Cover Crops:
Cover Crop Types

Table of Contents

  1. Cover Crop Types
  2. Related Links

Cover Crop Types

The cover crops examined here are evaluated for conventional cover crop usage - as cover crops, green manure crops and other soil improving uses. Perennial covers such as those used for orchard floor management are not included. Futher information on perennial orchard cover crops can be found in OMAF Publication 360 Guide to Fruit Production and Publication 310 Integrated Pest Management For Ontario Apple Orchards. Many of these cover crops may also have uses as rotational or cash crops.


Grasses have fine, fibrous root systems that are well suited to holding soil in place and improving soil structure. Suitable grass species for cover crops are fast growing and relatively easy to kill, either chemically, mechanically or by winter weather. Grasses do not fix any nitrogen out of the atmosphere, but they can accumulate large quantities from the soil. Grass cover crops that are commonly used in Ontario are:

Rye - link to information on rye
Figure 1 - Rye
Winter wheat - link to information on winter wheat
Figure 2 - Winter wheat
Oats - link to information on oats
Figure 3 - Oats
Barley - link to information on barley
Figure 4 - Barley
Sorghum sudan - link to information on Sorghum sudan
Figure 5 - Sorghum sudan
Ryegrass - link to information on ryegrass
Figure 6 - Ryegrass
Other (corn, pearl millet) - link to information on corn, pearl millet
Figure 7 - Other (corn, pearl millet)

Legume cover crops can fix nitrogen from the air, supplying nitrogen to the succeeding crop as well as protecting the soil from erosion and adding organic matter. The amount of nitrogen fixed varies between species, although generally, more top growth equals more nitrogen fixed. Some legume species have aggressive tap roots which can break up subsoil compaction, but this requires more than one year's growth to happen. Commonly used legume cover crops include:

 Red clover - link to information on red clover

Figure 8 - Red Clover

Alfalfa - link to information on alfalfa

Figure 9 - Alfalfa

Sweet Clover - link to information on sweet clover

Figure 10 - Sweet Clover

Hairy Vetch - link to information on hairy vetch

Figure 11 - Hairy Vetch

Field Peas - link to information on field peas

Figure 12 - Field Peas

Other (soybeans, white clover, crimson clover, berseem clover) - link to information on other cover crop types

Figure 13 - Other (soybeans, white clover, crimson clover, berseem clover)

Non-Legume Broadleaves

These broadleaf crops may have a role as green manure crops and in providing a different plant species and root system for soil building. They cannot fix nitrogen out of the air, but they can absorb large quantities from the soil. Most of these crops are not winter-hardy, so additional control measures are not normally required. However do not allow them to go to seed, as the volunteer seed can become a significant weed problem.The following are the common non-legume broadleaf cover crops found in Ontario.

Buckwheat - link to information on buckwheat
Figure 14 - Buckwheat
Oilseed Radish - link to information on oilseed radish
Figure 15 - Oilseed Radish
Other Brassicas - link to information on other brassicas
Figure 16 - Other Brassicas
Marigold - link to information on marigold
Figure 17 - Marigold