Yay! You planted cover crops last fall. And spring has finally arrived, soooooo now what? Because I spend pretty much every waking moment of my work life dealing with cover crops, I wanted to offer three little bits of insights for cover croppers to focus on in the spring:
Spring Step 1: Go dig!
One of the first things a cover cropper should do in the spring is GO DIG! There are many above-ground benefits from cover crops such as weed suppression, erosion control, and forage, but the real action in soil health happens below ground. Things to look for in healthy soil include signs of earthworms, living roots, organic matter color, residue, subsurface compaction, drainage, and nothing at all. A lot of your soil health is measured in microorganisms that you won’t be able to see. For a great microorganism assessment, use the “soil your undies test.” Click here to learn how to run the trial. As you dig year after year, you’ll start to see the changes to soil health.
Spring Step 2: Go terminate!
After you dig, it is important to plan your termination process for each field. Take into consideration which fields stay wet longer, which cover crops winter killed, and which herbicides you plan to use. Note the herbicide’s residuals because we need to start planning now for your 2018 cover crops.
We all need to go back to reading herbicide labels. My service calls often result in the operator ignoring basic principles of how each of these herbicides work best. Treating your water, adjusting the pH, using the right sprayer nozzles, avoiding spraying on cold cloudy days, spraying four hours before sunset, and spraying two days after freezing weather are just a few key bullet points on the RoundUp label for optimal results.
Spraying cover crops “sooner than later” is not always ideal. Make sure cover crops are actively growing before spraying. If your cover crops are not actively growing, some of the herbicides will not translocate through the plant. An old wives’ tale is to mow your lawn twice and then go spray your annual ryegrass. With annual ryegrass we want to spray between 4 and 14 inches. Check out this link to learn more about effective ways to terminate each species of cover crops in “The Dirt” newsletter.
Again, read your herbicide labels to check their plant back dates. Here is a great website to help understand your herbicide restrictions.
Other forms of termination include winterkill, close mowing, light tillage, and crimping.
Spring Step 3: Plan, order, and ship your high-quality cover crop seed now!