Abstract Rapid establishment by aggressive plants such as Phalaris arundinacea (reed canarygrass) often interferes with sedge meadow establishment in restored prairie pothole wetlands in the mid-continental United States. Introducing a cover crop during community establishment might suppress P. arundinacea invasion in restored prairie potholes by reducing resource availability. We evaluated two potential cover crops, Echinochloa crusgalli (barnyardgrass) and Polygonum lapathifolium (nodding smartweed), for suppressing P. arundinacea invasion in an experimental wetland using replacement series competition experiments. Further, we assessed the effects of E. crusgalli and P. lapathifolium on sedge meadow establishment by sowing Carex hystericina, a common wetland sedge, as a third species at a constant density in the replacement experiments. Echinochloa crusgalli, compared with no cover crop, reduced P. arundinacea biomass by more than 1,000 g/m2 (65%) after two growing seasons. Polygonum lapathifolium did not affect P. arundinacea biomass. Dense E. crusgalli canopies in the first year and thick E. crusgalli thatch in the second year substantially reduced light availability for P. arundinacea establishment. Echinochloa crusgalli also reduced C. hystericina biomass by more than 1,800 g/m2 (99%) after two growing seasons. Carex hystericina biomass was similar in plots sown with E. crusgalli to P. arundinacea monocultures. Neither E. crusgalli nor P. lapathifolium is likely to improve sedge meadow restoration success. These trends were not sensitive to initial sowing density or elevation above water level. Without methods to suppress P. arundinacea invasions, sedge meadow restorations may often fail. Thorough site preparation to remove P. arundinacea propagule sources before restoration is essential.