Turning in winter wheat #740869

Asked March 26, 2021, 11:54 AM EDT

For my first attempt at cover crops for my heavy clay home garden (~2,000 sf), last October 20 I planted winter wheat and crimson clover. I was expecting to “kill” (mow) the crop and till it into the garden in time to give it 2-3 weeks to incorporate into the soil before planting flowers and vegetables this spring. I was thinking late April to harvest, mid-May to plant. Today (3/26) the wheat is 5-6”. It seems that the optimal time to start the killing process is when the wheat has flowered yet before it has gone to seed. 1. When is this optimal period likely to occur? 2. Is it critical to be within this period? What happens if I turn the crop earlier than flowering has occurred? Will the crop grow back instead of dying? I understand that eating it go to seed will create a new crop.i 3. If I just mow without tilling does the remaining mat incorporate into the soil so I can plant seeds and seedlings Any other comments beyond answers would be appreciated. Many thanks,

Montgomery County Maryland

Expert Response


1. will probably occur April 15-May 1 depending on your location, soil, and weather conditions.

2. turning it under now reduces the amount of potential biomass, so less of an organic matter and nutrient bump. Keeping living roots growing for as long as possible increases sugars and other compounds that leak out of roots and support microbial populations. Of course, as the land manager. you have to balance that with your goals and circumstances. If you mow and till under the cover crops, you may see some regrowth from the wheat. The earlier you do this, the less likely you will see regrowth.

3. If you only mow, the wheat will regrow because it's a grass plant and puts out new shoots (tillers) from the crown. Cutting won't kill it unless you cut multiple times at ground level. The crimson will regrow to a much lesser extent. If you decide to leave the residues on the surface after mowing, without tilling, you can cover the area with landscape fabric or tarps to kill the cover crops. Remove the tarps and plant 2 weeks later. Weeds will growth through the residues so expect to spread a mulch around plants.

Here are some web pages and blog posts that may be helpful: (also see links at bottom of page)


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