Covering the Basics of Summer Cover Crops

Daniel CooperCover Crops, Tip of the Week


By Sarah Strauss

The recent rising temperatures are a reminder that summer is approaching, and the beginning of the rainy season is a great time to start planting cover crops. If you are looking for a method to invest in your soil health, cover crops are one option.

By definition, cover crops are planted to improve soil health and are not harvested for profit. Improvements to soil health from planting cover crops can take time, but short-term benefits include changes to the soil microbial community which can impact nutrient availability. In addition, cover crops can have rapid impacts on weed management, as they can outcompete and shade out weeds.


Unlike when planting cover crops for agronomic crops (cotton, corn or soybeans), when cover crops are planted in citrus groves, we want the cover crops to flower and produce seeds in order to build a seed bank in the soil and not have to plant as many seeds next year. It can take several months before cover crops flower, which means row middles don’t need to be mowed as frequently.

Cover crops are supposed to provide benefits without requiring fertilization or irrigation, which is why now is a good time to think about what summer cover crops to plant. Annual or perennial plants can be used as cover crops in citrus groves. Perennial cover crops can take time to establish. So, for potentially faster impacts, plant annual cover crops.

Planting legume cover crops, such as sunn hemp, can provide nitrogen to the soil. Non-legume cover crops, such as millet or sorghum sudangrass, can provide carbon to the soil, which can help boost microbial activity and nutrient cycling. Planting annual cover crops at the beginning of the rainy season and again at the end of the rainy season can help ensure good germination and growth.

To further help cover crops germinate, it can be beneficial to prepare the row middles before planting. If there is high weed pressure in row middles, applying herbicide before planting can help reduce competition between the weeds and germinating cover crops. There are several ways that annual cover crop seeds can be planted, including seed drills or by broadcasting the seeds.

Learn more about cover crops here.

Sarah Strauss is an associate professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee.

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