Cover crops are grown for a variety of reasons. In fact, it is important to identify your goal before planting a cover crop as they differ in their ability to help the soil and to help you. Goals for planting cover crops can be:
- to decrease soil compaction
- an attempt to interrupt the cycle of disease
- to increase organic matter
- to retain of soil moisture
- to decrease wind and soil erosion
- to catch nutrients so they don’t leech away
- for carbon fixation
- to add specific nutrients as nitrogen or potassium.
New Mexico Extension Services has an online cover crop publication which helps the reader know which cover crop to choose for their own goals.
Cover crops for increasing soil moisture are often called ‘living mulch.’ Because they are perennials, they also sequester carbon. Clovers, such as Dutch White and Ladino do not grow very tall. Clover can attract pollinators, add nutrients to the soil, and tolerate the heat and cold of New Mexican weather. As all clovers, it has shallow roots which don’t tolerate drought as well as some other plants do. A loam soil would provide more soil moisture in times of drought. Alfalfa can be used as a cover crop and does not require as much water as when being grown commercially. Vetch does well in NM and historically there is not a nematode problem in NM which would prevent prevent using vetch.
by Sue Brown with input from John Idowu-NMSU Extension Service, Las Cruces