Chapter 16

The Use of Cover Crops to Manage Soil

(book excerpts)

Cover crops are used to manage soils for many different reasons and are known by many different names. Cover crops are also known as “green manures,” “catch crops,” or “living mulches.” Green manure cover crops are usually legumes that fix nitrogen and are grown to provide nitrogen to the following cash crop. Catch crops are cover crops that are grown during fallow periods in cropping systems to take up nutrients, especially nitrogen, that would be lost if plants are not present. Lastly, living mulches are cover crops planted either before or with a main crop and maintained as a living ground cover throughout the growing season. Often the living mulches are perennial species and are maintained from year-to-year and are often planted in vineyards and orchards. Cover crops may include any plant species grown for purposes beyond primary grain or forage production and are generally classified as legumes, brassicas, or grasses. Cover crops are an important component of sustainable soil management providing a variety of on-farm benefits, such as improved nutrient cycling, increased soil moisture capacity, reduced soil compaction, improved soil structure, nitrogen fixation, organic matter, and weed suppression. Cover crops also provide public benefits by reducing sediment loss, nutrient runoff and leaching; reducing flooding; and storing carbon in the soil.

Click on the following topics for more information on the use of cover crops to manage soil.

Topics Within This Chapter:

  • Impact of Cover Crops on Soil Properties
  • Impacts of Cover Crops on Soil Physical Properties
  • Cover Crops and Erosion Control
  • Cover Crops and Soil Moisture Dynamics
  • Cover Crops and Soil Temperature
  • Cover Crops and Soil Compaction
  • Impacts of Cover Crops on Soil Chemical Properties
  • Cover Crops and Organic Matter
  • Cover Crops and Soil Carbon
  • Cover Crops and Nitrogen
  • Cover Crops and Nutrient Leaching
  • Impacts of Cover Crops on Soil Microbial Communities
  • Challenges in Growing Cover Crops
  • Nitrogen Management
  • Soil Moisture Conditions at Planting
  • Residue Equipment Interference
  • Soil Temperature Fluctuations
  • Reduce Nitrogen-Fertilizer Efficiency
  • Termination Challenges
  • Pest Problems
  • Risk of Frost
  • Increased Cost, Labor, and Management
  • Cover Crops and Their Uses
  • Green Manures
  • Prevention and Treatment
  • Catch Crops
  • Living Mulches
  • Residue Mulches
  • Forages
  • Life Cycle of Cover Crops
  • Annual Cover Crops
  • Perennial Cover Crops
  • Biennial Cover Crops
  • Taxonomy of Cover Crops
  • Legumes
  • Termination
  • Clovelike
  • Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratio
  • Grasses
  • Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratio
  • Cool Season and Warm-Season Grasses
  • Brassicas
  • Forbs
  • Seasonal Cover Crop Niches
  • Cool-Season Cover Crops
  • Warm-Season Cover Crops
  • Full-Season Cover Crops
  • Cover Crops: Monocultures or Mixes
  • Cover Crops Monocultures
  • Cover Crop Mixes
  • Grain-Legume Combinations
  • Planting Cover Crops
  • Plant Hardiness Zones
  • Understanding Seed Tags
  • Seed Treatments and Coatings
  • Legume Specific Coatings
  • Small Seeds Specific Coatings
  • Planting Methods
  • Drilling
  • Broadcasting
  • Aerial Seeding
  • Frost Seeding
  • Fertilization
  • Termination Strategies for Cover Crops
  • Carbon-to-Nitrogen Ratio
  • Timing of Cover Crop Termination
  • Cover Crops as a Nitrogen Source
  • Cover Crop Termination Methods
  • Mowing
  • Roller-Crimping
  • Tillage
  • Winter-Killing Cover Crops
  • Herbicide Control
  • Grazing Cover Crops