Cover Crops: the Organic Gardener's Green Manure

Posted by Laresa Hays on

Adding Cover Plants to your Organic Garden’s Rotation

Some of the toughest work in your garden can be accomplished by enlisting the help of other plants. You may already familiar with the concept of cover plants as green manure – plants are grown and returned to the soil as fertilizer before they reach adulthood – but cover plants serve other vital functions in your organic garden as well.

  • Pest control – Flowering crops can attract predatory insects, such as solitary wasps and lacewings, and protect your organic gardening efforts from aphids and other pests.

  • Weed control – The shade provided by leafy cover plants can prevent the growth of nuisance plants so that they are not able to take root before you begin growing your next primary crop.

  • Water control – Cover crops slow down soil erosion by creating a breaker between rainfall and the surface of the soil. They also slow the rate at which water travels below the surface and can significantly increase soil moisture once they are tilled into the soil.


soy beans


The most well-known purpose of cover crops, however, is their use as a fertilizer. To profit from their use as a green manure and from the benefits listed above, simply sow the seeds from your cover plants and allow them to grow until they begin to flower (or produce seed heads, in the case of grains). It is important to kill your cover plants before they mature too much; they are meant to aid your primary crops, not to be crops in their own right. Simply mow over the crops or cut them down with a trimmer, allow the clippings to dry for a couple of days, and then dig or till the clippings into the soil.

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