Your soil needs to recharge at the end of each growing season, just like your body needs to rest while you sleep. But when it’s cold outside, how can you do that? A cover crop is a great way to do this. Read on to learn what a cover crop is and why it’s important.

What Are Cover Crops?

Essentially, cover crops are plants that you grow intentionally to protect the soil or enhance its health. They are sometimes referred to as “green manure”, and they serve many different purposes, such as promoting soil fertility and health, preventing erosion, and helping control weeds in gardens. This method works by trapping moisture, preventing soil compaction, smothering emerging weeds, and adding organic matter to improve soil structure when tilled back into the soil.

Cover Crops You Can Grow

A lush cover crop that covers the soil beneath it.

There are a variety of good cover crops to choose from so we’ve listed down some of the best kinds for you to try.

  • Ryegrass is one of the most popular winter cover crops due to its hardiness and ability to thrive in cool climates. Planting it over your garden this winter will act as a mulch layer while reducing weed growth.
  • Mustards grow fast to produce foliage which can be incorporated into the soil in order to boost its organic content. These plants are good for clay soil, which can be planted before winter. This is to allow the frosts to break the soil up.
  • Winter Field Beans and Peas are legumes that help in adding nutrients by improving the nitrogen stored in roots. If you have a cabbage planted in your garden, sow your winter field beans first.
  • Oats may slowly die after several hard touches of frost. However, its killed root mass and mulch are still able to hold the soil in place, up until Spring.

Why Your Winter Garden Needs Cover Crops

Cover crops are problem-solving plants that provide a ton of benefits for your garden. Let us break it down for you:

1. They Provide Nitrogen
While fertilizers can bring nitrogen, cover crops can also promote nitrogen content in the soil. This results in the rapid growth of other crop plants you may have in your garden.

There are two ways crops provide nitrogen: nitrogen fixing and nitrogen scavenging.

  • Nitrogen-fixing cover plants convert atmospheric nitrogen to a form that your plants can use.
  • Nitrogen scavenging, on the other hand, traps excess nitrogen and stores it in the plant tissues.

2. They Reduce Soil Erosion

Cover crops act as a protective layer from wind and water erosion come winter, thus helping maintain the fertility of the soil structure. It also provides a dense root system that helps stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. The best crops for this are clover, vetch, mustards, and cowpeas.

3. They Prevent Weed Growth

Close-up of a gardener removing garden weeds.

By planting cover crops, weeds will have difficulty emerging since they provide a thick barrier that smothers them out.

4. They Help Increase Organic Matter Content

When tilled back into the soil, cover crops add organic matter, which increases the nutrient content and water-holding capacity of the soil. However, different cover plants provide varying benefits, so be sure to check your garden’s needs.

5. They Improve and Manage Nutrients

Aside from nitrogen, cover plants provide other nutrients that could benefit your soil. For example, cereal rye works best in cycling nitrogen, and buckwheat improves your soil’s phosphorous.

More than protection, cover crops can provide your garden soil with a ton of benefits. Depending on the need, cover crops can help prevent the winter death of your plants.

Are Your Plants Covered For Winter?

Cover crops are essential for a healthy garden in the winter. This will also help in giving you a bountiful blossom in spring. So, if you don’t have one yet, make sure to plant cover crops this season! With the right knowledge and choice of cover crop, you can be sure that your garden will be healthier come springtime.

With so many to choose from, it can be a little difficult to pick the best cover crop for you. But can help you exactly with that! We can provide you assistance in this matter, as well as help you keep your garden thriving, even during its dormancy in winter. Connect with us today!

Want more tips from Kel Lake Garden Centre? Our blog has lots of great information about how to take care of your garden and get the most out of your plants. Check it out today and start planning for a lush, green garden next spring!

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