Cover Crops: Why You Should Be Planting Them This Fall

Keep your bases covered with cool weather cover crops.
Clover Grown to Lock Nitrogen into Soil

Clover Grown to Lock Nitrogen into Soil

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Plant a field of clover as a winter cover crop.

As you start preparing your garden for winter, keep the idea of cover crops in mind. Cover crops can help suppress weeds, control erosion, keep pests at bay and build healthier soil. Maybe that’s why gardeners call them “green manure.”

Fall is an ideal time to plant cover crops. Some of the most popular kinds grow well in the cool temperatures of fall, and when killed by freezing weather they turn into protective, soil-enriching mulch while their roots decompose and enrich beneath the surface, preparing beds for spring planting. If you plant a winter-hardy crop or live in a warmer area, you can simply till the crop under come late winter or early spring, a few weeks before planting.

Here’s how to get started:

1. Choose your crop. Field grasses, rye, clover and oats all work well as cover crops. Ask a gardener in your area or get advice at your local nursery for crops that will do well in your climate.

2Plant. Like you would if planting grass seed. Use a garden rake to gently work the soil, scatter seed and then rake again to spread and embed the seed to protect from birds.

3. Care for your cover. This part is easy. Most cover crops are very low-maintenance, though you may need to mow to keep them manageable, especially if you live in an area where you’re still up for plenty of warm weather. Water the crops in very dry weather, and check to see if the crop you’ve chosen has any special care needs.

4. Kill your crops. What? Yes, cover crops can grow out of control if not killed before they go to seed. This isn’t a concern if you plant in fall just before a killing frost, which will naturally do your dirty work for you. But if you plant earlier or live in a warm climate that never freezes, you’ll need to mow down your crops (or hit ‘em with a weed whacker) when they begin to flower or when seedheads emerge.

Wait a few days, and till the crops into the soil. After 2 or 3 weeks, the soil will be ready for planting.

Next Up

Planting Winter Rye

Improve your vegetable garden soil with a cover crop of winter rye, a deep-rooted grain that breaks up hard soil.

Winter Woes: Protecting Plants from Cold Temperatures

Learn how to shield plants from winter elements with these simple tips.

Choosing Groundcover Plants for Sun

Learn about groundcover plants that will thrive in sunlight and grow successfully in your lawn and garden spaces.

Choosing Groundcover Plants for Shade

Learn about groundcover plants that will thrive in shade and grow successfully in your lawn and garden spaces.

Winter Plants

Discover winter garden plants that boast beautiful bark, eye-catching stems and long-lasting seedheads.

What to Plant in Winter

Keep busy all winter long by tackling planting chores, no matter where you garden.

Seek Cover: Grow Groundcover Plants

Use low-growing perennials and shrubs as groundcovers to cover slopes or to replace high-maintenance lawns.

Cover Up for Winter

Cold, dark winter days can be depressing, but with a few well-chosen climbers to dress up your screens, boundaries, and bare-stemmed trees, this can be an exciting and beautiful season.

Q&A: Groundcovers for a Hill

Here's a tip on hillside gardening.

Plant Hyacinth Bulbs This Winter

It's not too late to plant hyacinth bulbs for a burst of color come spring.

1,000+ Photos

Browse beautiful photos of our favorite outdoor spaces: decks, patios, porches and more.

On TV

Renovation Raiders

6:30am | 5:30c

House Hunters

7:30am | 6:30c

House Hunters

8:30am | 7:30c

House Hunters

9:30am | 8:30c

House Hunters

10am | 9c

House Hunters

10:30am | 9:30c

House Hunters

11am | 10c

House Hunters

11:30am | 10:30c

House Hunters

12pm | 11c

Fixer Upper

1pm | 12c

Fixer Upper

2pm | 1c

Fixer Upper

3pm | 2c

Fixer Upper

4pm | 3c

Fixer Upper

5pm | 4c

Fixer Upper

6pm | 5c

Fixer Upper

7pm | 6c
Tonight
Tonight

Fixer Upper

8pm | 7c

Fixer Upper

9pm | 8c

House Hunters

10pm | 9c

Fixer Upper

11pm | 10c

Fixer Upper

12am | 11c

House Hunters

1am | 12c

Fixer Upper

2am | 1c

Fixer Upper

3am | 2c

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.