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Succession Planting–Be An Expert

Garden bed yields1
Succession crop
A new crop is started where the harvest of another crop was completed; this is succession planting.

Succession planting means growing different crops in the same space one right after the other in the same season or planting the same crop in different parts of the garden in succession at different times. Succession planting results in a succession of harvests–a long continuous harvest season.

Two Examples of Succession Planting

  • A row of carrots is planted in early spring: after the carrots are harvested in early summer, the vacated row is re-planted with snap beans for harvest in early fall. The two crops are grown on the same ground,
  • A planting bed is divided into three sections: the first sowing of radishes is planted in the first section; in 10 days, the second section is planted with radishes; in another 10 days the third section is planted with radishes. Successive sowings of the same crop are made in different locations at 10-day intervals.

Succession planting allows for a continuous, uninterrupted harvest. Succession planting is sometimes called relay cropping.

Succession crops
Rows of crops can be planted in succession for a continuous harvest.

Succession Planting is Not Crop Rotation

Succession planting is different than rotation cropping. Rotation cropping is the practice of not planting the same crop in the same place for at least three successive years. Crop rotation ensures that the same plants or plants from the same family will not deplete the same soil nutrients year after year.

Whenever possible, do not plant successive crops of the same botanical family on the same ground. For example, root vegetables such as carrots or radishes should follow vegetables grown for their leaves or seeds, for example, lettuce or beans. In a small garden, this may be difficult. If you do grow the same vegetable in the same spot for two or three successive years, you must make extra efforts to keep the ground fertile (add plenty of aged compost between plantings) and remove immediately plants that become diseased.

There are no rules for succession planting. Any vegetable that is removed from the garden early enough in the season can be followed by any other crop which will have time to mature.

More Succession Planting Examples

  • Cool-season crops followed by warm-season crops: early beets and beet greens, early cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kohlrabi, lettuce, green onions, peas, radishes, spinach, and turnips can be planted early–these crops are cool-weather crops. These crops can be followed by warm-weather crops such as beans, eggplant, melons, peppers, tomatoes, or squash.
  • Warm-season crops followed by more warm-season crops: Bush beans, eggplant, melons, peppers, tomatoes, or squash can be followed by second plantings of the same crops. This is easily done in regions where summers are very long and winters are mild. If your growing season is 220 days or more, follow harvested warm-season crops with a second planting of warm-season crops.
  • Warm-season crops followed by cool-season crops. Warm-season crops such as bush beans or peppers can be followed by a mid or late-summer planting of cool-weather crops that will mature in autumn. Beets, Chinese cabbage, collards, corn salad, endive, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard, and Swiss chard are cool-season crops that can follow warm-season crops for late autumn and winter harvest.
Intercropping lettuce and onions
Quick-maturing lettuce is intercropped–interplanted– with slower growing onions.

Intercropping–Planting Crops Side-by-Side–for Different 

Another form of succession cropping is growing quick-to-harvest crops next to slow-to-harvest crops. This form of succession cropping is also called intercropping or interplanting. Intercropping is often used in small gardens with a limited amount of space. Intercropping works best when quick-maturing crops are planted between slower-maturing crops. Here are crops that fall into these categories:

  • Quick-to-harvest crops include radishes, leaf lettuce, green bunching onions, turnips, and mustard greens. These crops require 60 days or less from sowing to harvest.
  • Slow-to-harvest crops include tomatoes, corn, squash, cabbage, eggplant, and peppers. These crops require more than 60 days from sowing until harvest, often 90 days or more.

Catch Cropping

Catch cropping is a term used for filling a space in the garden where a plant has been harvested. One plant comes out, a second plant goes in. Catch cropping can be a form of succession planting; no part of the garden is left vacant during the growing season.

The number of succession crops that can be grown in the garden in a growing season depends upon the days to maturity for each crop and the number of days in the growing season. In short-season regions, it is more realistic to aim for two successions of crops. In long-season regions, a gardener may plant three or four successions from spring to autumn.

succession crops
Harvested cool-weather leafy crops make way for the planting of warm-season fruiting crops, tomatoes and peppers.

Step-by-Step Succession Crop Planning

  1. Make a list of the crops you want to grow.
  2. Know the number of days in the growing season, the approximate number of days between the last expected frost in spring, and the first expected frost in fall. This is the growing season. Ask is the summer-long enough to grow the crop you have in mind? Is it long enough to grow a second crop in the same spot or a third crop?
  3. Know the number of days to harvest of each crop you plan to grow: the time in the garden for long-staying main crops and for quick-maturing early crops or late crops.
  4. Decide if the growing season will be extended in spring or autumn by the use of protection: cloches, floating row covers, plastic tunnels, or cold frames. Season-extension devices add days to your growing season.
  5. Make a map or chart of the growing space or planting beds for the beginning, middle, and end of the growing season: what spaces will be vacant when.
  6. Be flexible: soil and air temperatures, the weather, pests, diseases, and other unforeseen events may alter your plans.

To know the number of days to maturity of many vegetable varieties, look up each vegetable under its name in the Topics Index or check the How to Grow Archive for each plant.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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