By Sjoerd Duiker, Soil Scientist

Late in the fall, a cover crop of rye or wheat can still be planted using “dormant seeding.” Dormant seeding means that the seeds are in the soil but may not germinate or emerge until early spring. However, by planting time in the spring, these cereals may be 6-12 inches tall. It is different from “frost seeding,” which takes place in the late winter. 

You want to make sure you have good seed-to-soil contact, preferably by drilling the cover crop. It is important to minimize soil disturbance at this time because the cover crop will not provide good soil protection until the spring. Dormant seedings are encouraged especially when some crop residues are present to help protect soil over the winter — for example, after soybean or corn grain harvest. Manure may be applied on a dormant seeding in the spring. 

If a recommended fall deadline for cover crop planting is not met, dormant seeding still may be a good choice, although planting cover crops earlier for living cover in the winter is preferable. I would particularly encourage farmers to use dormant seeding after soybean harvest. A recent statistic suggests that few soybean fields are followed by cover crop. Considering that soybeans are a low-residue crop and the residue disappears quickly in the spring, dormant seeding is a good alternative to not planting a cover crop at all.