Cover Crops: Oats

Table of Contents

  1. Description: Family
  2. Growth Habits
  3. Sensitivity to Herbicides
  4. Weed Control
  5. Benefits and Concerns
  6. Getting Started
  7. Related Links


Figure 1 . Oat crop just emerging

Figure 1. Oat crop just emerging


  • Grass

Growth Habits

Top Growth

  • Fast growing annual grass
  • More upright in growth habit and tillers less than barley
  • Full term crop can reach 1.3 m in height
  • Fall growth from 20 to 50 cm

Root System

  • Fibrous root system – but not as aggressive as rye
  • Reaches 84 to 195 cm.


  • Oats will readily winterkill

Site suitability

  • More tolerant of saturated soils than barley
  • Require moist soils for optimum growth
  • Do not perform well in hot dry conditions
  • Preferred soil pH range is 5.0 to 6.5 – but can tolerate as low as 4.5
  • Tolerates a larger pH range than wheat or barley

Sensitivity to Herbicides

  • Triazine family may reduce growth

Weed Control

  • Usually not needed if solid stand established
  • There are many herbicides registered for use in oats but good weed control for a cover crop should not be expensive and may not be needed.
  • Establish a vigorous crop canopy to smother out weeds.

Benefits and Concerns

Nutrient Management

  • Oats do not take up as much nitrogen as rye
  • Oats winterkill and will release nitrogen as it decompose

Organic Matter

  • High biomass produced if well established

Erosion Control

  • Suitable for solid stand or for wind strips
  • As with barley – can be planted prior to or with precision planted cool season vegetable crops such as carrots, radish or onions for early wind erosion and wind damage protection as they emerge on sandy or muck soils
  • Oats are not as suitable as rye in wind strips for tomatoes and other vegetables – the height for wind protection often is not there when controls must be applied and chemical control limitations
  • If conditions too hot and dry – poor cover and erosion control will result – most common on sandy knolls

Soil Moisture

  • Will tolerate more moist conditions than other grass cover crops
  • Can help dry saturated seedbeds

As Feed

  • Suitable as grain, forage and cover crop

Getting Started


  • Performs best under cool moist conditions
  • Temperatures of -8°C will kill seedling oats

Cost & Availability

  • Seed is easily available
  • Relatively inexpensive

Related Links

For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300