Cover Crops: What Are They And Why Are They Important?

If you’re someone who takes their gardening quite seriously, then you know that there is a myriad of problems that can arise from having such a garden. Soil erosion and quality, weeds and pests are all problems that can arise from sustaining a garden. These are also things that can be managed appropriately by planting cover crops. Cover crops are essentially plants that are grown in the off-season before you plant your primary food. Whilst this is typically something that is done on a large-scale farm, there’s no reason why you can’t do it in your backyard beside your exposed aggregate driveway or path.

Soil erosion

One of the key roles of cover crops is to manage soil erosion in the off-season as well as during the season. Cover crops – like the name suggests – actually physically cover the crops and soil below, shielding it from rain and wind. Because it is somewhat shielded from rain, there are fewer raindrops impacting on the soil. This results in fewer soil aggregates breaking off as well as less soil runoff. These factors result in decreased soil erosion since the primary causes of soil erosion are rainfall and runoff.


Soil fertility

Another key role and just as important as soil erosion, cover crops actually benefit the fertility of the soil, resulting in a more fruitful garden. Commonly referred to as “green manure” crops, these supply extra nitrogen to the crops which help them to grow as crops and plants are often nitrogen deficient.

They will also improve the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil, strengthening it overall and creating a more fruitful growing experience for the crops. The roots that the cover crops create will also form a network below the soil which further benefit it and enhance the soils macrofaunal habitat. Just be mindful not to plant them near your exposed aggregate driveway as the roots could affect the foundations of your driveway.


Water management

With less rainfall impacting the surface of the garden thanks to the cover crops, the amount of runoff is reduced which will ultimately have a positive impact on the environment as there’s less soil runoff that can travel and contaminate groundwater supplies and other soil. Furthermore, the cover crops’ roots beneath the soil will act as a filtration system. Rather than water impacting the surface of the water, it will filter down directly into the soil. This will increase the water stored in the soil as well as recharge aquifers.


Dealing with weeds

Weeds are a blight to all gardens, whether you’re planting crops or flowers. Some people use chemicals to kill weeds, but this can be harmful to the environment as well as any pets you may have. This is another area that cover crops excel in. Whilst they don’t eradicate them completely, cover crops go a long way in reducing the number of weeds that sprout up as well as their density. The general way that most cover crop types do this, is by taking up all the light and growth potential from the weeds like a competition, which the cover crops win. This results in the death of the weeds. Some cover crops even continue to suppress weeds even after they’ve died which is quite impressive. Other ways include altering the soils microbial community to disadvantage the weeds as well as blocking stimuli needed for the weeds seed to germinate.


Types of cover crops

There are many different types of cover crops that exist, each with their own unique way of delivering benefits. Here are some common ones:

  • Rye – Rye is fantastic at suppressing weeds, loosening compacted soil and catching excess nitrogen released from the soil.
  • Buckwheat – Because buckwheat grows so quickly it’s ideal for shielding soil against rainfall as well as depriving weeds of sunlight.
  • Clover – This crop cover fixes soil nitrogen and adds fertility to it as well. Yellow clover, in particular, is fantastic for improving soil structure.
  • Sorghum-Sudangrass – It’s tall nature results in added biomass to the soil. It also has a fast-growing and extensive root structure which offers soil erosion protection and weed suppression qualities.
  • Hairy Vetch – Adds a great quantity of nitrogen to the soil and if grown over winter will supply a large amount of fertility as well.


Looking for an exposed aggregate driveway in Melbourne?

A Better Driveway are concrete specialists specialising in driveways and paths for a variety of different customers and property types. Our fully qualified and experienced contractors will be able to help you with any one of our services, whether it may be a path for your backyard or an exposed aggregate driveway.


If you’re thinking about building an exposed aggregate driveway or would like to know more about our other services then please give us a call on (03) 9308 6112 or contact us through our website.