Growing a healthy, successful vegetable garden depends upon a variety of factors. From planting to harvest, it’s essential to provide plants with consistent moisture and soil nutrients. While establishing a fertilization routine is important, many plantings benefit from the use of cover crops in vegetable beds when not in use.
Why Choose Cover Crops in Vegetable Beds?
Cover crops are used for many reasons. Cover crops can be used to help improve the nutrient content of the soil, the soil’s structure, and to reduce the presence of weeds in the vegetable garden. The types of cover crops you choose will depend on the season and your growing zone. While some will thrive in the heat of summer, others need cooler temperatures to grow and bloom.
I personally prefer using a cool season cover crop in my garden. Why? It’s a great way to prep for next season without having to do much. When the garden has finished for the season, the cover crops take over, so there’s still something green and attractive to look at until ready for mowing and working into the soil.
Types of Cover Crops for Veggie Gardens
There are lots of choices out there, so I know it can be overwhelming. Below are 5 popular cover crops for vegetable beds (I’m especially fond of using rye grass and clover, but to each his/her own):
- Buckwheat – Buckwheat is among the most popular options for summer cover cropping. Buckwheat seeds can be direct sown into empty garden beds throughout the summer months. Allow the plant to grow until it begins to flower. Mow the plants before they are able to set seed. Buckwheat plant matter can then be worked into the soil to begin preparing for the next growing season.
- Crimson Clover – Unlike buckwheat, crimson clover is best used as a cover crop during the winter months. This member of the legume family is an excellent choice for growers who wish to fix nitrogen into the soil for the coming garden season. Crimson clover also attracts several beneficial pollinators as it begins to bloom in the early spring.
- Wheat – Wheat can be grown as a cover crop in either the fall or the spring. The type which growers choose will depend upon planting time. Regardless, this grain is helpful is keeping weeds out of the vegetable patch.
- Rye Grass – Like wheat, rye grass is an excellent option for gardeners who want to quickly establish their cover crops. It can also be planted in either the spring or the fall to help improve soil structure. Before going to seed, mow the rye grass and work it into the soil in preparation for the coming growing season.
- Hairy Vetch – Yet another popular cool season cover crop, hairy vetch is unique in its ability to withstand drought conditions. This member of the legume family is prized for its ability to fix nitrogen, as well as its weed control characteristics.