Cover crops can be planted to provide soil cover during otherwise idle intervals, or fallow periods, in a given crop rotation – that is, between harvest and planting of commodity or feed crops. In Wisconsin, a cover crop might be planted after harvest of a short season crop such as a small grain or vegetable crop. Cover crops are grown to benefit the soil by preventing erosion, adding organic carbon, recycling or adding plant nutrients, and by enhancing microbiological communities associated with biological diversity. Some plant species used as cover crops provide pest management functions within a crop rotation. The term “cover crop” is really a catch-all phrase for numerous uses associated with soil improvement and conservation, nutrient management (green manure), pest management (weed and disease suppressors) and reduced reliance on purchased fertilizers and pesticides. Plant species best suited to use as cover crops tend to be fast, aggressive growers for which affordable seed is readily available. Other desirable traits depend on the desired function, such as erosion control, nitrogen fixation, nutrient scavenging, soil carbon addition (soil builder), weed suppression or disease suppression.
Soil Science Extension
University of Wisconsin Madison