Plant Cover Crops to Help Improve Soil Health

Cover crops can help to drastically improve soil. Learn about which cover crops will work best for your garden.

Growing cover crops will add organic matter to your soil while also loosening any compacted soil you might have. The roots and tops of these plants will also protect your soil from stormy weather. Legumes like vetch and clover will add nitrogen to your soil which is extremely good for most food producing crops.

Cover crops can also help keep pests away from your plants by providing a safe habitat for pest predators like ground beetles.


If you want to plant winter cover crops to protect the soil from bad weather, drop seeds throughout your garden as soon as you have finished your last harvest of the season. You can also sow the seeds between rows of any remaining fall crops you may have. Rake the soil lightly to cover the seeds, and keep the ground moist to encourage growth.

Till the cover crop into the soil once spring arrives. Allow the ground cover to decompose into the soil. If you do not want to till, you can mow the top growth and dig only as much as necessary to sow your spring crops or use transplants. You can leave the tops lying between rows of crops to serve as mulch.

Cool Weather Ground Covers

Field Peas

Field Peas are great to plant in the spring or fall and they work best on soils that lack organic matter. They can also smother weeds and add nitrogen to the soil.

Tillage Radish

Tillage Radishes are great to plant in late summer or early fall but they will not survive cold northern winters. You can use them on heavy soil where their long taproots can break up hardpan and grow quickly.

Hairy Vetch

Hairy Vetch grows great in late summer or fall and it can be used on acidic, well-drained soils. This crop cover regrows very quickly in spring after fall planting. It also adds a lot of nitrogen to the soil.

Winter Rye

Winter Rye grows well in late summer or fall and does best on soil that lacks organic matter. It can also germinate and grow in cold soil.


Thyme is very draught resistant and grows well in dry areas. You can also harvest thyme for cooking. This ground cover can help protect other plants from various pests and enhance soil.

Source: Lisa Padilla/flickr

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