Ask the Master Gardener: What are cover crops?

The Penn State Extension of the Berks County Master Gardeners will include questions and answers to inquiries received through their gardening hotline.

Q: I heard about cover crops. what are they exactly Are they only used by farmers? Are they suitable for hobby gardeners? If yes, what can I plant?

A: Also known as cover crops, you don’t have to be a farmer to grow a cover crop. If you have an area of ​​the garden where you grow warm-season vegetables or annuals that you normally leave bare during the winter, you can improve the soil during the winter season by growing grains or legumes.

Advantages of cover crops

1. Retaining nutrients in the soil and fixing nitrogen in the soil in legumes

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2. Help prevent soil from erosion

3. Relief of compaction

4. Add organic matter to the soil as you dig under it in the spring

Cover crops that can be planted in the fall and their main benefits

1. Alfalfa, purple clover, hair vetch: legumes; fix nitrogen in the soil; The deep roots of the alfalfa loosen the soil

2. Barley, oats, winter rye, winter wheat: add organic matter; improve soil structure

Cover crops can be planted between the last of the warm season vegetables to give them a head start before the weather cools. If you’ve waited until late September (or even early October) to plant a cover crop, winter rye is probably your best bet.

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Q: When should I bring my houseplants back inside for the winter?

A: There are some preparations to be made before bringing the plants back indoors. It is advisable to check for pests such as aphids, scale insects and spider mites.

Give your plants a good stream of water to remove them and check the undersides of the leaves. If insects remain, treat with horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or neem oil.

Check the soil for hidden insect pests and rinse with water to remove them. Heavily infested plants should be discarded.

Give your plants time to adjust to lower light levels by placing them in a shaded area outside. If, after returning indoors, some plants drop leaves and turn yellow, increase the humidity and add additional lighting. Trim and remove dead or diseased plant matter.

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The best time to start acclimatizing your plants is when nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees.

Penn State master gardeners with advanced diagnostic training will operate the hotline and answer questions about lawn care, landscape plants, houseplants, fruits, vegetables and herbs, insect and disease problems, and identifying unknown plants or insects. The advice is based on integrated plant protection strategies and environmentally friendly approaches. For more information on these and other gardening topics, email the garden hotline at [email protected] or call 610-378-1327.

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