Cover crop options

Find recommended planting dates and seeding rates by crop, plus a comparison chart featuring more than 20 cover crops.

Recommended cover crop planting dates and seeding rates

Name Suggested optimum planting dates Suggested planting rate
Millet (foxtail, pearl, etc.) May 20 to July 25 20 to 25 pounds per acre
Sorghum-sudangrass May 20 to July 25 25 to 30 pounds per acre
Sudangrass May 20 to July 25 25 to 30 pounds per acre (15 to 20 pounds per acre, according to the Cover Crops Field Guide)
Oats July 10 to Sept. 1 30 to 50 pounds per acre
Annual ryegrass July 10 to Sept. 1 15 to 20 pounds per acre
Winter cereal rye July 10 to Oct. 20 55 to 100 pounds per acre
Wheat (spring or winter) July 10 to Oct. 20 50 to 90 pounds per acre
Triticale July 10 to Oct. 20 50 to 90 pounds per acre
Barley (spring or winter) July 10 to Aug. 15 50 to 75 pounds per acre
Buckwheat June 10 to Aug. 15 45 to 60 pounds per acre (20 to 35 pounds per acre, according to the Cover Crops Field Guide)
Flax July 10 to Sept. 1 30 to 50 pounds per acre
Radish (tillage, daikon, etc.) July 25 to Sept. 15 8 to 15 pounds per acre (5 to 10 pounds per acre, according to the Cover Crops Field Guide)
Forage turnip July 25 to Sept. 15 1 to 4 pounds per acre
Canola July 25 to Sept. 15 2 to 5 pounds per acre
Mustard July 25 to Sept. 15 4 to 8 pounds per acre
Berseem clover July 25 to Sept. 1 8 to 15 pounds per acre
Crimson clover July 25 to Sept. 1 10 to 15 pounds per acre
Red clover July 25 to Aug. 15 8 to 12 pounds per acre
White clover July 25 to Aug. 15 5 to 8 pounds per acre
Cowpea May 20 to Aug. 15 30 to 90 pounds per acre
Field or winter pea July 25 to Sept. 20 30 to 90 pounds per acre (50 to 80 pounds per acre, according to the Cover Crops Field Guide)
Vetch July 25 to Aug. 15 15 to 25 pounds per acre
Alfalfa July 25 to Aug. 15 12 to 16 pounds per acre
Soybeans July 10 to Aug. 15 30 to 40 pounds per acre
  • The Brassica species tends to decompose quickly in the spring. It’s believed that nitrogen becomes available earlier in the growing season due to this fast decomposition.

  • Grasses aren’t considered to be nitrogen sources. However, as the plant material decomposes, nitrogen is released and some will become available for the cash crop.

  • Mixtures of two or more cover crop species will provide more benefits than a single species.

 

Cover crop comparison chart

We’ve rated cover crops on how effective they are at providing various benefits, using the following grading system:

**** Excellent

*** Very Good

** Good

* Fair

Name Nitrogen source Nitrogen scavenger Erosion preventer Weed fighter Subsoiler Forage value

Grasses

Millet (foxtail, pearl, etc.) -- *** *** *** ** **
Sorghum-sudangrass -- **** *** **** ** ****
Sudangrass -- **** *** **** * ****
Oats -- *** *** *** * ***
Annual ryegrass -- *** *** ** **** ***
Winter cereal rye -- **** **** **** *** ***
Wheat (spring or winter) -- *** *** *** ** ***
Triticale -- **** **** *** ** ***
Barley (spring or winter) -- *** *** *** ** **

Broadleaves

Buckwheat -- *** ** *** -- --
Flax -- ** * -- ** --

Brassicas

Radish (tillage, daikon, etc.) -- *** ** *** **** **
Forage turnip -- *** ** *** -- **
Canola -- *** ** ** ** *
Mustard -- *** ** ** ** *

Legumes

Berseem clover **** ** *** ** * ***
Crimson clover *** ** ** ** ** ***
Red clover **** ** **** *** ** ***
White clover ** ** *** ** -- ***
Cowpea *** * ** ** -- **
Field or winter pea ** ** ** * * ***
Vetch **** ** ** ** ** *
Alfalfa *** ** *** ** *** ****
Soybeans ** ** * ** -- **

More cover crop guides

Cover Crops Learning Center: From North Central Region-Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (NCR-SARE)

Jill Sackett, former Extension educator

Reviewed in 2018

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