I would like to find a good leguminous cover crop that sprouts quickly, and grows fast, especially the roots. What are the best ones for this purpose (and the pros/cons of those you mention)? Disease/pest resistance is a major plus, but not strictly required. We've got a lot of aphids, whiteflies and stuff at the moment.

Also, I'm curious if some leguminous crops attract more of the good bacteria than others. Feel free to comment on that as an aside.

I'm new to cover crops. I've only tried pinto beans so far (they were the legumes I had on hand). They must have been old, because only a few of them sprouted, though. They took a long time to germinate, and they attracted aphids and white flies like crazy, as well as something that's been eating large portions of them.

I was thinking lentils would sprout a lot faster (they sprout well as sprouts you eat, anyway). Is clover a lot better than lentils, maybe?

  • What is your zone/area? In zone 5 I used annual rye with incredible results. Stayed green all winter and 2' high. Cinch to flip over with a shovel.
    – stormy
    Sep 27, 2014 at 23:11
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    I live in zone 5 (supposedly), but if it won't live in zone 4, it generally dies here after a bad winter. Rye isn't a legume, though, but that begs the question, does it act the same as a legume bringing in the soil bacteria to get nitrogen in the soil? Or is it beneficial in another way? I guess I can do an Internet search (but if you're feeling conversational, feel free to answer). Sep 27, 2014 at 23:14
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    Oh yeah, it adds lots of good green, organic matter to the soil that doesn't take very long to break down. I always add nitrogen to the soil in the early spring to help decompose this stuff. Then the soil organisms go nuts. The annual rye was so thick not a weed could imagine growing, grin. Meanwhile, all winter the roots are providing carbon to the soil organisms...they don't fix nitrogen but...no big deal. Where did you come from? What a great BUNCH of questions all at once!
    – stormy
    Sep 27, 2014 at 23:21
  • Thanks! That's cool that you noticed my other questions and liked them. :) I come from southwestern Idaho. That's really good to know about rye. Sep 27, 2014 at 23:30
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    Rye will not fix nitrogen like a legume. It is more useful in adding biomass, and keeping available nitrogen from leaching overwinter.
    – J. Musser
    Sep 27, 2014 at 23:49

1 Answer 1


In the summer, soybeans are usually my first choice, as they sprout and grow fast, and add about 30-50 lbs of nitrogen per acre. Red clover grows a little slower, but holds the soil together and adds about 70 lbs of nitrogen/acre in a year, if plowed under. Alfalfa and vetch are slower, but can add over 100 lbs Sometimes over 150 lbs) of nitrogen per acre in a year. In my area, these plants don't need to be babied, and don't have any major insect pests.

Why exactly do you need fast germination? in the long run, this doesn't really help the nitrogen fixation. For that purpose, I look for plants with widespread root systems. Alfalfa and vetch came to mind first. Usually the perennials add more nitrogen, and the annuals add more biomass. So clover will be more beneficial than lentils will.

Make sure you innoculate the seed first, for legumes, if you want good insect resistance and growth/plant success rates.

Over winter, vetch is the best, as it puts on a good amount of growth soon after germinating, and then again when it warms up in spring. Red clover can be used similarly. I use them in a mix with winter rye seed, and sometimes winter radishes (the last only in very poor soil, to help break it up).

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