Spring Cover Crops For Your Garden

by Isabel Vinton

As land stewards, building fertile, balanced soil is not just an important part of having a happy, productive garden, it’s also our responsibility towards the environment. Healthy soils are the foundation of healthy ecosystems, and the measure of a healthy garden goes well beyond the relatively short-term seasonal harvest. It builds a lasting legacy for future generations.

Cover crops are an essential part of good garden management - they’re not just for farmers! You will also find that they are extremely industrious. While different cover crops have different strengths, in general, cover crops can:

  • Build healthy soil
  • Surpress weeds
  • Help to control pests and diseases
  • Attract pollinators
  • Look pretty!

Cover crops are easy to grow and take care of, and they grow nearly everywhere. More commonly sown in the fall, they can also be used effectively in spring when they revitalize winter-weary soils to prepare them for tender, late-spring of summer sowings and seedlings. As they often have a short window for growing (between the time when it's warm enough to grow and the time when food crops are planted), it's best to choose quick-growing crops. Here are our top spring cover crop recommendations:

  • Oats and Field Peas is a perfect, simple mix. The peas add loads of nitrogen to the soil, feeding the oats, which produce plenty of organic matter in its leaves. This mix is quick to germinate in most soil conditions and is especially happy in the cool of spring. Either scatter the seeds over the surface of the soil and rake in heavily or sow into furrowed rows spaced 1-4 inches apart. If scattering, be sure that peas end up well buried so that they can germinate and take hold. If sowing in dry conditions, provide irrigation if possible. For spring sowings, mow and till into the soil (or harvest for the compost pile) when peas begin to flower and set pods but before the pods fill out. Matures in 75 days.
  • Field Peas have incredible nitrogen fixing qualities. They can be sown any time, but perform best when sown in spring or late summer. Broadcast and rake in, or sow in close rows. If sown at the proper time, a thick stand of peas will suppress weeds as well. Sow in early spring ahead of fall greens and mow down after flowering. As an added bonus, the growing tips of the peas make a delightful edible pea shoot, the pinkish-purple pea flowers are very pretty, and the immature pea pods make a perfectly great snow pea. Matures in 60 days.
  • Oats are very effective in the spring as well. They need to be buried for best germination and then incorporated to kill the plant in the summer. Mow the plants and incorporate with hand tools about 6 inches deep on a small scale, or use mechanical cultivation to incorporate on a larger scale. Matures in 60 days.

  • Buckwheat excels at out-competing weeds even, reportedly, quackgrass! It also builds organic matter and keeps the garden looking tidy. A tender crop, you must plant buckwheat after the last frost, but it then only takes 7-8 weeks to mature. Mow before it goes to seed. The pretty white flowers will attract many beneficial pollinators in the summer as well, and it can be used in pasture and field mixes. Matures in 50 days.