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Q: What Erosion Mix/Cover Crop Should I Plant?

Sep 18, 2009 -

A PVFS Customer question - Staff answered:

Question:

I just received your email newsletter which talked about cover crops.   I’m very interested, and I have some questions.

There is a section that talks about hillside erosion control.   Our ‘back yard’ is a hillside, and I would love to plant something on it that would control erosion, but that wouldn’t turn into a weed-eating nightmare in the summer.   We are required to have 100’ in all directions either be green, or no taller than 4”.    It appears that all of these erosion control plants that you mention are around 2’ tall.   Do they turn brown in the summer (which would then require weed-eating)??

Also, I have about 1/2 acre of my ‘garden’ that is not fenced.   I would like to plant a cover crop that will help break up the clay soil, and that will also fix some nitrogen.    I have 2 concerns/questions:    1)  Since that area is not fenced, the deer have discovered the area….   would they simply eat all of the sprouting cover crop down to the nubs??   2)  We cleared and tilled the area last spring, but did not spray it at all, so I’m assuming that the native grasses will start sprouting up again.   Would it make more sense to wait until we get those under control before we try to grow a cover crop??   Otherwise, I’m afraid it will just be overcome by the native grasses.   What are your thoughts?

Answer:

The erosion control mixes we carry are annuals, so they would grow up and green in spring, form flowers, drop seeds, then die and turn brown, requiring weed-eating.  We do carry lower growing plants that can be used for erosion.  If you plan on watering during dry times, you can go with a perennial that will stay green year round.  If you don’t water during dry times, then you can choose a low growing annual (however, unfortunately, even the low growing annuals we carry can grow up to 12” so sounds like they won’t work for your regulations).  Good low growing perennial choices are creeping red fescue, perennial clover, mini perennial clover-grass mix. To sum up, if you irrigate, you can choose any perennial grass or clover you want since it will stay green year round.  If you do not irrigate, you’ll have to weed-whack (but only once) after the plants have dropped their seeds and dried.  Another option is to go with native grasses.  If you live in a dry area of CA, they generally go dormant in the summer.  I suggest you contact your local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for options.

As far as your garden area, 1) deer will graze the green manure crops you grow.  Whether or not they eat it down to the nub is uncertain.  I’d say that if you are planning on fencing the area anyway, you should do it before growing a green manure crop.   2) If the grasses are grown up in that area, ie, the ground is not clear, then yes, you should re-till before planting your cover crop seed.  One consideration is that if the grasses are annuals and they’ve dropped seed, then you have seeds in the soil that will grow up whenever water is provided.  One solution is to clear the area and irrigate while the soil is still warm to let those unwanted seeds sprout, then till the seedlings down.  this can be repeated several times to exhaust some of the “seed bank”.  If you don’t want to do that, then grow the cover crop anyway, it is a good competitor against native grasses that might grow once you start irrigating.

Hope that helps and thank you for growing organically!



Sasha Hartman Says:
Sep 18th, 2009 at 11:06 am

I live in the high desert of California which ranges from zone 7-11.  The soil is lean and deficient of most nutrients required by vegetable plants.  I have amended with plenty of compost and chicken manure and organic fertilizer appropriate for this area.  Last autumn I bought the onion sampler and planted the starts in the best area of my garden.  All of the onions did quite well and were delicious but the leeks had problems.  They had a hard core inside the shank which was impossible to cut through.  Is this caused by dry conditions?  How does one remedy this issue?

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