Cover crops are plants used to keep the soil “covered” both while the cover crop plants are growing or with their residue after these die.
Cover crops are planted primarily for their agro-ecosystem benefits rather than for harvest. The list of potential cover crop benefits is long. Farmers and gardeners use cover crops to prevent erosion, to increase soil organic matter, to prevent nutrients from leaching below the root zone, to provide nitrogen in the case of legumes, to provide habitat and nectar for beneficial insects, to extend the grazing season, and to promote soil microbial activity and diversity.
There are a wide variety of cover crops that can be used in Georgia. Species such as cereal rye, oats, crimson clover are commonly used during winter fallow months. In the summer, sorghums, millets, cowpeas and sunn hemp are often used.
The “best” cover crop depends on a number of things: your soils, your climate, your planting window (the time between cash crops), what benefit you want, and the equipment you have to plant the cover crop and manage the residue.
A great resource to learn more about cover crops is the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) publication Managing Cover Crops Profitably, 3rd. Edition.
Use the following lists of crop species to learn more about these crops.
Fall or Winter Planted Cover Crops
Fall and Winter Cover Crop Functions & Ranking (click to view)
Spring or Summer Planted Cover Crops
Spring or Summer Cover Crop Functions & Ranking (click to view)
If you are looking for additional information on cover crops, please see our Resources page to find other publications and useful tools.