Planting Fall Cover Crops

Now the early autumn days are dazzling us with colors that show the beauty of the season.  Also, the labor of love we spent in the vegetable garden has blessed us with a tremendous bounty this summer.

With the advent of September and autumn, the cooler nights are a time to give yourself a brief respite after the summer and refresh your vegetable garden with a cover crop.

Cover crops, also called green manure, are very beneficial to the "tilth" (structure, or physical suitability for planting) of your soil.  Sown in the fall, usually late September, cover crops will enhance soil over the winter. They attract pollinating insects, break up heavy soil, add organic material and decrease the number of weeds.

Planting Cover Crops

Preparing your garden in the fall for seeding just takes a few steps.  Along with chopped garden residue spread on you garden area, I spade the garden with 2 or 3 inches of planting compost.  If the soil is dry, I irrigate and broadcast the cover crop seeds.  Broadcasting in not an exact science.  I broadcast by hand rather than a spreader.  After broadcasting, take a garden rake and cover the seeds with ¼ to ½ inches of soil, irrigate, press the soil down with your rake and then wait for the first signs of germination; about 2 weeks.  This task should be done before night temperatures dip below 40 degrees.  Remember that soil temperatures are about 5 degrees cooler than our night temperatures.

There are many options available for cover crops seeds:

  • Grasses are easier to germinate and no inoculant is needed.
  • Blends are good for novice gardeners to experience the different seeds available.
  • Clovers and vetch are low growing.
  • Legumes are best inoculated to start the germination process.


Early Spring is a time to mow down your cover crop before flowering which will create seeds in your summer garden.  Spade in the cut material along with spading or turning over the cover crop.  You’ll see nitrogen nodes attached to the roots and you want those returned to your soil.

Your spring planting, starting with peas and potatoes, will appreciate your efforts with planting cover crops in the autumn!


For more resources about cover crops, see our Care Sheet: Gardening Cover Crops, and visit one of our other informative blog posts: Autumn in the Edible Garden.