Winter Vetch (Villosa)

The Winter Vetch (Villosa) is generally described as a perennial vine or forb/herb. This is not native to the U.S. (United States) and has its most active growth period in the fall and winter and spring . The Winter Vetch (Villosa) has green foliage and inconspicuous purple flowers, with an abuncance of conspicuous brown fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Winter Vetch (Villosa) has a short life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Winter Vetch (Villosa) will reach up to 1.5 foot high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 0 inches.

The Winter Vetch (Villosa) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -30°F. has medium tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Erosion control: Hairy vetch’s capacity to provide a heavy mulch aids in soil and water conservation.

Crop: Hairy vetch is grown as a cover preceding such crops as safflower, corn, tobacco, cotton, rice, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Hairy vetch is valuable for use in no-till corn rotations, especially in regions that are less favorable for clover and pea cultivation. It may also be used in orchards and vineyards. Hairy vetch is noted for its ability to fix large quantities of nitrogen.

Livestock: It is grown for hay, pasture, silage, seed, or as interim cover on disturbed soil.

General Characteristics

Vicia villosa Roth, hairy vetch, is a vining, winter-active legume. It may be annual or biennial. It has a shallow root system. Stems may grow 2 to 5 feet long. Leaves bearing several leaflets grow perpendicular to the stem, and may terminate in tendrils. Stems and leaves of hairy vetch are pubescent (covered with a soft woolly fuzz) and tufts are present at the tips of stems. Flowers are purple. Seeds are round and black, and develop inside elongated and flattened pods.

Required Growing Conditions

Hairy vetch is a hardy type of vetch suited to wetter soil and colder winters than other winter-active legumes. Hairy vetch develops best under cool temperature conditions, on fertile loam soils; it is also productive on sandy or clay soils. It has been reported to grow well on light soils that are too sandy for crimson clover. It is only moderately sensitive to soil acidity.

Hairy vetch is distributed throughout the entire United States.

Cultivation and Care

Hairy vetch is planted in the fall wherever it is grown. It is normally seeded at 20 to 40 pounds per acre. Due to the vining, climbing habit of the plant, it is often sown in combination with rye so the rye may provide some support. In a mixture, 50 pounds of rye and 15 to 20 pounds of vetch per acre should be used.

General Upkeep and Control

Hairy vetch performs well in rotations with conventional and no-till planted row crops. In these systems, the fall planted legume is either mechanically or chemically killed 2 to 3 weeks prior to planting or it is sprayed at planting. A heavy disking may be advantageous prior to turning or it may be sufficient as a primary operation depending on the top growth of the vetch. The row-crop is then planted conventionally or no-tilled into the cover crop. The legume decomposes, providing nitrogen for the following crop. When grown for hay, vetch is generally cut when the first pods are set. It may be cut using a mower with a swather attachment. If grown as a seed crop, hairy vetch is harvested when the lower pods are ripe to avoid shattering. If carefully managed, hairy vetch may be grown with Bermudagrass. Vetch volunteers profusely when allowed to disseminate seed.

Pests and Potential Problems There are no serious insect or disease pests of mature hairy vetch; however, the seed is highly susceptible to vetch bruchid (Bruchus brachialis) injury. This insect pest is largely responsible for poor natural reseeding of hairy vetch in pastures.

Control Please contact your local agricultural extension specialist or county weed specialist to learn what works best in your area and how to use it safely. Always read label and safety instructions for each control method. Trade names and control measures appear in this document only to provide specific information. USDA, NRCS does not guarantee or warranty the products and control methods named, and other products may be equally effective.

Cultivars, Improved, and Selected Materials (and area of origin) ‘Americus’ (Turkey), ‘AU Early Cover’ (Alabama naturalized stand), and ‘Madison’. Seeds are available from most commercial seed sources.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Vine, Forb/herb
Growth Period Fall, Winter, Spring
Growth Duration Annual, Biennial, Perennial
Lifespan Short
Plant Nativity Introduced to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Single Crown
Drought Tolerance Medium
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 1.5
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Purple
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -30
Soil Depth for Roots 6
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Regrowth Rate Slow
After-Harvest Resprout Ability No
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 6–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 18–18 inches/yr
Planting Density 0–0 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 6
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance Medium
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability High
Fire Resistant Yes

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA