To Consider Planting Green 

On February 27, 2019

To Consider Planting Green 

Farmers focused on getting the best establishment and maximum benefits from their cover crops chase the combine with a drill in a normal year, seeding cover crops as soon as possible after harvest. Extension Agronomist Heidi Reed explains the priority shifted in 2018 to just getting main crops off the field between raindrops last fall. 

The plan to use cover crops was abandoned for many fields due to uncooperative weather, but some were still planted when time and field conditions allowed. Nonetheless, the opportunity to plant was postponed until later than recommended on most acres. For instance, cereal rye, our most winter-hardy cover crop, should be planted between September and November 1 according to the Penn State Agronomy Guide. Personal communication with growers disclosed that wheat or rye planted after Thanksgiving and into December was not uncommon. 

Windshield scouting by agronomy educators around the state has thus revealed a disheartening, if expected, trend—less green than usual, and a lot of mud. Those cover crops that did survive the winter despite late planting are more sparse and smaller than usual. Some will fill out, providing essential protection for soil this spring. However, getting substantial ground cover before burn-down time will depend on good growing conditions through April.

One spring cover crop management option for those who want more out of their measly covers is planting green. Planting green is when the main crop is planted into a living green cover crop, as opposed to the more common practice of preplant-burndown a week or more before main crop planting. Planting green allows additional time for cover crop growth in the spring, when cover crops are growing most vigorously, and could be a way to compensate for poor establishment tied to late cover crop planting dates last fall. 

Planting green is gaining popularity but has not been extensively researched. Researchers at Penn State recognized the need to provide growers with data to inform their management, so they studied the practice for 12 site-years with corn and 14 site-years with soybean from 2015-2017. Results showed several benefits of planting green, including significant cover crop growth and biomass accumulation; drier soil at planting; soil moisture conservation later in the growing season; and no difference in soybean yield compared to the preplant-killed cover crop treatment. This could translate into improved soil conservation; better planting conditions in a wet year; and enough soilwater to help a crop through in the event of a summer dry spell. 

If we get a wet spring like last year, planting green may be a good way to adapt to make the most out of a challenging situation. There are some management changes that growers should be aware of when planting green, and we recommend reading the full research summary linked below for more information.

For details on planting green with corn and soybeans in Pennsylvania, see the new bulletin summarizing 3 years of Penn State research:

To Become A Master Well Owner Network Volunteer

If you are interested in learning more about the proper management of private water wells, springs and cisterns and you are willing to share what you learn with others, you might be interested in applying for the Master Well Owner online course being offered by Penn State Extension.

The Penn State Master Well Owner Network (MWON) will provide free, online training for the first 20 volunteers who submit an application and meet the following criteria: 1) you must NOT be employed by any company that provides paid services to private water supply owners (i.e. water testing companies, water treatment companies, water well drillers, etc.) and 2) you must be willing to pass along basic private water system management knowledge to other private water system owners.  

Each volunteer who applies and is accepted into the program will receive details on how to access the new, online MWON online course at no cost.  Successful applicants will be able to start the course in March and will have 60 days to complete the course which includes six chapters covering private water system basics, well and spring construction, water testing, water supply protection, water treatment, water conservation, and outreach strategies.  Each chapter includes a mixture of short videos and text along with links to additional resources and a short quiz.  Volunteers must answer 70% of the online quiz questions correctly to be certified as a volunteer. The course can be completed at your own pace but must be finished within 60 days from the starting date.  A computer with a high-speed internet connection is recommended to view all of the course materials and videos. To fill out an application for the MWON program, visit the following website:

Volunteers who successfully complete the training course and pass a short exam will receive a free copy of the 80-page publication – A Guide to Private Water Systems in Pennsylvania, discounted water testing through the Penn State water testing lab, and access to various MWON educational materials.  In return, MWON volunteers are asked to pass along what they have learned to other private water supply owners and submit a simple, one-page annual report of their educational accomplishments.  

Pennsylvania is home to over one million private water wells and springs but it is one of the few states that do not provide statewide regulations to protect these rural drinking water supplies.  In 2004, Penn State Cooperative Extension and several partner agencies created the Master Well Owner Network (MWON); trained volunteers who are dedicated to promoting the proper construction, testing, and maintenance of private water wells, springs and cisterns throughout Pennsylvania.  Since its inception, hundreds of MWON volunteers have provided education to over 50,000 private water supply owners throughout the state. 

Quote Of The Week: “Mothers write on the hearts of their children what the worlds rough hand cannot erase.” Suzanne Woods Fisher-Amish Proverb