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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Fall-planted Green Manure Crops Help Improve Soil

LAS CRUCES - Crops and weather have pushed soils to the limit throughout the year, so fall is _a good time to pamper your soil in both the field and garden, said a New Mexico State University horticulture specialist.


Fall planting of green manure crops is one-of the most effective ways to improve worn-out soils said George Dickerson, with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. OA green manure crop is any crop grown specifically so that its organic matter can be returned to the soil to improve soil structure."

Late summer to early fall is an excellent time to plant green manure crops such as winter rye, wheat or barley. Seed for these crops are readily available at most feed stores. Farmers-may prefer to use a seed drill to plant in larger fields, while gardeners can rake the seed in around existing summer vegetables.

Once you've planted a green manure crop, pulling up old tomato and squash plants after frost should leave a carpet of green grass in your garden,Dickerson said.

Disk green manure crops under in the spring about one month before planting warm season crops. Gardeners can use a rototiller, leaving strips of undisturbed rye or wheat between rows to serve as a windbreak in the spring. Till the undisturbed rows just before heads form on the grass, then plant summer vegetables.

"Organic matter from tilled green manure crops will help improve the water and nutrient holding capacities of sandy soils," Dickerson said. nIt also will help improve water penetration in clay soils."

Garden and field soils can also be improved by applying animal manures in the fall. "Spread dairy, feedlot or horse manure two inches deep on the soil's surface and rototill in," he said. The manure will weather over the winter and reduce its salt content."

Gardeners may prefer to incorporate manures into their compost pile. By spring, the soil-like material will be rich in nutrients and ready to apply to the garden.

For more information on green manure crops and soil improvement, contact your county Extension office.