Turn under your cover crop now

BACKYARD Q&A

April 08, 2001

Q. I planted my first cover crop -- rye and Austrian peas -- last fall-winter. The vegetable garden is covered with a beautiful green carpet. When do I rototill it in? Can I mow it low and plant through it?

A. Turn it under as soon as possible. Make a few passes with the tiller to chop up the plants and hasten decomposition. You should wait at least a week before planting to give the soil microbes a chance to break down the residues. You can't plant through the rye because it will continue to grow even after you mow it and will compete with your vegetable plants for nutrients and water. You could try to till narrow strips for your vegetable crops and then mow the cover crop very short and keep it as a living mulch in the walkways.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Harden off broccoli, cauliflower and other cool-season vegetable transplants by gradually exposing the plants, over a five- to seven-day period, to sunlight and cool temperatures before planting them.

2. Allow the foliage to die back naturally on spring flowering bulbs. Cutting back green foliage will stunt the plants.

Backyard Q&A is by Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist for the Home and Garden Information Center, Maryland Cooperative Extension Services of the University of Maryland. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu / users / hgic.

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