Oats have been used as a fall cover crop for decades, says Eugenia Banks, a potato specialist with the Ontario Potato Board. The plants can grow up to four feet tall, and winterkill at -8 C. “For maximum benefit, oats should be planted at least six weeks prior to a frost,” she says.
Furthermore, oats establish quickly, suppress weeds, prevent soil erosion, scavenge soil nutrients and improve soil structure, says Banks. Better soil structure “softens” the soil, which is important in soils that tend to crust in the spring after planting potatoes.
“Like all cover crops, oats contribute to biodiversity. Each plant species brings its own set of characteristics, which make the farm’s ‘ecosystem’ more diverse,” says Banks.