Monday, December 19, 2016

Learn the ABCs on Planting Successful Cover Crops

So we piqued your interest about planting cover crops in almonds orchards in last week’s post.

Then let’s cover some of the basics.

The best time to plant is right after the harvest concludes in the fall. Unfortunately, winter is just a couple days away, making the soil temperatures too low to provide consistent and quick germination. That’s especially true with the freezing low temperatures we experienced over the weekend.

Still, we want to offer almond growers a primer so they can be prepared for planting a fall-seeded cover crop.

Crimson clover is a popular cover crop seed.
It’s best to line up the seed and equipment before the harvest wraps up. By doing so, you can be prepared for a possible early rain, which can slow or stop the seeding process. If rain falls after ground preparation but before seeding, weeds can get a head start on the cover crop and the ground can seal up. This could make it hard to bury the cover crop seed with a roller or grain drill.

Clover mixes are good seed choices. Crimson clover is the most common. It matures earlier and produces more nitrogen and dry matter than many other clovers. This type of cover crop can take care of much of the trees’ nitrogen needs.Legume mixes are typically seeded at 25 to 30 pounds per planted acre. 

Standard grain drill for planting the seeds.
The seeding equipment you use will determine the ground preparation.  You might apply a contact herbicide before seeding to prevent weed competition.  Essentially, there are two equipment choices:

   *  A no-till drill or standard grain drill. This piece of equipment lets you plant directly on most type of surfaces, which means you can do little or no ground prep work. On soft ground, a single pass with a ring roller should move the seed and soil around enough to cover the seed.   

* Broadcast seeders need a soft surface. Work up the top two inches of the soil with a disk or harrow until the surface is fairly fine. Plant immediately with the seed buried in the top quarter inch of soil.

           Usually, the late fall and winter rains are adequate for seed germination and growth during the winter. Of course, if the drought continues, some winter irrigation may be necessary.
Late winter is a good time to mow the cover crop.

           The cover crop should be mowed at ½ to 1 inch above ground in late February or early March. When the dense cover crop dies back in the spring, it will leave a thick mulch layer on the ground and should control summer weeds. A final mowing should come in early to mid-June after the seed matures.

Following good management practices will allow the crop to reseed annually and re-establish itself in the winter. This should cover the basics. Happy planting.

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