Cool Season Deer Mix, Upland Game Bird Mix, African Cabbage, Crimson Clover, Nitro Radish, these are just a few examples of more than 100 options available on Green Cover Seed’s website. What seeds are best for my climate, soil type, and goals?
I asked Colten Catterton, a cover crop expert and sales rep for Green Cover Seed, what 5 things should a land owner consider when choosing a cover crop seed?
1. Timing is everything- Planting date will be your most decisive factor in species selection. In the spring cool season annual species can be planted when soil temps are 40F+ while many warm season species need 60F+ soil temps. In the fall we try to let warm season species have a minimum of 45 days of growth before a killing frost to get a good ROI on growth. Cool season annuals that die from a hard freeze would need 30 days prior planting and the others that can overwinter, can be planted until the ground freezes in the fall.
2. Planting method- Broadcast, broadcast with incorporation and drilling are the most common planting methods. In general, small seeded species can be broadcast while larger seeded species need to be placed into the soil profile. All methods can be successful with helpful environmental conditions but getting the seed in the soil with a planter or drill is the most reliable. Broadcasting with incorporation or outright broadcasting can take 10-50% more seed than a drilled/planting method.
3. Goals- If you don’t have one then you will never reach it. So knowing the desired outcome before selecting and sowing the seed will result in more reliable success. Goals could be multifaceted like a combination of building organic matter, wildlife and winterkill. Where you also could have a very narrow goal of low maintenance perennial or dry hay potential. If your a livestock producer, we need to consider when is the forage needed and the plan of harvest through grazing or mechanical means.
4. Soil type- Soils tell a great story of the past, present and future potential. Not all are created equal. So whether dealing with sand from the recent flooding events, slick clay side hills or fertile crests all could be considered when making seed choices. You can’t change a soils parent material (sand, silt, clay) but with time and proper management, we can alter that soils structure and functionality. This is done through getting organic carbon into the soil profile with the proper balance of soil biology and function.
5. Environmental condition- Dealing with extremes like flooding and drought are very difficult to predict but looking at long term averages and current conditions at the time of seed planting will enable you the ability to make best possible choices. Being flexible with contingency plans when extremes strike can stake the odds in your favor. An example, a hail event strikes your corn crop, this would then create enough light to allow for an excellent cover crop or food plot to get started growing before the harvest of that corn. Take advantage of all opportunities.