Growing Rye Cover Crop

Thinking about growing a rye cover crop? Rye quickly establishes itself as a ground cover, preventing soil erosion. The deep roots of the soil plant help prevent soil compaction. Best of all, rye is winter hardy down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Growing A Rye Cover Crop In Your Fields

Winter rye is an excellent cover crop, providing erosion protection and adding organic material to your garden's soil. This fast growing plant is easy to grow and winter hardy in most climate zones. Here's how to get started growing a rye cover crop:

  • Not very picky. Although rye will give excellent results in well-drained, loamy soil, it will also tolerate heavy clay and sandy soils. Its deep root system also allows rye to hold up well in drought conditions. You'll get best results if the soil pH is between 5.0 and 7.0.
  • When to plant. Winter rye should be planted two weeks before or up to four weeks after the first heavy frost.
  • Seeding rates. If you're drill-planting your rye seeds, you can plant them at a rate of 75 to 100 pounds per acre. For broadcast seeding, you'll need between 50 and 150 pounds of seed. You'll also want to lightly till the soil after seeding to cover the rye seed.
  • Care and feeding. You can fertilize a rye planting with a light nitrogen fertilizer if desired. If rye is being planted after corn or other well fertilized crops, you can skip the feeding altogether, as rye is a good scavenger of available nitrogen.
  • Back to the land. In the spring, turn rye plants into the ground when 12 to 18 inches high and still flexible-older plants will take a long time to decompose into the soil. In a no-till planting scenario, mow mature rye plants when pollen falls from the seed head when shaken.
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