Cover cropping in between orchard rows

I have a young orchard that was planted in an area with high clay content and a bit on the rocky side. I am wanting the alleys between the rows to improve yearly by adding organic matter. Cover cropping sounds like the way to go as oppose to bringing in outside inputs to the system.

I need help with a rotation strategy . I am hoping to grow both a summer and winter covers and just doing chop and drop. I am in zone 7B. Is there a good summer mix anyone has had luck ? I have a scythe to do the chop and drop.

I just had the alleys plowed and they will be tilled once spring is a little closer. But after that I don’t intent to till it in the future.

Red clover if soil pH is fairly high,
Birdsfoot trefoil if pH is acidic.
Those are the perennials I would choose that are also nitrogen fixing.

For annuals, buckwheat or crimson clover, or comfrey.


I’ve been trying to find seeds on birdsfoot treefoil here at home but never do. I don’t have much but a half dozen little “mounds” like this covering 6-acres. I want it everywhere though. I thought last summer I’d time it for seeds but can’t say I’ve ever seen a pod among the 5-6 years I’ve known what it is. It has to be producing seed.


It’s not grown much here either. Production for forage is only about half that of alfalfa, for instance. I first saw it at test fields 30-something years ago at Kentucky State University.
Its a short lived prerennial, but can reseed with careful attention. My interest was as a bee forage plant…but I figured nothing beat clover in that regard.

I don’t right off know of seed sources, but I would venture some agricultural seed source has it. The seeds are tiny…a little goes a long way.


Decent places for cover crop and do you plant anise hyssop for your bees blueberry?

I like hyssop…but don’t think I would want it under apple trees I might need to spray. Ofcourse with anything that blooms you have to be mindful of the bees if you spray.

Yeah i would not plant it under my apple trees but to the side as a perennial tall flower (it gets 3’ for me) its anise hyssop that produces nectar all day long and much more nectar than regular hyssop and i always get all my rare bees on it and think you would like it and its a pretty landscaping flower. It seems to support mason and honeybees as good as bee balm (bergamont) does for bumblebees.

Here lots of people start out cover cropping with the mustards in those links to kill bad nematodes and then usually switch to a clover / vetch chop and drop. Comfrey is excellent but blueberry brings up a great point if you are going to do pesticide sprays you would rather not have plants currently flowering while (or near depending on what you are spraying) you are doing your sprays. The clover/vetch/trefoil you can just mow before spraying.

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Good point on the mustards…I am growing upland cress and wild black mustard around some of my younger/smaller apple trees. More for my food as I like to eat them, than for the bees, and I also have another plant…can’t remember if it’s star thistle or something else…under 3 feet.


You can order anything but it is certainly not as cheap as i would like it to be Birdsfoot Trefoil Seed - Elk Mound Seed

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Well, look what they want for chicory seeds…treefoil seems cheap.

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The local coop or seed store is a better approach if it’s an option.

Yes, we have Southern States co-op and it’s a bit cheaper (if they have it).
I doubt they have birdsfoot trefoil, but I’ve not been shopping for it in 30 years, either.
Their chicory is outrageous…even white dutch clover is high.

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All the legumes are higher than they should be. I paid $1700 for brome seed to plant a 10.acre plot but in a few years it was worth every penny. I seeded some clover in to bump up the protein levels of the hay. Bees make lots of honey from most clover as well.


I have no experience with brome.

But, does Ernst Seeds carry it??

Might be a cheaper option for native grasses.

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Brome is a heavy feeder we grow here mostly for cows. Its higher in protein than other grasses. Most places grow fescue.

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Can you not mow comfrey? I mow it with my machete about 5 times a year.

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I’ve tried a scattershot approach to cover crops so far, both between vine rows and under trellis. While sometimes I had a purpose in mind (competition, pro beneficials, anti-nematodes), I really was just interested in seeing how practical each was-- i.e. how quickly it emerged, how well it competed, can it handle stress.

Fescue mix- Competes with vines for nutrients (can have dwarfing effect in dry years), competes well with weeds. Sometimes emerges slowly, seems to depend on the source.
Chicory- Poor emergence at two separate times under favorable conditions, not inclined to try again.
Mustard Greens- Strong emergence, dwarfed and quick to bolt under water stress. Pretty, planning on putting this into a rotation.
Daikon Radish- Strong emergence, competes fairly well. Preferred slightly shadier (and wetter) parts of the vineyard.
Lacy Phacelia- Poor-moderate emergence. Generally didn’t compete well. I would try again but may need some extra help/care.
Dichondra Repens- Needs very warm soil to emerge, think around when you plant tomato. TBD if practical/useful.


Out of all those, chicory will be the one with the taproot though.
I think old seed is most of the germination problem, that and lack of moisture.It seems not
to do well in bare tilled soil as scattered in a field after mowing.
Chicory has edible forage until it bolts…then the blooms attract bees, who collect the white pollen. Not a lot of nectar in chicory apparently.

The wild roadside chicory here has a very distinctive BLUE pollen.
Chicory seed I have bought for food plots has proven to be NOT winter hardy here in WV.
Many kinds of chicory …


I think you’re right. I’ve not seen blue pollen, unless it’s a very pale shade of sky blue.
Chicory pollen is large, scratchy to eat. (Just not as bad as corn tassels).