Cover Crops: Why You Should Be Planting Them This Fall

Keep your bases covered with cool weather cover crops.
Dutch Clover

Dutch Clover

Plant a field of dutch clover as a winter cover crop.

Photo by: Zoonar RF

Zoonar RF

Plant a field of dutch 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.

Keep Reading

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 Plants

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

Seek Cover: Grow Groundcover Plants

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

What to Plant in Winter

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

Overwintering and Planting Fall Bloomers

Summer and spring aren't the only seasons for spectacular blooms.

Plants for Fall Color

Welcome autumn with a blaze of garden color.

Planting Spring Bulbs in Fall

Whether you want masses of spring color or collect a few heirloom bulbs to share, all are easily planted in the fall.

Planting Fall Peas

Cultivate a fall crop of peas with these helpful suggestions.

Plants That Produce Pre-Season Blooms

These beauties can help brighten the dull landscape between winter and spring.

Plants for Winter Color

Discover plants that stir interest during the garden’s quiet season.

1,000+ Photos

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

On TV

Fixer Upper

7am | 6c

Fixer Upper

8am | 7c

Fixer Upper

9am | 8c

Fixer Upper

10am | 9c

Fixer Upper

11am | 10c

Fixer Upper

12pm | 11c

House Hunters

1pm | 12c

House Hunters

1:30pm | 12:30c

House Hunters

2:30pm | 1:30c

House Hunters

3:30pm | 2:30c

House Hunters

4:30pm | 3:30c

House Hunters

5:30pm | 4:30c

House Hunters

6:30pm | 5:30c

House Hunters

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Lakefront Bargain Hunt

8pm | 7c

Beach Hunters

9:30pm | 8:30c

Mexico Life

10pm | 9c

Mexico Life

10:30pm | 9:30c

House Hunters

11pm | 10c

House Hunters

11:30pm | 10:30c

Beach Hunters

12am | 11c

Beach Hunters

12:30am | 11:30c

Mexico Life

1am | 12c

Mexico Life

1:30am | 12:30c

House Hunters

2:30am | 1:30c

Follow Us Everywhere

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