How to Grow Winter Vetch


Winter vetch (Vicia villosa), also known as hairy vetch, is used as a cover crop. It is seeded and grown after one year's crop is harvested, but before the next year's crop is planted. It thrives during the cold winter months and provides an attractive addition to the landscape. Since winter vetch is actually a legume, it has the ability to add nitrogen to the soil, which is beneficial to future crops. It is also used for grazing animals.

Step 1

Plant winter vetch in the fall. Alternately, plant in the late summer if your crops are already harvested. Remove old crops from the soil.

Step 2

Add rhizobia, if necessary and desired. Rhizobia is a bacteria that works well with winter vetch to add nitrogen to the soil for future crops. Add rhizobia every few years. Moisten your seeds just a bit and add the rhizobia so that it sticks to the seeds. Do not add too much water or the seeds will clump together.

Step 3

Spread the seeds--about 20 to 40 lb. per acre. If you are mixing in rye or oats, you will need less winter vetch seeds.

Step 4

Water well and keep the ground moist for the first few weeks.

Things You'll Need

  • Rhizobia
  • Rye or oat seeds


  • UMass Extension
  • United States Department of Agriculture
Keywords: hairy vetch, Vicia villosa, cover crop

About this Author

Melissa Lewis is a former elementary classroom teacher and media specialist. She has also written for various online publications. Lewis holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County.