Planting a cover crop a good idea for farmers, gardeners alike

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 23, 2011

By Darrell Blackwelder
For the Salisbury Post
SALISBURY — With cooler weather around the corner most people are done with their vegetables and annuals. Now is the time to clean up and remove spent garden debris.
It’s important to do this now since vegetable and floral debris harbor fungal diseases and overwintering immature insects. Unfortunately, many home gardeners leave their spent garden debris until the next planting season.
This practice, as tempting as it is for burned-out gardeners, can cause serious problems, especially for those who will plant in the same location next season.
Deep plowing plant debris reduces disease and insect problems by smothering fungal spores and insects that overwinter in stems and roots. Exposing roots to freezing temperatures also plays an important role in the reduction of plant pests such as nematodes.
It’s important to plant a cover crop as soon as the soil is workable. Cover crops such as rye grain, wheat, crimson clover or oats reduce erosion and supply much-needed organic matter. Cover crops should be plowed under as green manures in late winter or early spring six weeks before planting. These crops produce an abundance of biomass that improves the tilth (workability) of the soil. Implementing cover crops aids gardens and planting beds comprised of tight clay soils.
Research has also proven that cover crops have the ability to reduce certain weed populations. For example, wheat cover crop reduces broadleaf weed populations in early spring plantings.
With cooler weather just around the corner, take time to construct a compost bin for spent garden materials and leaves. Composting recycles spent vegetation, converting it into beneficial organic matter. Compost is a natural source of nutrients and also helps loosen tight clay soils. This website has detailed information on building and maintaining a home compost bin.
Now is a great time to have your soil tested. Home gardeners need to have their soil tested every two to three years. Soil testing saves time and reduces unnecessary nutrients into the environment as well as dollars in producing ornamental and edible crops. Soil testing boxes and forms are available from Cooperative Extension located at the Agriculture Center on Old Concord Road in Salisbury. These samples are sent by homeowners for testing to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture in Raleigh. Reports will arrive in a few weeks and now are available online at the NC Department of Agriculture website,
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at