Cover Crops: Choosing a Cover Crop

Table of Contents

Choosing a Cover Crop

If you examine the Cover Crop Seed Supplier list you will see that there is a wide variety of cover crops available; some exotic, some more common. Each cover crop has its own attributes, some are better suited for particular uses than others. Consider the following when making your selection:

Your Needs

  • What are your goals with that cover crop? eg. erosion protection, grazing, nitrogen producion.
  • What niche or growth opportunity do you have? eg. after wheat, before a late planted crop, etc.

Growth Habits

  • What kind of growth habit is needed?
  • When is the growth required? eg lots of vigorous late fall growth or rapid early spring growth? Is deep rooting important?


  • Do you need the cover crop to survive overwinter? Would it suit your cropping schedule and soil type if the cover crop winter killed and dried out by spring?

Control Options

  • Will the cover crop become a weed concern?
  • How is it controlled?
  • What options are there for control?

Sensitivity to Herbicides


  • What is the best way to plant the seed?
  • Do you need different equipment?
  • How easy is it to establish? Will it create a solid cover? (Good establishment is critical to the success of the cover crop).

Nutrient Management

  • Is it a nitrogen producer or does the cover crop require nitrogen to grow well? Does it scavenge well for nitrogen?

Pest Management

  • What crop family is the cover crop in?
  • Is it related to other crops in the rotation?
  • Are there pest concerns? Is the cover crop a host or a non-host?

Families of Crops

Family (Common Name) : Examples

  • Cruciferae (mustard) : Cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, rutabaga, brussels sprouts, rapeseed, canola, oilseed radish
  • Gramineae (grass) : Wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn
  • Leguminosae (pea) : Snapbean, pea, alfalfa, clover, soybeans
  • Solanaceae (nightshade) : Tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper
  • Cucurbitaceae (melon) : Pumpkin, squash, cucumber, melons
  • Liliaceae (lily) : Asparagus
  • Umbelliferae (parsley) : Carrot, parsnip, celery
  • Chenopodiaceae (goosefoot) : Beet, spinach, chard
  • Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis) : Leeks, onion, garlic, chives, shallots
  • Polygonaceae (smartweed): buckwheat, rhubarb
  • Linaceae: flax
  • Compositae/Asteraceae (Aster): sunflower, lettuce

Figure 1 . Cover Crop of Phacelia

Figure 1. Cover Crop of Phacelia

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