Keep Your Soil Healthy with a Winter Ground Cover

vegetable patch - cover soil with winter ground cover

Protecting Your Soil In The Winter

Taking care of your soil is vital to producing a good crop. During the winter months though, this could prove to be quite difficult to do. After your last good crop, your soil is tired and usually depleted of most of the nutrients it will need to feed your next spring crop. Planting a winter ground cover can help replenish these nutrients while keeping your soil warm during those cold winter months.

These winter ground covers can be anything like oats, rye, ryegrass, or even legumes. You can plant your ground cover almost immediately after your final harvest so your soil will not starve for those vital nutrients for too long.

Ground cover crops not only help replenish nutrients, but they can help with a number of other things as well. For instance, in sandy soil, they can help improve the capacity to hold in moisture. In clay-heavy soil, they can help improve drainage.

What to Plant and When to Do It

Deciding what to plant depends on what you want to replenish in your soil. Oats, for example, absorb nutrients while storing them. They usually will not last through the winter, but they do create a protective layer of mulch preventing the soil from freezing. In the early spring, you simply clear away the mulch, till the soil and you will be ready to sow in just a few weeks.

Rye and buckwheat help with controlling those pesky weeds by producing toxic chemicals that prevent weed seeds from germinating. Sowing rye generously about two to four weeks before the first frost will ensure a thick hardy ground cover crop. Early in the spring, till the rye well and let your bed rest for three more weeks before planting your spring veggies.

Ryegrass is less hardy, but its roots can go as far as five feet underground. This helps break up tougher soil. Be sure to turn it under before it seeds because it can become a problem if allowed to germinate. Ryegrass is very high in nitrogen and will boost your soil’s supply for your spring crop.

Legumes are a great way to replenish nutrients. You should sow these about fifty days before the first frost. Legumes like crimson clover or winter peas are also high in nitrogen.

You can also mix and match your cover crop. Any combination of these crops will help bring essential nutrients back into your soil. They will also attract some beneficial insects that will help control the not-so-beneficial pests.

Your cover crop should be tilled anywhere from three to six weeks before planting your spring veggies. This gives the soil plenty of time to absorb the nutrients from the ground cover so it can feed your vegetables plenty.

Any other tips for planting the best winter ground cover? Comment below!

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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