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A cover crop can be defined as any plant species, used singly or in a mixture, which is deliberately sown between vine rows to improve the management of the vineyard.
Cereals and legumes are the two main categories of plants used for cover crops. When choosing which cover crop to use, consider the ease of growing the crop, the costs, and the expected benefits. Cereals and grasses have an extensive, fibrous root system that adds more organic matter and biopores (soil pores created by roots) than legumes. Cereal crops are easier to establish and are less prone to insect attack than medics. Oats are the most common cereal used although barley gives greater early growth though less winter production. Spotted alfalfa aphid and the blue-green aphid have resulted in serious damage to Harbinger and Cyprus medics. At present, snail medic is the only variety resistant of both of these aphids. It produces adequate growth, recovers well after slashing and flowers and sets seed earlier than other legumes.
Snail medic has good tolerance to the spotted alfalfa and the blue-green aphid but establishment of seedlings may depend on spraying with insecticide if aphid numbers are high. Control of the red-legged earthmite is important right from the stage when the medic emerges. Insecticides are available for treating the seed before sowing, or the crop itself. Later sprays may be needed during winter.
Cover crops should be managed like a pasture. Slashing the cover crop and delivering the clippings on the vine line provides a cheap and effective mulch to reduce water loss, add organic matter and keep the soil cool in summer. Slash the cover crop close to the ground in late winter or early spring to minimise the frost risk.
Cover crops provide many benefits but some cover crops are hosts to pests and diseases such as Light Brown Apple Moth or phytoplasmas which are associated with Grapevine Yellows diseases (e.g. AGY).
Refer to the “Organic Farming: Vineyard Weed Management” Agnote for more environmentally friendly options. For information relating to the safe and appropriate use of chemicals, including management of chemical residues and licensing requirements, call Agriculture Victoria Customer Service Centre of 138 186 and ask to speak to your local chemical standards officer.
The advice provided is intended as a source of information only. Always read the label before using any of the products mentioned. The VVBC does not guarantee that the information is without flaw of any kind or is wholly appropriate for your particular purposes and therefore disclaims all liability for any error, loss or other consequence which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication.