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Cover cropping for nematode management in winter (By Abi Hajihassani)

Do you lay fallow your fields during the winter until the following spring? If so, consider planting a suitable cover crop for management of plant-parasitic nematodes during winter months. Winter cover crops are usually grown in fall and begin growing the following spring. Cover crops are a valuable strategy for improving soil health if you realize how to use the strategy. Some benefits of growing a cover crop include increased soil microbial activity, biological diversity, and organic matter content as well as reduced soil erosion. Cover cropping has also been a useful tool for suppression of nematode populations in soil. However, selection of a cover crop plays an important role in nematode control. In fact, cover crop selection depends on which type of nematodes are present in soil. For example, studies conducted in Southeastern USA have revealed that certain winter cover crops including rye, oat, and wheat can suppress root-knot nematode populations. Although, cover cropping can help reduce root-knot nematode damage, it may support the reproduction of other species of nematodes. For example, oat and wheat may be good hosts for sting and reniform nematodes and enhance the population build-up of these nematodes in soil. An additional consideration for selecting a cover crop for nematode management is timing of seeding. Winter cover crops may be able to escape the nematode injury if seeded late in the fall season. This is due to reduced activity of plant-parasitic nematodes as the soil temperature drops below 60-70° F. If you decide to grow winter cover crops in your field and are not sure which species/cultivar works best for nematode management, contact your local UGA Extension office for assistance.