How To Choose the Right Garden Cover Crop For You

Many choices abound to match your climate, soil type and the season of the year.

By Jan Wiese-Fales

| Photos by UGA Extension - University of Georgia

Cover crops, if planted and managed correctly, will improve the quality of your soil and enhance your gardening efforts. Those profiled below are the most widely adaptable and most frequently utilized, though it is not a comprehensive list. You must take your climate and soil into consideration, as well as what you hope to accomplish.


It is important to note that grassy non-legumes tie up nitrogen for immediate use, which is somewhat mediated by planting them with a legume crop or planting a legume afterwards. Mixtures of both can be very effective.


Brassicas and Mustards: Mustard, Rapeseed, Tillage Radishes



Rye, Winter or Cereal

Sorghum/Sudangrass Hybrids


Crimson Clover

It is suggested that legumes be treated with an inoculant—Rhizobia bacteria—before being planted in order to insure maximum nitrogen fixation.

Crimson Clover


Hairy Vetch

Additional Resources

Several states and regions have online cover-crop decision tools, such as:

New York/Northeast: http://covercrops.cals.cornell.edu/decision-tool.php

Midwest: http://mccc.msu.edu/covercroptool/vegtool.php

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program has published an excellent in-depth look at cover crops. It is available for download at www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Benefits-of-Cover-Crops

The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs also offers extensive information on cover crops at http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/cover_crops01/covercrops.htm

USDA list of cover crops: http://mccc.msu.edu/covercroptool/vegtool.php