Cover crops can be one component of orchard floor management, but are not a “system” alone. Cover crops are important in maintaining soil structure, encouraging water infiltration, reducing erosion, reducing mud and dust, and maintaining an acceptable driving surface for equipment. A good cover crop can be established with grasses, broadleaf plants such as legumes, or both, although a uniform plant stand is often easier to manage than one made up of multiple crop species. A cover crop should establish itself quickly and thereafter should not require much maintenance. It should be chosen and managed so that competition with trees is minimal.
Grasses are the most common cover crops in orchards. Many different grasses and grass mixtures are available, so orchardists can choose what is best suited to each particular situation. Several low growing perennial rye grasses are available and allow easy orchard access even when headed out.