Native plants are potentially beneficial cover crops because they are already adapted to the area’s rainfall and climate. But seeds of native cover crops may be hard to find.
There are several small flowering native plants that could serve as cover crops for eastern Washington, said Rebecca Sweet of Corridor Agriculture Consulting, Corvallis, Oregon. However, depending on the health of the soil, it may take some time and effort to recreate the soil status that the natives once thrived in, she said.
"Growers may need to bring the soils back to their native health," Sweet said.
Native cover crops she suggested may work for eastern Washington’s arid climate include common yarrow, Hooker’s balsamroot, common woolly sunflower, Eriogonum umbellatum (also known as buckwheat), scarlet gilia, blue wild rye, and prairie June grass. Most of these species are hardy and can be driven over by a tractor without damaging the plants.
She encouraged growers interested in native plant species to contact local restoration botanists for information about seed sources. Growers can also search for seed suppliers on the Web at www.nativeseednetwork.org.