Cover Crops for Winter Gardens

hairy vetch courtesy of Burpee

Trisha Shirey

Why seed cover crops in winter?

  • Nourish fallow gardens to improve soil for summer crops.
  • Cover the ground to prevent weeds.
  • Prevent erosion.
  • Encourage earthworms and beneficial soil organisms.
  • Control root knot nematodes.

Plant several weeks before first frost to establish.

No need to fertilize. Remove summer garden debris and loosen soil. To protect the seeds from birds, cover with row cover until seeds germinate.

Elbon or cereal rye (not annual rye)
Cut to the ground several times in winter to return nitrogen-rich leaves to the soil
Don’t let it seed!
Pest benefit: The roots of rye trap nematodes and kill them.

Other crops for nematode control include mustard and marigolds (in summer).

Crimson clover
Also medicinal, attracts bees to pollinate crops, high nitrogen addition

Hairy Vetch
You may need to inoculate with Rhizobium bacteria for germination.

When it’s time for summer crops, cut down the tops but leave the roots in the soil. Plant your new summer crops right alongside them to retain moisture, increase soil life and naturally nourish with nitrogen.



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