how do I improve my garden and soil naturally?

Asked July 29, 2019, 5:18 PM EDT

In the past I have planted a fall cover crop of rye or wheat, I was told that it should sprout and continue to grow in the fall and winter. My experience has been that there has been little growth and therefore nothing to rototill under to improve the soil. This year tilled in the spring and due to wet ground ended up tilling several times to rid the garden of growth that looks like grass right now. So my question is when do I plant a cover crop? (I may be planting to late?) and what can I do other than tilling or chemicals to control weeds?

Muskegon County Michigan cover crops soil

1 Response

Cover Crops is one of the easiest way to build up the soil. You are correct that timing of planting is crucial. Here are a couple of my recommendations for gardeners.

Oats is a versatile and easy cover crop for home gardeners. It winter kills most winters and if it does survive the winter it can be easily managed through tillage or chemical means.Oats is also used as a weed control option, it has a chemical in the roots that inhibits the growth of other plants. Oats should be planted no later than Aug. 20. If you have plants in the garden still growing you can plant the oats in the rows. I would recommend planting about 3 oz./100 sq. ft. If you broadcast oats lightly rake over the seeding to ensure there is a good seed to soil contact.

Cereal rye (winter rye) is a late planted cover crop that we can plant in Michigan successfully into late fall. Cereal rye is the most widely used and effective cover crop for most people in Michigan. Cereal rye can be planted up until early Nov. The later that you plant the less top growth you will have in the fall and spring, it will also take longer to germinate in the spring. Cereal rye should be planted at 4 oz./100 sq. ft. and lightly raked if it broadcasted to ensure a good seed to soil contact.

There is another "rye" called annual ryegrass that is a different species and should be planted in August. If planted at the right time it will over winter. I do not recommend annual ryegrass for gardens because it can easily become a pervasive weed if not killed effectively.

Please feel free to contact me, curellc@msu.edu, directly if you have any questions.