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Cornell University

Cover Crop Guide for NY Growers

Dr. Thomas Björkman, Horticulture Section, Cornell AgriTech

Keys to Cover Crop Success

Three simple ideas can help you chose practices that lead to success:

  1. Fast Start
  2. No Gaps
  3. Kill on Time
Fast start

The cover crop must emerge and grow faster than the weeds.

  • Warm soil, not borderline for the species
  • Enough moisture in the seed zone
  • Excellent seed-soil contact
  • As shallow as possible to meet requirements above

Legumes are slow; they need a fast nurse crop

No Gaps

Weeds will grow in even small gaps in the cover crop stand

  • All of the field can make a good seedbed
  • Use a drill or grass seeder to control distribution
  • If broadcasting, cover field twice at different angles
  • Meet Fast Start requirement in the whole field
Kill on time

Terminate when plants will kill completely

Early flowering is often best

In spring, just after green-up allows less tillage and faster soil warming

Terminate so before there is a risk of seed production

Chose an effective method for the species, growth stage and season.

  • Mow all growing points
  • Separate roots and shoots with shallow tillage
  • Herbicide while still susceptible
  • Winter kills sensitive tissues
    (bulbs and stems are sensitive, rosettes are hardy)
  • Roll crimp (only before soybeans).