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Cornell University

Cover Crop Guide for NY Growers

Dr. Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, Cornell AgriTech


This small grain is not particularly winter hardy. Spring-planted oats are used for green manure, while fall-planted oats provide winter-killed ground cover. The residue is incorporated before the early planting of vegetables. Oats are particularly useful in rotations with vegetable crops because they grow quickly and are easily killed. They are also useful as a nurse crop with legumes, such as hairy vetch and peas, for forage, erosion control and weed suppression.

Land Preparation

Work land to provide a weed-free seedbed. For spring seeding, provide about 40 lb/ac of nitrogen fertilizer. For fall seeding or when using oats as a nurse crop with legumes, no additional fertilizer is required.

Seeding Rate

April for green manure, mid-August-September for winter cover.

Seed Cost

2007 price: $8.00/32lb.bu

Seeding Dates

Mid April-mid May and again August-September

Time Until Control

4-6 weeks

Seed Suppliers

Local farm seed dealer. Seedway. Use spring oats for all planting dates. Feed oats produced “on farm” are acceptable if they contain no seed-borne diseases and weeds. There are many varieties of certified “forage oats” that produce more spring growth than oats grown for grain. Varieties recommended for New York state include Blaze, Rodeo, and Prairie.

Management Tricks

Plant with legumes such as Field Peas.

Unavoidable Problems

Soil crusting from heavy rain can stop emergence.

Avoidable Problems

Use clean seed if buying from farm.

Classic Uses

Nurse crop with peas and vetch. With Legumes for forage. Killed winter cover for early planting.


Soil crusting after heavy rain will affect the stand and it may require reseeding. Check for winter survivors that need managing in spring.


Incorporate spring sown oats or winter survivors before seeds are set (mid-June). Oats incorporate more easily than rye.


The root systems of oats are not effective at breaking up compacted soils.

All uses for Oats
Management Goal Planting Time
Increase Organic Matter Early Autumn
Increase Organic Matter Spring
Reduce Weeds Early Autumn
Reduce Weeds Spring
Stabilize Soil Aggregates Early Autumn
Stabilize Soil Aggregates Spring
Summer Erosion Protection Spring
Winter Erosion Protection Early Autumn
Winter Manure Application Early Autumn