Better Soil, Fewer Weeds: Why You Should Plant Cover Crops Before Frost

Written by Paige Vandiver

It’s late summer or early fall, your garden is getting sleepy and ready to hibernate for the winter, and you’re already beginning to daydream of next spring when you can get a fresh start. Well you can start prepping now! 

One of the major things you can do to improve next year’s soil and prevent weeds: incorporate cover crops!

What are cover crops?

Also referred to as living mulch or green manure, cover crops are plants grown strictly to benefit the soil, which will reward you with a healthier, happier garden next year.

The best thing about cover crops? THEY ARE SO EASY TO PLANT AND MAINTAIN!

Why should you plant cover crops in your garden?

These generous plants provide a host of benefits to your garden’s winter residence. They can: 

  1. Protect your soil from erosion
  2. Preserve earthworms and microorganisms that keep the food web activated
  3. Retain nitrogen in the soil
  4. Suppress those pesky weeds! 

Cover crops give you a way to organically maintain your soil, eliminating the need to replace that dry, hard dirt you are left with after winter.

As if all those benefits aren’t enough, cover crops will also provide some color and texture to your empty garden bed!

When do you plant cover crops in Ohio?

Autumn is the perfect time to begin planting your green manure, but as long as you plant your cover crops by at least 2 weeks before the first frost of the season, you give them a good chance to get established before the cold sets in.

Which cover crop should I plant?

There are some great cover crops out there: buckwheat, oats, hairy vetch, mustard, crimson clover… but for an easy, fail-safe Ohio cover crop, we highly suggest Rye Grass!

Rye Grass does a great job of:

  • staving off weeds
  • fighting erosion
  • enhancing the soil
  • reducing insect pest levels

To find out if we have Rye Grass in stock, give us a call at 937-687-2722 or email us at

How do I plant cover crops?

Planting cover crops is as easy as it gets. Since thick coverage across your garden bed is key to protecting your soil, you don’t have to worry so much about perfectly spacing out the seeds. 

  1. Loosen soil with a baby pitchfork (hand rake).
  2. Open the seed packet and sprinkle into your hand.
  3. Scatter or broadcast the seeds by slightly opening your fingers and waving them across the loose soil, allowing the seeds to fall through the crevices.
  4. Barely work them into the soil by tapping around the area with your baby pitchfork.
  5. If your soil is very dry, you can give them a little water.
  6. Let them grow!

What do I do after they are planted?

The beauty of cover crops: no hand holding necessary! 

There’s no need to worry about watering your cover crops over the winter since the rain and snow provide ample water supply to your living mulch.

You’ll want to terminate your cover crops at the first signs of spring – or even before that if you see them begin to flower – by using a hand rake or shovel to turn them over and mix them into the soil. Alternatively, you can mow over them, give them a week to decompose and then mix them into the soil.

And that’s it! You now have the happiest soil on the block and it’s time to decide what stunning flowers, delicious herbs, or fresh vegetables are going to thrive in your rich garden bed next season!

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