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Cornell University

Cover Crop Guide for NY Growers

Dr. Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, Cornell AgriTech


Rye is a cold-tolerant grain that geminates in cool soil (34-40° F), making it a major fall-planted cover crop in the Northeast for winter erosion control. The crop prefers well-drained soils but will tolerate heavy clays and acid soils. Rye has a well-developed fibrous root system that reduces leaching of soil nitrates. The top growth provides soil cover and suppresses weed; however, it can be difficult to control in the spring and is known to suppress some crops.

Land Preparation

Prepare a seed bed free of clods and of weeds. If tillage is impossible, rye can be broadcast on moist, untilled ground. Additional fertilizer is usually not needed, especially when following vegetables.

Seeding Rate

Date Drill Broadcast
9/15 60 85 lb/ac
9/22 100 140
10/1 140 200
10/15 180 250
Drill 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep. After broadcasting, cover 1 inch deep. Rye is often mixed with legumes as a nurse crop. In fall, use 70 lb/ac rye with 20-25 lb/ac hairy vetch. In the spring, use 60 lb/ac rye with 15 lb/ac medium red clover.

Seed Cost

2007 price: $0.10-0.20/lb ($6.00/bu)

Seeding Dates

September 15 – October 10 for winter cover. Early plantings recover more nutrients and build soil better. See separate article about rye before spring-seeded vegetables. By October 15 for spring cover, but no value as winter cover. April 15 as a nurse crop for clover. See the tool to find the planting date likelihood for your location.

Time Until Control

When growth resumes in spring (3-6 inches; April). For mulched no-till, roll at heading (mid to late May)

Seed Suppliers

Local seed dealers, Seedway, AgriCulver, local farmers (if the seed is weed-free).

Management Tricks

Control on time, leave 2-3 weeks between incorporation and replanting. Can be mixed with hairy vetch and red clover.

Unavoidable Problems

Can suppress following crop.

Avoidable Problems

Becomes too big and fibrous if left too long. Rainy spring may prevent timely control.

Classic Uses

Winter cover after late vegetables or soybeans. Rye has a late window of opportunity, often when it is too late for other cover crops.




Control early. Crop suppression is least if rye is killed with herbicide (e.g. 1 lb/ac glyphosate)4 when it is about 6 inches tall,5 and allowed to decompose for 3-4 weeks. Without herbicide, plow down at 4 to 8 inches tall. Wet, warm spring weather can cause quick growth and make incorporation difficult. For later control mow, or roll and crimp, during the brief period after all the tillers are past the boot stage but before the plants have headed out. This last method has high risk of crop suppression. See separate article about rye before spring-seeded vegetables.


Some crops are suppressed following the incorporation of rye, either from allelopathy or nutrient tie-up. Wait at least two weeks after incorporation before replanting vegetables. Wheat may be preferred as a cover crop to reduce this risk.

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