Chapter 29

Cover Cropping in Vineyards

Establishing and Managing Cover Crops

Cover crops need to be managed properly for them to be effective. This may itself involve selecting the seed-source, planting the cover crops, fertilization, tillage, and mechanically and chemically controlling the cover crops. It is important that each of these operations is managed carefully to avoid potential problems with the grapevines and to ensure a strong cover crop is produced.

Seed Source

Cover crop seed should be purchased from dealers who sell quality seed that has been tested for viability and is free from weed species.

Time of Planting

Cover crops can either be planted in the spring or late summer. Planting late summer, unfortunately coincides with grape harvest in many vineyards, so seeding cover crops may be difficult to schedule.

Seed Bed Preparation

Regardless of the cover crop species selected, soil preparation is relatively standard. Both broadcast seeders and seed drills require ground preparation whereas a no-till drill requires little or no ground preparation and will plant directly into most surfaces.

Seeding

Cover crops can be seeded with various planting equipment including a broadcast seeder, a conventional seed drill, and a no-till drill.

Broadcast Seeder

Broadcast spreaders are not very precise. Seed is broadcast onto a prepared, roughened seedbed, followed by raking, dragging or rolling to cover as much of the seed as possible with about ¼ to ⅜ inch (0.6 to 1 cm) of soil.

Seed Drills

Seed drills place the seed with much more precision than broadcast seeders. Seed drills can be calibrated to apply seed at precise rates and depths. For expensive or small seed, drills are often the best approach.

No-till Drills

Another option in seeding cover crops is no-till drills, which offers the greatest long term potential benefits in erosion control, soil quality and productivity, water conservation, energy efficiency, and production efficiency. The cost of establishment is usually less for no-till, because costs (e.g., labor, inputs, etc.) are lower than the cost of preparing a conventional seedbed.

Fertilization

Nitrogen is generally the most important fertility consideration for annual and perennial grasses if grown alone.

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