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Cover Crop Roots and Sediment May Be Clogging Tile Lines

Warm winter weather and plentiful spring rains led to prolific cover crop root growth.

Watch your tile lines for clogging this summer. The culprit could be cover crop roots and sediment, says Eileen Kladivko, a Purdue University agronomist.

Don’t read this wrong—cover crops still have many benefits. It’s just that cover crops grew extremely well over this warm winter and wet spring. As a result, they grew deeper roots than usual and may be growing into pipes.

Compounding this is heavy rainfall that may have washed large amounts of sediment and crop residue into some tile systems through surface risers. These are installed in low, wet areas to let surface runoff enter the tile drains. As these substances accumulate in dips, bumps, or other imperfections in the tile, they can restrict the water flow through the pipes and create a nutrient-rich place for roots to grow.

Topography, ground characteristics, and tillage practices that create smaller pieces of residue are other factors that likely contribute to the problem.

What to do?

Small imperfections or irregularities in the system can be repaired during routine maintenance, and internal couplers, which may catch sediment and residues within the pipe, can be replaced by external couplers. Installing a filter or sock on surface risers may reduce the amount of soil and residue material that enters the system. Also, simply sharing reports and photos of clogged drains can help investigators look for patterns and determine what conditions may increase the risk of root growth into the tile system.

For more information or to report root clogging in tile systems, contact Kladivko at or Barry Fisher of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service at         

Kladivko and two other specialists from the Midwest have published a report, Agricultural Tile Drains Clogged with Cover Crop Roots?, to address potential causes and remedies for the problem. Find the publication at

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