There are many benefits to planting cover crops in your garden during the winter season. Among these are the protection and aeration of the soil, the healthy addition of nutrients to your garden, and the prevention of weed growth.
Many greenhouses and nurseries suggest planting grass crops like rye, buckwheat, or clover; however, some experts believe radishes make the best cover crops. Once they’ve matured, leave them in the ground to decay. Not only will this provide great composted nutrients for the soil, but it will also leave air pockets that will help aerate the soil. This also helps the soil warm up and dry faster come spring.
Planting is best done in August or September, but it should definitely be done before the first frost. Radishes are cold and hardy and can survive in temperatures that other vegetables can't. This is another reason they are a great autumn cover crop.
Always sow cover crops directly into the soil of your garden by scattering seed over the tilled or raked bed. Cover the seeds gently by raking soil over them. Water your garden regularly until germination occurs or Autumn rains set in.
Let your cover crop grow as it will through the winter. About two weeks before spring planting begins, mow your cover crop and let it die away. As it decomposes on the surface of your garden, the compost will provide even more nutrients for the soil. Then, simply turn over your garden and plant your spring crops.
If you want to protect your garden and give it the nutrients it needs to produce a healthy crop next year, you can't beat the benefits of planting cover crops. Sunnyside Greenhouse of Quaker City, Ohio, is a family-owned and -operated greenhouse. They are currently closed but will be open in the spring to provide garden seeds, vegetable, and flower plants.