Cover crops have been used for thousands of years to increase soil productivity and benefit ecosystems.
Used mainly to regenerate and protect soils during periods of low production, they can be planted as winter cover or during the regular growing season to protect bare soil from erosion and sediment run-off. They also help to sequester carbon in the soil, while at the same time improving its overall water and nutrient-holding capacity.
When used as green manure, cover crops can improve the available nutrients in soils, leading to increased growth and yield for plants grown afterwards. Planting cover crops can also break pest and disease cycles.
Leaving cut cover crops on the soil surface, or planting as a ‘living mulch’ with a tall main crop, can help reduce weeds. However, careful plant selection and management is required to ensure cover crops do not out-compete the main plants.
You can download this free GROW infosheet to find out more about how to make the right choice of a suitable cover crop species (or mixes) and the timing of planting and removal depending on whether your objective is to:
- Protect soil from erosion and related nutrient loss
- Increase soil fertility and quality
- Reduce weeds
- Reap other benefits, such as attracting bees and other pollinators
This text is based on an academic literature review by Naomi van der Velden at the Pemaculture Association (Britain) as part of our collaborative GROW Observatory project.
The GROW Observatory has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 690199.