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*** Please note: The Garden Ecology Project team has wrapped up its research in New York City, so this website is no longer being maintained.  We have left the website up so that gardeners and researchers can make use of the resources produced during the course of our research. ***

On this page, you can find information on:

  • Cover Crops for Urban Gardens
  • Ecological Insect Management
  • Research Updates

 Cover Crops for Urban Gardens

 Cover crops are close-growing plants seeded either beneath food crops, or near the end of the growing season to cover the soil over the winter.  In Spring, they can be cut and left as a mulch, or turned into the soil before planting vegetables.  Cover crops can improve soil tilth, add nutrients, and shade out weeds.  The Garden Ecology Project is working with gardeners in New York State to learn more about using cover crops to improve the health and productivity of urban gardens.

Below you can browse many factsheets to help you incorporate cover crops into your gardening routine. We have handouts for the NYC area (USDA Zone 7b) and Tompkins County (USDA Zone 6a).  Find out your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone at:

All the factsheets for NYC can be downloaded as a packet here:

Cover Crop Handouts (Zone 7b) – Packet

All the factsheets for Tompkins County can be downloaded as a packet here:

Cover Crop Handouts (Zone 6a) – Packet

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 Building Healthy Soil in Vegetable Gardens: Cover Crops Have Got it Covered

This series of four articles — published by the Garden Professors eXtension Community of Practice in Spring 2015 — has in-depth information for gardeners on:

  • The benefits of cover cropping;
  • Types of cover crops;
  • Selecting cover crops for specific seasonal niches, management goals (such as improving soil quality or adding legume nitrogen), and environmental conditions (such as soil types or light availability); and
  • Planting and managing cover crops.

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Basic information sheet about cover crops, their benefits, and options for NYC gardeners (USDA Zone 7b):

English: Cover Crops for NYC Urban Gardens

In Spanish: Cultivos de Cobertura para los Huertos de NYC

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Basic information sheet about cover crops, their benefits, and options for Tompkins County gardeners (USDA Zone 6a):

In English: Cover Crops for Ithaca Gardens

In Spanish: Cultivos de Cobertura para los Huertos de Ithaca

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Garden Planning Resource (a guide for planning crop rotations that include cover crops):

Garden Planning Handout – NYC (7b)

Garden Planning Handout – Tompkins County (6a)

These resources include:

  • A planting calendar showing approximate best planting dates for various vegetables and cover crops in the zones mentioned, also applicable in similar climates.  If you garden in a very different climate, you’ll need to adjust planting dates accordingly.  Find out your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone at:
  • Sample rotation plans showing various seasonal niches where you can fit a cover crop into your rotation
  • Lists of vegetables and cover crops by seasonal niche and by family, for use in rotation planning

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Choosing Cover Crops:

Cover Crop Decision Guide

Wondering how to choose the best cover crops for each of your garden beds?  This factsheet has more detailed information on 6 cover crop combinations suited to urban gardens, with suggested planting dates and rotation plans.  It also outlines the advantages and disadvantages of winter-kill vs. over-wintering cover crops, and legume monocultures vs. legume-grass mixtures.

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Cover crop seed sources for NYC-area gardeners, and tips on sourcing good-quality seed:

Cover Crop Seed Sources – NYC

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Tips for managing over-wintering cover crops in spring as you prepare beds for planting vegetables:

Managing Over-Wintering Cover Crops in Spring

So you planted an over-wintering cover crop last fall and now you have a beautiful stand of wheat, rye, crimson clover, hairy vetch, or perhaps a mixture!  Our factsheet, Managing Over-Wintering Cover Crops in Spring, has tips to help you get the most benefit from the cover crops for soil quality & fertility, and get your next veggie crops off to a good start.


Ecological Insect Management:

In 2011, we worked with NYC gardens to learn how different plantings and gardening practices affect pest insects and beneficial insects.  Our goal is to learn how gardeners can reduce insect damage on vegetables, by encouraging beneficial insects and using other environmentally-friendly practices.

Download our Insect Research Update for suggestions on encouraging beneficial insects and reducing insect damage.  This also has details on our findings for specific pests and beneficial insects, including when pests are most problematic, which garden characteristics and practices influence how severe they are, and what gardeners can do to decrease pest damage:

Insect Research Update, September 2012

Garden Ecology Project Update!

We at the Garden Ecology Project would like to thank all of the gardeners helped make 2010 a successful first year.  Please enjoy this update on what we accomplished together in 2010, and our plans for learning together in 2011 how gardeners can produce abundant harvests in environmentally-friendly ways.

GEP Gardener Update, January 2011

GEP Gardener Update in Spanish, January 2011


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