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Forage Radish: New Multi-Purpose Cover Crop for the Mid-Atlantic

Forage Radish: New Multi-Purpose Cover Crop for the Mid-Atlantic

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Forage Radish: New Multi-Purpose Cover Crop for the Mid-Atlantic
Forage Radish: New Multi-Purpose Cover Crop for the Mid-Atlantic

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Published by: Maryland Native Plant Resources on Oct 16, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Fact Sheet 824
exhibits a number of unique anddesirable characteristics that distinguishit from other types of cover crops morecommonly grown in the region.Oilseed radish (
 Raphanus sativus
) cultivars such as ‘Adagio’ or‘Colonel’, are similar to the forage radish,but have a stubbier, more branched taprootand tend to be somewhat more winterhardy than the forage radish (‘Daikon’).The precise classification of these and othertypes of radishes is not well establishedbecause they can readily cross-pollinate andtherefore distinctions among subspeciesare often blurred. Most of the traits andmanagement recommendations describedhere for forage radish should also apply tooilseed radish.
Forage Radish Traits
Extremely rapid germination andgrowthLarge, deeply penetrating taproot• Winter-killsQuick to decompose residuesHigh nutrient (N, P, S, Ca, B)contentBioactive plant chemicals(glucosinolates)
Forage Radish:
 New Multi-Purpose Cover Crop for the Mid-Atlantic
Forage radish (
 Raphanus sativus
) is a unique fall/wintercover crop that is relatively new to themid-Atlantic region. It is a member of the Brassica family, which also includesrapeseed, canola, mustard, and cabbage.Forage radish is also known as ‘Daikon’(sometimes spelled ‘Dichon’) radishor ‘Japanese’ radish and is used as avegetable in many types of Asian cuisine.When planted by early September inthe Mid-Atlantic region, forage radish
Oilseed radish (left) and forage radish (right).
feet or more during the fall. The thick,fleshy upper part of the taproot grows12 to 20 inches long (including 2 to 6inches protruding above ground) creatingvertical holes and zones of weakness thattend to break up surface soil compactionand improve soil tilth. After the covercrop dies in the winter and the rootsdecompose, the open root channels can
Multiple Benefits from OneCover Crop
Because of its unique plantcharacteristics, a forage radish cover cropcan provide measurable benefits to thefarmer, the soil, and the environmentwhile avoiding many of the problemstraditionally associated with cover crops.As a result, farmers are finding that aforage radish cover crop pays for itself with tangible benefits.
Alleviation of Soil Compaction
Forage radish cover crops are used bymany farmers as a biological tool toreduce the effects of soil compaction,leading some farmers to refer to thiscover crop as “tillage radish” or “radishripper.” The roots of cool season covercrops can penetrate compacted soilsin fall to some extent because theyare growing when soils are likely to berelatively moist and easily penetrated.Forage radish roots can penetrate plowpans or other layers of compacted soilbetter than the other cover crops (suchas cereal rye and rapeseed) tested inour research. The thin lower part of the taproot can grow to a depth of six
Bulk density, g/cm
Corn roots / sq. yd.Soybean roots / sq. yd.
Soybean, 2006Corn, 2005
Bulk density,2004
   S  o   i   l   d  e  p   t   h ,   i  n  c   h  e  s
Cover Crop
Forage radishNo cover Rye
Summer crop roots in soil profile as affected by previous cover crop. Bulk density of the soil (left, measured beforecover crop treatments) shows the typical higher density found in subsoils. Chen and Weil (2006).
Multiple Benefits
Forage radish has been shown to:Alleviate soil compaction—save ondeep tillageSuppress weeds—save on herbi-cides/cultivationEnhance seedbed—save time andplant earlier in springBuild organic matter—improve soilqualityRelease N early and increase topsoilfertility—save on N and other fer-tilizersReduce nitrate leaching—save theBayControl erosion—save your soilReduce runoff—conserve rainwater
this near-complete weed suppressionforage radish should be planted bySeptember 15 (in Maryland) with a stand of 5 to 8 plants per square foot.The near-complete weed suppressioncan be expected to last until early April,but does not extend into the summercropping season. The low amount andfragility of residue and weed-free seedbedconditions in early spring following aforage radish cover crop make it possibleto plant the summer crop without anyseedbed preparation tillage or applicationof a burn-down (pre-plant) herbicide. InMaryland research where in-season (postemergence) weed control was applied,yields of corn planted after a forage radishcover crop were not affected by skippingthe burn-down herbicide before planting.This system may be of particular interestto organic farmers because it allowsno-till planting without herbicides,although cultivation or other weedcontrol will be needed later in the season.Forage radish cover crops have alsobeen observed to suppress or delay theemergence of horseweed or marestail(
Conyza canadensis
) and may provide auseful new tool for controlling herbicide-resistant biotypes of this weed.be used by roots of following crops togrow through compacted soil layers.This process, termed “bio-drilling,”improves root access to water in the subsoiland makes following crops more resilientunder drought conditions. In researchplots, four times as many corn rootspenetrated a compact subsoil after a forageradish cover crop as after winter fallow andtwice as many as after a rye cover crop.Data suggests that biodrilling with covercrops like forage radish can substitutefor expensive and energy intensive deepripping and other mechanical methodsto alleviate the effects of soil compaction.Some farmers plant forage radish in 24-or 30-inch wide rows (with another covercrop species planted between rows—seecover crop mixtures, below) as a form of biological strip tillage. They then plantthe following summer crop in thesesame rows to alleviate restriction of rootgrowth into the subsoil.
Suppression of Weeds
A good stand of early-planted forage radishproduces a dense canopy that all buteliminates weed emergence in the fall andwinter. This action produces a virtuallyweed-free seedbed in early spring. To obtain
Early April appearance of plots planted in fall to cerealrye (left) and forage radish (right).Early corn growth was more vigorous after a forageradish cover crop (right, back) than after a rye covercrop (left, front), due partly to better N availability.

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