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Green manures - use plants to feed plants

Updated on March 22, 2013

Grow your own fertility with green manures

Green manures are plants that are grown to improve the soil in organic gardens. They can suppress weeds, improve the soil structure, prevent evaporation and soil erosion and even make the soil more fertile than it was before - you just need to choose the right green manure for your situation.

How to choose a green manure

Choose the right green manure to sow

There are many different plants that can be used as green manures. When you decide to grow one, you need to choose the right green manure for your garden.

In the spring time choosing a green manure depends on how long you want it to be in the ground for, why you're sowing it and your crop rotation. Follow the link to find out more.

If you want to sow a green manure in the fall, then choosing is easy - there aren't many that will grow overwinter! Read my article on green manures for autumn, or listen to episode 27 of The Alternative Kitchen Garden show.

How to use green manures in your garden

Find out how to grow green manures

Once you've chosen your green manure, it's time to grow them. It's an easy, low maintenance process.

Check out how to grow green manures.

Clover in Sweet Tea
Clover in Sweet Tea

Sweet Tea

Drink your green manure

A lot of people use clover as a green manure - it's easy to grow, makes a good ground cover to suppress weeds and fixes nitrogen in the soil to fertilize your next crop. But if you allow your clover to flower then not only will you encourage bees into your garden, but you can turn those flowers into a lovely, healthy herbal tea, as they do over at Subsistence Pattern.

The Green Manurista - How to dig in your green manures

Trefoil green manure
Trefoil green manure


A low-growing green manure

Trefoil is unusual as a green manure because it is used while other crops are still in place.

Trefoil is very low growing, and adds nitrogen to the soil, so it makes a great living mulch. Sow it under hungry plants like fruit bushes in spring.

It also helps to confuse the cabbage white butterfly, so sow it underneath brassicas.

Hungarian grazing rye

Secale cereale

Hungarian grazing rye is an excellent green manure to sow if you have heavy soil that needs breaking up. Grazing rye has strong, deep roots that can relieve soil compaction and improve soil structure.

Hungarian grazing rye can be sown from early spring right through until late autumn, and is one of the few green manures that will overwinter and protect the soil from winter weather.

It's not bad at preventing weeds either! The only downsides with Hungarian grazing rye is that is can be tough to dig in, and for a few weeks after being dug in it will prevent seed germination - so don't sow seeds there for a few weeks.

Comfrey flowers
Comfrey flowers


The organic gardener's best friend

Comfrey is a perennial plant, and so doesn't fit the profile of a conventional green manure. However, it is grown specifically to provide fertility for the organic garden.

Comfrey leaves can be used to line the planting holes for potatoes and get your crop off to a good start. Comfrey can be made into a rich liquid feed that your fruiting vegetables will love. And if that's not enough, bees love it's flowers.

Learn more about comfrey in episode 7 of The Alternative Kitchen Garden podcast.


Fagopyrum esculentum

Buckwheat can be sown from late spring until late summer, and is left in place for 1-3 months. It doesn't fix nitrogen in the soil, but it thrives on poor soils which are badly in need of improvement.

To improve the soil, Buckwheat should be dug in before it flowers. However, leaving a small area to flower can also be beneficial because the flowers will provide a food source for hoverflies and other beneficial insects.

Where to buy green manure seeds - Online seed stores to try

If you have a link to add to this list then please leave a comment

Guestbook - Are you growing green manures?

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    • hqbaldwin profile image

      hqbaldwin 4 years ago

      Clover is a great green manure, and as you said it attracts bees (and butterflies too sometimes) and my daughter loves to use it to make tea. No watering necessary hoses

    • jed78 profile image

      jed78 5 years ago

      I like Hairy Vetch for a green manure here in South Texas, just make sure to till it in before it goes to seed!

    • WarnerRobins2 profile image

      WarnerRobins2 6 years ago

      Great info! I'm a new gardener and I'm loving this topic. THANKS

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 6 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Green manure planting is ideal if you are not going to plant anything such as vegetables or herbs for a couple of months. Grow a cover crop such as a legume and then dig it in or chop and drop it once it has grown. Soil does not like to be left bare. It will grow weeds if you do not plant a cover crop.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Had not heard the term green manure but it makes sense. Thanks for the great gardening ideas!

    • AppalachianCoun profile image

      AppalachianCoun 8 years ago

      Wonderful lens. This is such a great idea. Thank-you for the info and great video.

      5 stars*****

    • GonnaFly profile image

      Jeanette 8 years ago from Australia

      Thanks for this info Emma. Growing some green manure is something I will definitely have to try!

    • AndrewGreen LM profile image

      AndrewGreen LM 8 years ago

      Really good lens. I must admit that i have not tried this Green manure idea. I will certainly give it a go in the future.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      just read your article and it gave me a couple of more things to try. thanks, i hope there,s more links from here for further investigating. i have 2-3 acres of just cleared

      land. will let you know next year what i used and the improvement. i am looking at at least 6 differant plants and grasses.

    • profile image

      Tigga 9 years ago

      I know of one 84 year old lady who still cares of an allotment. She plants a row of comfrey between each row of vegetables. After cropping the vegetables and before planting the next lot, she cuts the comfrey to the ground and digs it in.

      Great lens I have 5* ranked it.

      Organic Food Gardening