• Tips for Seeding Cover Crops

Cover Crop Planting Guidelines

Tips for Seeding Cover Crops

The following tables contain recommendations for planting common cover crop species. Please note that this information should be used as a starting point only. Be sure to consult your owner’s manual for specific seed rates and calibrate your machine prior to planting!

Annual Ryegrass

Type

Winter annual; cool-season annual grass

Roles

Prevents erosion
Builds soil structure
Improves drainage
Adds organic matter
Suppresses weeds
Scavenges nutrients

Seeding Depth (in.)

0 – ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

10-20

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

20-30

Best Established

Early Spring, Late Summer, Early Fall, Fall

Minimum Germination Temperature

40°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Fertile, well-drained loam or sandy loam
Adequate soil moisture required

Things to Note

Avoid seeding in hot, dry weather or in crusted soil.
For winter seeding, plant at least 40 days before first kill frost.
Does well on various soils.
Offers a good choice for heavier ground.
Germinates in cool soils.

 

Barley

Type

Winter annual; cool-season annual cereal grain

Roles

Prevents erosion
Suppresses weeds
Scavenges nutrients
Adds organic matter

Seeding Depth (in.)

¾ - 2

Drill Rate (lb./A)

50-100

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

80-125

Best Established

Fall, Winter, Spring

Minimum Germination Temperature

38°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Well-drained, fertile loams or light, clay soils in areas with cool, dry, mild winters
Light, droughty soils
Adequate soil moisture required

Things to Note

Establishes readily in prepared seedbeds
Can be successfully no-tilled.
Will not thrive in excessive moisture.
Many adaptations can handle high altitudes and cold, short growing seasons.

 

Oats

Type

Cool-season annual cereal

Roles

Suppresses weeds
Prevents erosion
Scavenges excess nutrients
Adds biomass

Seeding Depth (in.)

½ - 1½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

80-110

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

110-140

Best Established

Late Summer, Early Spring

Minimum Germination Temperature

38°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Moderately fertile soil

Things to Note

Broadcast 40-60 days before first kill frost.
Shallow drilling in moist soil leads to rapid emergence.
Shallow drilling in moist soil reduces chance of root rot disease.
Avoid compacted soils.
Timing of seeding is very important to achieve desired biomass.
Allow 6-10 weeks of cool-season growth.

 

Rye

Type

Cool-season annual cereal grain

Roles

Scavenges excess N
Prevents erosion
Adds organic matter
Suppresses weeds

Seeding Depth (in.)

¾ - 2

Drill Rate (lb./A)

60-120

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

90-160

Best Established

Late Summer, Early Fall

Minimum Germination Temperature

34°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Light loam or sandy soil

Things to Note

Can grow in heavy clays and in poorly-drained soils.
Can tolerate waterlogging.
Can establish in cool weather.
More sensitive to seeding depth than other cereals.
If broadcasting in late fall, consider increasing rate to ensure adequate stand.

 

Wheat

Type

Winter annual cereal grain; can be spring planted

Roles

Prevents erosion
Suppresses weeds
Scavenges excess nutrients
Adds organic matter

Seeding Depth (in.)

½ - 1½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

60-120

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

60-150

Best Established

Late Summer, Early Fall

Minimum Germination Temperature

38°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Medium texture, moderate fertility, well-drained soil

Things to Note

Can tolerate heavy soils.
Can tolerate poorly-drained soils.
Flooding can drown easily.

 

Buckwheat

Type

Summer or cool-season annual broadleaf grain

Roles

Provides quick soil cover
Suppresses weeds
Provides nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects
Loosens topsoil
Revitalizes low-fertility soil

Seeding Depth (in.)

½ - 1½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

48-70

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

50-90

Best Established

Spring to Late Summer

Minimum Germination Temperature

50°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Light to medium well-drained soils

Sandy loams, silt loams

Things to Note

Doesn’t like heavy, wet soil, so avoid wet spots.
Will not recover from flooding.
Requires minimal fertilizer.
Won’t break hardpan, so avoid hard soils.
Not frost-tolerant.
Prefers cool, moist conditions.
Heavier drill rates can lead to quicker canopy.
Drilling can lead to stronger stand.

 

Berseem Clover

Type

Summer annual legume

Roles

Suppresses weeds
Prevents erosion
Provides chopped forage and grazing opportunities

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

8-12

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

15-20

Best Established

Early Spring, Early Fall

Minimum Germination Temperature

42°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Slightly alkaline loam and silty soils

Things to Note

Grows in all soil types except sand
Excess soil phosphorus can limit growth

 

Sorghum-Sudangrass

Type

Summer annual grass

Roles

Builds soil
Suppresses weeds
Subsoil loosener

Seeding Depth (in.)

½ - 1½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

35

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

40-50

Best Established

Late Spring, Early Summer

Minimum Germination Temperature

65°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Good fertility, near-neutral pH

Warm, moist soil

Things to Note

Not frost tolerant.
Plant after soil warms in spring or summer.
Plant at least 6 weeks before first frost.
Tolerates low-fertility, moderate acidity, high alkalinity

 

Brassicas: Mustards, Radishes, Canola (Rapeseed)

Type

Cool-season or winter annual

Roles

Prevents erosion
Suppresses weeds
Alleviates soil compaction
Scavenges nutrients

Seeding Depth (in.)

Mustards: ¼ - ¾
Radish: ¼ - ½
Canola (Rapeseed): ¼ - ¾

Drill Rate (lb./A)

Mustards: 5-12
Radish: 8-13
Canola (Rapeseed): 5-10

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

Mustards: 10-15
Radish: 10-20
Canola (Rapeseed): 8-14

Best Established

Mustards: Spring, Late Summer
Radish: Spring, Late Summer, Early Fall
Canola (Rapeseed): Fall, Spring

Minimum Germination Temperature

Mustards: 40°F
Radish: 45°F
Canola (Rapeseed): 41°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Well-drained soils
pH range of 5.5-8.5

Things to Note

Avoid poorly-drained soils.
Establish winter cover crops as early as possible.
Try to establish approximately 4 weeks before average 28°F freeze.
Seeds are fairly small.
Fall planting conditions are ideal for establishment.
Avoid planting too late, or stand is likely to fail.

 

Cowpeas

Type

Summer annual legume

Roles

Suppresses weeds
Provides N
Builds soil
Prevents erosion
Forage

Seeding Depth (in.)

1 – 1½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

30-90

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

70-120

Best Established

Early Summer

Minimum Germination Temperature

58°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Hot, moist areas where corn flourishes; well-drained soil

Things to Note

Drilling or planting are more effective than broadcasting due to seed size.
Tolerates drought and low soil fertility.
Requires heat for optimum growth.
Rots in cool, wet soil.
Less adapted to alkaline soil.
Won’t survive flooded conditions.

 

Crimson Clover

Type

Winter annual or summer annual legume

Roles

Provides N
Builds soil
Prevents erosion
Forage

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

15-20

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

22-30

Best Established

Late Summer, Early Summer

Optimal Soil Conditions

Well-drained, sandy loams

Things to Note

Does poorly on heavy clay.
Doesn’t do well on waterlogged soil.
Avoid acidic or alkaline soils.
Thrives in cool, moist conditions after establishment.

 

Field Peas

Type

Winter annual or summer annual legume

Roles

Provides N
Suppresses weeds
Forage

 

Seeding Depth (in.)

1½ - 3

Drill Rate (lb./A)

50-80

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

90-100

Best Established

Fall, Early Spring

Minimum Germination Temperature

41°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Well-limed, well-drained clay or heavy loam soils
Neutral or above pH
Moderate fertility, moist soil
 

Things to Note

Incorporation with broadcasting can greatly improve stands.
Avoid wet spots.

 

Hairy Vetch

Type

Winter annual or summer annual legume

Roles

Provides N
Suppresses weeds
Conditions topsoil
Reduces erosion

Seeding Depth (in.)

½ - 1½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

15-20

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

25-40

Best Established

Early Fall, Early Spring

Minimum Germination Temperature

60°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Well-drained soil with adequate moisture
Soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0

Things to Note

Dry conditions limit germination, while irrigation aids germination.
Plant 30-45 days before kill frost in winter.
Consider higher rate if seeding in spring or late fall.
Consider higher rate if seeding into weeds or on slopes.
Avoid compacted soils.
Tolerates wide soil pH range.

 

Medics

Type

Winter annual or summer annual legume

Roles

Provides N
Builds soil quality
Suppresses weeds
Controls erosion

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

8-22

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

12-26

Best Established

Early Fall, Early Spring, Early Summer

Minimum Germination Temperature

45°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Reasonably fertile soils

Things to Note

Excessive moisture early in season can reduce stands.
Consider planting a medic mixture with various seed sizes and maturation dates to reduce economic risk.

 

Red Clover

Type

Short-lived perennial, biennial, or winter annual legume

Roles

Provides N
Builds soil
Suppresses weeds
Forage

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

8-10

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

10-12

Best Established

Late Summer, Early Spring

Minimum Germination Temperature

41°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Cool weather conditions and climates

Things to Note

Check herbicide usage dates before establishing red clover.
Successful with grass seed drill box.
Tolerates shade well.
Well-adapted to wide range of soil types and conditions.
Tolerates wet conditions better than vetch.

 

Subterranean Clover

Type

Reseeding cool-season annual legume

Roles

Suppresses weeds
Controls erosion
Provides N
Forage
Living or dying mulch

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

10-20

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

20-30

Best Established

Late Summer, Early Fall

Minimum Germination Temperature

38°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Low to moderate soil fertility.

Things to Note

Broadcast into a weed-free seedbed.
Tolerates moderate acidity to slightly alkaline pH.

 

Sweetclovers

Type

Biennial, summer annual, or winter annual legume

Roles

Builds soil and fertility
Aerates below surface
Prevents erosion
Suppresses weeds

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - 1

Drill Rate (lb./A)

6-10

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

10-20

Best Established

Spring, Summer

Minimum Germination Temperature

42°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Loam soils with near-neutral pH

Things to Note

Succeeds in same soil conditions as alfalfa.
Will not thrive on poorly-drained soils.

 

White Clover

Type

Long-lived perennial or winter annual legume

Roles

Protects against erosion
Attracts beneficial insects
Living mulch

Seeding Depth (in.)

¼ - ½

Drill Rate (lb./A)

3-9

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

5-14

Best Established

Late Winter, Early to Late Spring, Early Fall

Minimum Germination Temperature

40°F

Optimal Soil Conditions

Clay and loam soils

Things to Note

Tolerates wet soils, even short flooding.
Grows better in clay and loam soils than sandy soils.
Tolerates short dry spells.
Seed about 40 days before first kill frost.
For summer establishment, humid, cool, shaded conditions work well.

 

Wollypod Vetch

Type

Cool-season annual legume

Roles

Provides N
Suppresses weeds
Prevents erosion
Attracts bees
Adds organic matter

Seeding Depth (in.)

½ - 1

Drill Rate (lb./A)

10-30

Broadcast Rate (lb./A)

30-60

Best Established

Fall

Optimal Soil Conditions

Thrives on various soil types

Things to Note

Tolerates even poor, sandy soils.
Tolerates mildly acidic soils.
Does well in recently tilled, nutrient-deficient fields.

 
Resource: Managing Cover Crops Profitably, Third Edition (2007)
Available for download or purchase at www.sare.org/WebStore.
 

Related News and Information

Grow Your Next Crop and Your Bottom Line

Great Plains Ag Solutions
March 16, 2017

A versatile, heavy-duty drill equipped with multiple seed boxes can not only be used to plant your traditional crops, but it can also help you seed challenging cover crop mixes successfully. Using a drill to plant your cover crops will increase the value of your drill investment and maximize its utility across more acres.