Cover Crop Garden: Winter Grass Mix

Winter Grass Mix:

  • Hard Red Winter Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oat
  • Einkorn Wheat
  • Triticale
Image of small grains mix cover crops at OSU cover crop garden

This mix would be considered a traditional Oklahoma cover crop mix, as the state and most growers are well versed and familiar with growing small grains.  This mix can and, in most years, will provide a fairly rapid canopy development.  It will also have a strong canopy throughout the winter and spring months, as most small grains have strong cold hardiness.  For those interested in grazing their cover crop mix, the inclusion of wheat, rye, and barley will typically provide enough tonnage and quality in the fall, winter, and spring.  If the crop is not over-grazed, this mix should have good forage recovery.  The ability to recover will benefit both forage production and conservation.  

Another benefit of this cover crop mixture is the amount of C (Carbon) it can contribute to the system.  Small grains are a good source for growers looking to build carbon reserves.  However, if grown in rotation with traditional row-crops, growers should know they may need to manage their N inputs more heavily as high C can result in limited biomass availability (N immobilization).  There is a balance between letting these cover crops grow longer in the system to develop more C reserves and terminating the cover crop too early to not have lasting residue.  

One of the most significant benefits of cover crops many traditional row-crop producers value is aiding in weed control prior to planting and during the early-season.  Because these small grains produce a rapid canopy and can maintain this canopy through grazing, these small grain mixes are good options to help in weed management.  

This cover crop system can be planted in late-summer to early fall and still achieve most of the system’s benefits (biomass, cover, grazing potential, carbon).  A winter grass mix can still be planted later in the fall into early winter, but the early-season benefits will not be as evident.  Enough biomass to provide C to the system or do some light grazing while still maintaining a canopy to help cover the soil in the spring, but this will not be as good as with earlier planting.  Growers should consider planting these systems simultaneously as fall winter wheat pastures but before grain-only wheat systems to get the most benefit from the system.  

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