Cover crops are generally user friendly and successful with little stress, but there are a few things that shouldn’t be overlooked...
“Prairie Creek Seed, who do you give such a wide range for recommended seeding rates on your cover crop blends?” Good question! Different seeding rates have their place. Want a thick, full stand to achieve maximum forage for livestock? You better stick to the higher end of our scales. Looking for a cover crop that will not be harvested? Then it is more economical to stick to the lower end. There is such a thing as too low of a seeding rate, and that is the first way cover crops can be sabotaged. A seeding rate that is too low will result in not enough cover to establish and will not gain you any benefits.
Another way to mistreat your cover crops is not giving them a proper seeding method. While there are many cover crops that can be broadcast, not all of them can take that! Many large seeded cover crops need to be drill or incorporated in some way to have a strong establishment. Taking the extra time, and sometimes added expense, of drilling your cover crop will pay for itself. The establishment of many cover crops will be sped up by around 2 weeks when drilled. Getting seeds in the ground also makes them more tolerant of weather extremes by having a healthier established root system (this will be important later).
If you are planting a cover crop without the goal of harvesting, then this point is not as critical, but is still important! Growing anything desirable with low fertility is next to impossible. If you want your cover crop to get large enough for forage (or even just large enough to provide adequate erosion control) it does not hurt to provide some fertility as it fits into your operation.
Remember how cover crops that are drilled have a stronger root system to handle weather better? This leads us to the ways that good ol’ Mother Nature can sabotage cover crops. The same way that drought and heavy rain effect your cash crops, those events can also be damaging to your cover crop. While this point is out of your control, it is important to remember that cover crops are not indestructible.
Keep these points in mind to set your cover crops up for success!