There is a lot of interest in planting cover crops. Obviously, the best time to plant them is after wheat, vegetables or silage because you have a long window of growth ahead of you before the next spring-planted crop. But if you are in a corn and soybean rotation you can plant covers in the fall either by plane or after the crop is harvested. But other options are late-winter frost seeding or spring direct seeding.
There is time in the spring to grower a cover crop to activate the biology in the soil earlier, scavenge up nutrients that can mineralized and released as the crop needs them, protect the soil from heavy spring rains and add a little organic matter back to the soil. How much calendar time do you have available for growth is the question and how much time does a cover need? Another question: Is planting a cover of great enough benefit that you can delay planting a week or two
Spring covers do make some sense, but most growers haven’t tried it yet. Maybe it is time to consider overseeding clover in winter either in winter cereal or in fallow, or using oats and peas as a spring cover.
If you have winter wheat or fallow, you can frost seed red clover as soon as the snow melts and the soil thaws. You can apply it with a plane or spreader or spreader with dry fertilizer. Unfortunately, there is no direct seed-to-soil contact. However, spring freezing-and-thawing forces, precipitation and winter help seeds contact soil and access moisture. In winter wheat the crop will grow until harvest and be visible in the stover as a legume cover.
You can also plant quick-growing, cool-season covers in fallow before planting summer corn, soybean or sorghum crops. Species like oats, field peas and Austrian winter peas are good choices because they grow faster in cool spring conditions. Oats and peas can be planted when soil conditions are fit and after the frost has come out. A tip: even when soil conditions are too wet for traffic, you can drill them when the soil surface is frosted in the morning. Oats and peas will germinate when soil temperature approaches 40⁰ F, and will grow when temperatures are 40⁰ F or above. Oats will add organic matter and peas will add back some nitrogen if the seed was inoculated.
Planting a spring cover is another option if you did get a fall cover planted. This may be a strategy to consider on some of your acres if you are willing to perhaps plant these fields last or plant them to soybeans.
Do you feel comfortable planting cover crops yet? Please share your thoughts and concerns in the comments below.
Agronomist Dr. Daniel Davidson posts blogs on agronomy-related topics. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.