This article was reviewed by Steve Snedeker, professional landscaper.
Gardening is a science that requires patience for a bountiful harvest. Expert gardeners advise planting cover crops, but can they be planted with vegetables? Well, we did plenty of research and have the answer below!
Yes! You can plant cover crops with vegetables. But the ideal planting time is towards the end of the growing season.
Why does it matter when to plant the cover crops? Are cover crops worth planting at all? Read on as we answer these relative questions too!
Can You Plant Cover Crops With Vegetables?
Gardening requires understanding which plants are favorable for your garden and which aren't. Cover crops have an essential role; when planted in a garden, they enrich the soil.
You can plant cover crops when the growing season of your vegetables is drawing to an end.
This way, you will have harvested all your vegetables before the root system of the cover crops becomes strong. Alternatively, you can plant any cover crops in a fallow vegetable garden.
So, if you want to plant the two together, you must do it properly to avoid killing your vegetables.
How To Plant Cover Crops In A Vegetable Garden
Before you plant any cover crops, you should pay attention to the following:
- A gardening style that can accommodate cover crops when you choose to plant them.
- Proper timing (not when your vegetables are in full bloom.)
- Use the right cover crop to increase the nutrients in your soil.
Now that you have enough preparedness for the cover crops, you should:
- Plant them in between the rows of the vegetable garden. The cover crops will be effective without overcrowding and eventually killing your vegetables.
- Alternatively, plant them around the vegetables while keeping a distance.
How To Use Cover Crops For Vegetable Gardens
You can plant cover crops on a vegetable patch with vegetables still growing, and the next step is to choose the right cover crops for the vegetables you are growing.
You cannot just plant any cover crops. They should be aimed at a particular thing in your garden.
That's because there are cover crops for:
Improving The Soil Structure
Uncultivated soil can turn hard and have dry lumps, which might need working before you can plant any vegetables.
To skip straight to the planting during the following season, you will need cover crops that can keep it crumbly and ready for planting.
Pick sorghum-Sudan hybrids, tillage daikon, and mustards to help soil particles adhere properly.
To ensure that your vegetable garden soil doesn't erode when you aren't growing vegetables, you could cover it with Austrian winter peas, clovers, mustards, cowpeas, and crown vetch.
These crops have a dense root system and keep the soil compact.
Increasing The Biomass
Once you plant on your vegetable patch, it is bound to be exhausted.
Increasing the soil's biomass is something you can do with cover crops such as partridge peas, clover, and vetch, which are perfect for this.
They break up easily and create massive humus, and you won't have any leaf residue behind them.
Cover crops that convert atmospheric nitrogen to be consumed by other plants by storing it in the plant tissues are essential. Radish, sudangrass, clover, rye, and peas are the best cover crops if you feel your soil needs more nitrogen.
Keeping Weeds In Check
Cover crops suffocate weeds and make it impossible to thrive in your garden. You can snuff the weeds out completely with herbicides when cover crops weaken them. Once the cover crops completely cover the ground, there won't be a chance for any weeds to germinate, especially in fallow vegetable gardens.
Cover Crops: Which Ones To Plant And When?
Home gardeners are spoilt for choice when choosing cover crops for their gardens. Cover crops are classified into two seasons: warm season and cool season cover crops.
However, planting them before or after harvesting vegetables in the garden would be best.
Warm Season Cover Crops
Buckwheat is the most common cover crop for the warm season. It grows fast and quickly deters weed growth while keeping the soil mailable and moist enough for the gardener.
Gardeners plant it in the spring and summer.
Cool Season Cover Crops
Oats are the best cool-season cover crops because they die over the winter. However, it would help if you planted them in late summer or early autumn.
Their root system keeps enough nutrients in the soil for early vegetables like spring greens, radishes, and peas. The rye works fine but must be tilled because it grows again in spring.
Squash, peppers, and tomatoes thrive in a vegetable garden with rye growing.
How Long Are Cover Crops Beneficial?
Cover crops are beneficial for a limited time. Experts say that once any cover crops start to flower, they have reached their peak. You should cut them down and allow them to decompose for two to three weeks to provide nutrients and nitrogen for your vegetable garden.
Depending on your region, you can cut down the cover crops 35 days before planting.
Cutting down the cover crops in your garden is vital to avoid reseeding after they bloom. If cover crops reseed, they can overwhelm or choke the vegetables you intend to grow.
An additional benefit is that flowering cover crops act as pollinators. Depending on your garden size, you could wait a bit for the flowers to benefit insects such as bees.
Allowing the cover crops to stand for longer might be detrimental to your garden if you leave cover crops that don't die quickly.
Please note that legumes are the best nitrogen fixers for heavy-feeding vegetable plants. Non-legumes add a winter charm to your garden.
What Is Cover Crop Mulch?
Cover crop mulch consists of flattened and crushed cover crops left on the garden as a mat. The mulch suppresses any weed growth that can interfere with the vegetables you grow.
Cover mulch is a technique that is a little over a decade old. It came about as a result of gardeners noticing that once cover crops were cut down to grow vegetables, weeds rushed into the scene, causing a nuisance.
However, gardens with cover crops mowed and left in the garden suppressed weed growth and provided vegetables with nitrogen.
Moreover, the use of mulch reduces the need for herbicides making your vegetables very organic. It has led to researchers working on different types of cover crop mulch to improve soil quality.
Here is a video showing the differences between mulching and cover crops:
Can You Mix Cover Crops?
Sometimes one cover crop does not give your garden all that it needs. Mixing cover crops is allowed but not chaotically. Legumes and non-legumes can be combined successfully.
Due to different climatic conditions in different regions, other species thrive at different rates. You can achieve multiple goals when you mix the cover crops that thrive in your area.
However, mixing cover crops has come drawbacks to it. You might overlook soil erosion when you pick legumes that do the same thing as non-legumes, such as injecting soil with nitrogen.
Therefore, to avoid complicating matters, select a suitable cover crop at a time for one particular goal.
Does It Matter How You Seed Cover Crops?
To properly establish a cover crop, you should understand whether you'll seed it by drilling or broadcasting it. Another standard method used is overseeding.
Each of these three has its benefits and drawbacks:
This method is preferable for small to medium gardens for better soil contact. There is a more even seed distribution. However, drilling cover crops might be delayed by harvesting, resulting in less biomass accumulation.
This alternative method needs to be done together with vertical tillage. But, ensure you don't incorporate the seeds too deep, as this will make it difficult for the plant to emerge on time.
Broadcasting can be as successful as drilling if done correctly and on time.
Use the overseeding method on your garden to ensure the proper establishment t of your cover crop despite rodents and birds eating most of the seeds.
It can be done early and guarantees soil moisture is achieved.
Ideally, it would be best to plant cover crops with your vegetables toward the end of the planting season. This way, they don't develop a robust root system that might choke your veggies before you harvest them.
Cover crops planted before the growing season should be cut down after blooming to stop them from seeding.
To keep your garden healthy and a bountiful harvest, read more below: