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Oats, an easy-going cover crop

publication date: Feb 1, 2016
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Oats are a low-cost, easy-to-use cover crop, provided the temperatures are right. They are a cool-season annual cereal (grain) crop. We like oats as an over-winter cover crop because they reliably winterkill in our zone 7a climate (average annual minimum temperature range 0-5°F (-18C to -15C). In warmer zones, even 7b, the temperatures do not always get cold enough to kill them. Large oat plants will get serious cold damage at any temperature lower than about 20°F (-7C) and will die completely at 6°F (-17C) or even milder than that. (Sources differ in their opinions about the winter-kill temperature for oats. 20°F seems a safe bet.) If they die, they are easy to till in, and if they don’t die, they are still easier than rye. The best resource on cover crops that I know is the SARE book Managing Cover Crops Profitably. You can buy the book or download the free pdf from their website Another benefit of using cover crops is that they help sequester soil organic carbon, see

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