Plants That Fertilize Others

Cover crops are an easy and economical way to provide extra natural fertilizer to your landscape or garden’s soil. And they have the ability to go “where no root has gone before.”

By: Benjamin Trevino

Sometimes called “green manure crops,” cover crops are an easy and economical way to provide extra and natural fertilizer to your landscape or garden’s soil to help maximize output in the spring.

Many cover crop plants are what we call nitrogen fixing plants, as they have the unique ability to take in nitrogen from the air and convert it into a useable type of fertilizer that is stored in the soil for future use.

All cover crops aid in reducing soil erosion and compaction. If your soil becomes too hard, or compacted by feet, paws or machinery, it becomes very difficult for roots to expand and establish themselves. Cover crops have the ability to “go where no root has gone before.”

Elbon rye, for example, helps prevent infestation of damaging nematodes that can harm and inhibit your plants from growing to their full potential.

The most commonly used cover crop plants used are elbon rye, Dutch white clover and hairy vetch. Planting your cover crop can be done in one of two ways. The seed mixture can be broadcast over your current vegetation or you can till your soil and apply the seed to the ground. Both methods can be done now to just before the end of the dormant season if the weather has been mild. Be sure to softly rake soil over the seed to reduce movement of the seed and predation from birds. If your ground is dry prior to application, it is recommended to apply a small amount of water before planting to aid in germination.

It’s best to plant your crop a minimum of four weeks prior to the first freeze of the year to allow for full establishment and prior to your spring planting date, your crops should be cut or tilled under before they bloom or seed. However this year, the weather is already in turmoil so planting is pretty much anytime in the next six weeks.

By giving your soil a little extra care during the winter time with the use of cover crops, you can provide your spring plants with a natural fertilizer — no man-made hydrocarbons — that will help them grow and be productive almost immediately.

Benjamin Trevino is a conservation consultant for San Antonio Water System.

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Our Guest Authors are fantastic former SAWS employees, incredible interns and community leaders in the local landscaping world. They are all as passionate as we are about saving water with beautiful, diverse landscapes.
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