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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 http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books. Another benefit of using cover crops is that they help sequester soil organic carbon, see http://news.aces.illinois.edu/news/cover-crops-can-sequester-soil-organic-carbon.


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