates. Likewise, plant hardiness varies by region, including both cold and heat tolerance.
American Meadows' Cover Crop product pages include information on the ideal regions to grow each species as well as USDA hardiness information. Here are a few additional resources to aid in selecting the best cover crops for your location: