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Ohio State University Extension


Oats as a Cover Crop in Ohio

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Sarah Noggle; Educator; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County
Rachel Cochran; Extension Associate, Water Quality; Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences; Ohio State University Extension, Paulding County

Information gathered from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) was used to compile this summary on how to use oats as a cover crop in Ohio. For more information, see the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and the Cover Crop Selector Tool found at:, tan-colored, thin stems with multiple seed pods growing up and down its length, held in the palm of a hand.


  • Hollow, straight stems
  • No auricles
  • Waxy leaves that are narrow and tapered
  • Leaves that are smooth at the base and become rougher near the tip
  • Rounded and finely toothed ligule
  • May have a bluish tint
  • Fibrous roots

Cultural Traits

  • Cool-season annual
    • Winter oats require vernalization to produce seed.
  • Minimum germination temperature: 38 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Reliable establishment window (state average): July 2–Oct. 19
  • Upright growth habit: 2–5 feet
  • Preferred soil pH: 6.0–7.0
Table 1. Rating the traits of cover crop oats.
Heat tolerance Very good
Drought tolerance Good
Shade tolerance Very good
Flood tolerance Good
Low fertility tolerance Good

Winter survival

  • Some oat varieties may overwinter depending on planting date and snow cover.
  • Spring oats almost always winterkill if planted in the fall.


  • Drilled at ¾–1½ inches
    • 30–60 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • Broadcast with shallow incorporation
    • 33–60 lb./acre (pure live seed)
  • broadcast without incorporation
    • 36–60 lb./acre (pure live seed)

Additional planting information:

  • 19,600 seeds per lb.
  • Broadcasting without incorporation is usually less dependable than drilling or broadcasting with incorporation.
  • Use a nitrogen (N) starter fertilizer when planting corn after oats to reduce negative rotation effects.
  • If grazing, increase seeding rate.
  • Tend toward the high end of planting range if overwintering is not expected.

Disclaimer: Rules for Financial Assistance Program Recipients
Individuals participating in financial assistance programs are required to follow Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Appendix A regarding seeding rates and dates. Failure to do so will jeopardize payments. Appendix A can be found in Ohio’s Field Office Technical Guide, Section 4, Ecological Sciences Tools:


  • Dry matter = 1,000–4,000 lb. per acre, per year
    • Biomass quantity is highly dependent on planting/termination dates and precipitation.

Additional performance information:

  • Oats are good for early interseeding.
  • Good biomass production and feed value make oats suitable for grazing.
  • Oats are highly mycorrhizal.
  • Oats are a non-host for root knot nematode, soybean cyst nematode, and sugar beet cyst nematode.
Table 2. Rating the attributes of cover crop oats.
Nitrogen scavenger Very good
Soil builder Very good
Erosion fighter Very good
Weed fighter Very good
Grazing Excellent
Quick growth Excellent
Lasting residue Very good
Mechanical forage harvest Very good
Grain seed harvest Very good
Cash crop interseed Excellent


  • Tillage
    • if terminating with only tillage, multiple passes are often required.
  • Chemical
  • Winterkill (common)

Additional termination information:

  • Terminate at least 14 days before planting corn or when cover crop reaches 6–8 inches.
  • Mowing after heading may terminate.
  • Follow NRCS guidelines for cover crop termination dates to comply with crop insurance.
Table 3. Potential advantages of cover crop oats.
Soil Impacts
Frees phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) Very good
Compaction fighter Excellent
Nematodes Good
Disease Good
Allelopathic (produces biochemicals that inhibit weeds) Very good
Chokes weeds Excellent
Bears traffic Very good when drilled
Short windows Excellent

Potential Disadvantages

Increased insects/nematodes: could be a moderate problem

  • Host for penetrans root lesion nematode.

Hinders crops: could be a major problem

Mature incorporation challenges: could be a minor problem

  • Oats are slow to release nitrogen to the following crop unless the oats' growth is terminated in mid-vegetative state (12–18 inches).


This publication was adapted with consent from the Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) with content from the Midwest Cover Crops Field Guide, Third Edition, and Cover Crop Selector Tool ( It was created under a joint project with MCCC to produce customized introductory guidance about cover crops for all member states/provinces. Ohio cover crop recipes can be found at

The Midwest Cover Crops Council ( aims to facilitate widespread adoption of cover crops throughout the Midwest by providing educational/outreach resources and programs, conducting new research, and communicating about cover crops to the public.

Funding for this project was provided by the McKnight Foundation.

Red square with white lettering spelling McKnight Foundation.

Originally posted Mar 30, 2023.