Cover Crops as a Weed Management Tool
This page focuses on how to manage weeds with cover crops. It imparts basic cover crop concepts and provides users with updated content on how to create a plan to ultimately manage weeds with this powerful tool.
What is a “cover crop”?
Cover crops provide many potential benefits to an agroecosystem. They cover the soil, decreasing erosion. They add carbon to the soil, increasing organic matter and improving soil health. They take up N and P that would otherwise run off or leach into bodies of water. They help suppress weeds. They also provide habitat and food for wildlife and beneficial insects.
Why grow a cover crop?
There are multiple definitions for “cover crop”. In general, a cover crop is any plant that is grown when the ground would otherwise be fallow (bare). (Note that cover crops can be interseeded with cash crops for certain purposes.) A cover crop is generally not harvested but rather is grown for the other benefits it can provide to a cropping system (sometimes referred to as ecological services). Some farmers do graze cover crops or harvest them for forage or seed.
Are there any risks or other unwanted effects associated with cover crops?
Cover crops may provide overwintering habitat for insects or serve as a host for some diseases. Some cover crops are difficult to terminate, such as rapeseed. Incomplete termination may cause issues with planting or competition with subsequent crops, and may allow cover crops to set seed resulting in future weed problems. Carefully choose each species planted as a cover crop.
Important Concepts for Managing this Tool
- Bicksler AJ, Masiunas JB (2009) Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) suppression with buckwheat or sudangrass cover crops and mowing. Weed Technol 23:556–563
- Mirsky SB, Ackroyd VJ, Cordeau S, Curran WS, Hashemi M, Reberg-Horton SC, Ryan MR, Spargo JT (2017) Hairy vetch biomass across the eastern United States: effects of latitude, seeding rate and date, and termination timing. Agron J 109:1510–1519
- Mirsky SB, Curran WS, Mortenseny DM, Ryany MR, Shumway DL (2011) Timing of cover-crop management effects on weed suppression in no-till planted soybean using a roller-crimper. Weed Sci 59:380–389
- Myers R, Weber A, Tellatin S (2019) Cover crop economics: Opportunities to improve your bottom line in row crops. SARE Tech Bull
- PennState Extension (2010) Suppressing weeds usıng cover crops in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania State University
- Ruis SJ, Blanco-Canqui H, Creech CF, Koehler-Cole K, Elmore RW, Francis CA (2019) Cover crop biomass production in temperate agroecozones. Agron J 111:1535–1551
- Snapp SS, Swinton SM, Labarta R, Mutch D, Black JR, Leep R, Nyiraneza J, O’Neil K (2005) Evaluating cover crops for benefits, costs and performance within cropping system niches. Agron J 97:322–332
- Victoria Ackroyd
- Michael Flessner
- Kara Pittman
- Claudio Rubione
- Lovreet Shergill
- Mark VanGessel
- Steven Mirsky