Residues of dead cover crops can suppress weeds by providing a mulch on the soil surface. The cover crop usually is killed with herbicides, but a mechanical method is desirable in systems intended to reduce chemical use. We designed and built an undercutter to kill cover crops by severing their roots while flattening the intact aboveground biomass on the surface of raised beds. We studied which cover crop species could be killed with the undercutter and compared the weed control potential of cover crop residues after flail mowing, sicklebar mowing, and undercutting.
Whether a species was killed by the undercutter depended primarily on growth stage. Species that were in mid- to late bloom or beyond, including rye, hairy vetch, bigflower vetch, crimson clover, barley, and subterranean clover, were easily killed by undercutting. There were no differences in dry weights of broadleaf weeds between the undercut and simulated sicklebar mowed treatments, both of which had less weed biomass than the clean-tilled or flail-mowed plots.