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Johnson County

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Johnson County
11811 S. Sunset Drive
Suite 1500
Olathe, KS 66061

Office Hours:

Monday - Friday,
8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.

(913) 715-7000
(913) 715-7005 fax

Map to our office

K-State Research and Extension is committed to making its services, activities and programs accessible to all participants. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities may be requested by contacting Johnson County Extension at (913)715-7000. Notify staff of accommodation needs as early as possible.

Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service

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Cover Cropping in the Backyard Garden


With autumn fast approaching, many garden annuals have come and gone. And maybe you missed your window to seed cool-season herbs, flowers and vegetables a few weeks back. Maybe you’re ready to call it quits in the garden this year and start planning an overdue vacation. But you want to “winterize” your plot so it’s in tip-top condition when you come back to gardening next year. So you remove dead plants, residues, and weeds that can harbor pests and disease.  This is also a great time to get a soil test from your local extension office and amend with fertilizers, sulfur, and compost as recommended.

Now you’re staring at bare soil when your garden used to be—what’s next?! Well a completely fallow “brown-gap” period is prone to drying out, eroding and accumulating weed seeds. Mulching with organic material like straw or woodchips can help but another viable option is the use of cover crops.

Cover crops are plants used as living ground cover and sometimes called “green manures.” This diverse group of plants (e.g. grasses, small grains, legumes, broadleaves) provide a multitude of benefits and have application in farms as well as gardens.

Cover crops take advantage of the light and water available during the off-season. They prevent surface runoff into watersheds, pull carbon out of the atmosphere to feed soil organisms, and scavenge for minerals that we need to grow our favorite cash crops. Cover crops are nitrogen fixers and nutrient recyclers, erosion preventers, soil looseners and weed suppressors—just to name a few. Cover crops provide wildlife habitat, improved water quality, and resilient gardens we can return to year after year.

Planting an overwintering cover crop now can be both an attractive and efficient way to promote the health of your garden. Small grains like winter wheat, barley, and grain rye, even annual ryegrass are good choices for gardens that will be planted to cool-season vegetables in late March/early April. These grass species will create good biomass prior to a winter dormancy, and start growing again in the spring at which point they should be mowed and incorporated into the soil.

Overwinter legumes like Hairy Vetch perform well in combination with rye, wheat and barley. Legumes increase available nitrogen for following crops but they are better suited to gardens left fallow until the summer.  This allows more time for meaningful amounts of nitrogen fixation prior to termination.

There are numerous species suited for cover cropping and several seed companies with their own unique mixes. Remember each of these crops has their own nuances for how/when termination should occur so you can get back into the garden in a timely manner. Read up on the management techniques for the crops that you choose. For more details on cover crop species, benefits and management check out K-State’s publication Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers and USDA’s Managing Cover Crops Profitably

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K-State Research and Extension Johnson County Master Gardener logo

Have questions? The Garden Hotline is staffed by trained EMG volunteers and Extension staff who will assist you with questions.

Phone: (913) 715-7050

Email: garden.help@jocogov.org