Early planted cover crops - catch the nutrients!

In the heat of the summer it's easy to get busy and postpone planting cover crops. Cooler weather and fall are just around the corner though. Now is the time to get harvested fields covered so we don't lose important growing time for cover crOPS - those warm days in the early fall when we can get the maximum growth out of the plants.

This is a common problem in any area where winter can come suddenly but achieving maximum growth from cover crops is important. Work with cover crops in Ontario after wheat harvest has shown that 3 weeks difference in planting in the summer can almost double the biomass production. Earlier is the better when we are talking cover crops (usually)!

Sjoerd Duiker a Soil Management Specialist from Pennsylvania has found the same results, especially as the fall goes on. "Cover crop biomass accumulation and root growth depend on when the cover crop is established. Early establishment is also important so that the cover crop can absorb soil nitrate before it leaches to groundwater. In a study in the Mid-Atlantic region, cover crop nitrogen accumulation was about 120 lbs N/A in December when rye was established early, but was negligible in December if the cover crop was established late. The nitrogen that is absorbed by the cover crop is protected against leaching and is released next year when the cover crop biomass decomposes."

One way to ensure that cover crops get planted in a timely fashion -keep a spreader or the drill ready to go with cover crop seed.

Buckwheat can make a good cover crop for a short growing window in the summer.

Buckwheat can make a good cover crop for a short growing window in the summer. It provides good ground cover, grows rapidly, root system build soil structure and more. However, buckwheat at this stage should be terminated to prevent seed set and a future weed problem.

For more information:
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E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca