meadow garden and cover crops

Asked February 8, 2019, 1:22 PM EST

Hi, I'm working on removing english ivy and weeds from my yard, with the long term goal of a meadow garden. I'm trying to save time and money. I have planted winter rye as a cover crop to suppress weeds, while I grow native grasses and perennials to inter-plant (or just plant after i take down the cover crop). a 1. are there other cover crops i should consider (primarily for weed suppression, but also enriching my heavy clay soil--this is steep drainage and partial/full sun). 2. Is inter planting a good/bad idea? i know winter rye adds chemicals to the soil that inhibit other plant growth... so maybe this isn't the best choice? or i need to take it all down before planting grasses/perennials? 3. are there other easy to grow cover crops that could be left in place (perennial) as i slowly establish the meadow garden? 4. are there any books or publications that address this? 5. anything else a home gardener on a limited budget should consider when trying to do this? and--the winter rye is actually beautiul now, do i really need to take it down or can i let it remain in place? thanks--

Fairfax County Virginia wildflowers and native plants lawns and turf

1 Response


I am going to answer your questions in order

  1. You might consider crimson clover or hairy (not crown) vetch in bare areas. Both have nitrogen fixing properties and can be early spring planted. Buckwheat or cowpeas can be used as a summer cover crop in bare spots and is useful for pollinators.

  2. Interplanting can work well. Consider removing small areas of cover crop and seeding or interplanting.. That way you can use the cover crop as mulch until you can reseed or put in perennials. Cereal rye (Secale cereal) roots, and cover crop laid on the soil can inhibit weeds, and corn and other agricultural crops. The effect on other plants isn’t as clear. Cereal rye is beautiful in the winter months, so you might leave it for as long as it takes you to plan and purchase for the next steps in your management plan.

  3. A natural meadow is about 60% grasses. You might consider winter sowing (frost sowing) native warm season grasses between now and March. If you Google search “Guide to the Life Cycle of a Meadow” there are some useful instructions from seed distributors that can assist you with this process.

Steer clear of “meadow mixes” which often have annuals, rather than perennials. If you are not using herbicide to control weeds, you must be vigilant about weed removal. It will take a number of years to get coverage of the area and adequate reseeding. Consider the microhabitats in your meadow area and select seed mixes, individual seed varieties, plugs or plants accordingly. Monarda sp., Lobelia cardinalis and Lobelia siphilitica, and some Carex sp. prefer wet areas and will provide good coverage when in the proper location. Solidago, Oenothera. Rudbeckia, Amsonia sp. will prefer drier areas. Deciding whether to purchase seeds, plugs, or plants will be driven by your budget.

You can also contact the Extension Horticulture Help Desk in Fairfax at