Succession planting involves growing many of the same, or complementary crops in the space garden spot continuously. This simple practice helps you maximize the yield that your garden can produce.
Succession planting is a growing method designed to maximize the amount of fresh produce that can be harvested from a particular growing area. Many new gardeners mistakenly believe that the process of planting and sowing seeds is a one-and-done event that only happens at the beginning of the growing season. But if you have a small amount of space to plant a vegetable garden, and are eager to get the most out of it, then succession planting combines the efficient use of space and great timing to obtain tremendous results.
Many of us follow the one and done approach to planting in the spring. We head out to the garden to get our seedlings or seeds in the ground and anxiously await the harvest. Unfortunately, following this line of thinking about the planting process is almost guaranteed to cause many peaks and valleys in what can be harvested throughout the season. The way to have a continuous harvest and an abundant crop for preserving is to plan for it.
The Successful Succession Planting Plan
Armed with a bit of data from seed packets and seed catalogs, you can create a successful succession-planting plan for your garden. Gather the data about how long each crop you plant to grow takes to reach maturity, how long it produces once mature, and which crops can be harmoniously planted in the same space at different times throughout the season. Some of my favorite seed catalogs are Territorial Seed Company, Mary’s Heirloom Seeds, and Rareseeds.com
Although the number of variables involved in succession planting may seem a little intimidating at first, don’t let that discourage you. It may take some practice, but you can definitely get the hang of it. Although succession planting may seem complicated at first, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can make it work for you. By applying the principles of succession planting to your own backyard garden, you’ll soon be growing more fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs than you ever thought possible.
To combat the overwhelm, choose only one or two beds or containers to practice in your first year. Also, take detailed notes in your garden journal throughout the growing season. This will help you know what worked, and what didn’t, so you’re ready when next season rolls around.
Before you start digging in the dirt, you’ll want to have a good idea of what you plan to grow. This planning process works well in a spreadsheet with these columns:
- list of which plants you want to grow in your succession planting area, make note of the correct variety
- next to each plant variety on your list, note how long that particular plant takes to reach maturity (use days as your measurement)
- what type of soil it prefers
- spacing requirements for the plant at maturity
- how long it will produce once mature
- any companion plants
Succession Planting Strategies
Once you know what you’d like to grow in your selected space, decide if you want to focus on growing the same crop throughout the season or if you want to try inter-planting more than one variety. Lettuce and herbs like basil and cilantro are great for repeated sowing all season long. However, if you want to try more than once crop, try to find a couple of recommended companion plants for your favorite choices.
Single Crop vs. Multiple Crop Strategies
There are a couple of ways you can approach succession planting. One option is to focus on growing a single crop in a specific garden bed. The other option is to inter-plant several complementary plant species within the same area. Regardless of which option you choose, it’s a good idea to start small with one or two beds until you get the hang of creating a planting schedule that works for you.
In general, experimenting with a single type of plant or several that are closely related, such as different types of salad greens, is also an easy way to start.
Depending on what plants you plan to grow, you can either employ successive planting, simultaneous planting, or a combination of the two. Successive planting refers to planting small amounts of the seeds over and over again throughout the season. The seeds planted can be either from the same plant or from two or more complementary varieties or species.
Here’s how successive planting works:
In early spring, you plant 5 lettuce seeds (which will feed your family for a week) and then the next week you plant 5 more seeds and continue that schedule throughout the lettuce season. The space that is made available from harvest, is immediately turned into the next growth area for the sale crop.
Lettuce and other salad greens are perfect choices for successive planting thanks to their fast growth cycle. The same can also be said for many herbs, such as basil and cilantro. The primary benefit of planting new seeds or seedlings every few weeks is that it ensures a continuous supply of fresh produce all season long.
On the other hand, simultaneous planting involves planting several varieties of either the same or different types of plants with varying maturity dates at once. This planting strategy includes using diverse plants with early, mid and late maturity dates, which are ideal for simultaneous planting. Crops with varying maturity dates include tomatoes, winter squash, carrots, radish, and snow peas. Check your favorite garden seed catalog for more ideas.
The key to successful simultaneous planting is to choose non-competing plants with different maturity dates. You’ll also want to note what type of root structure they have (shallow versus a single, deep taproot), how much water and sunlight they need, and which nutrients they require. If you get stuck, you may want to pick up a reputable companion planting resource to answer any specific questions you may have.
Stick with the Seasons
Temperature preference is another factor to consider when choosing two or more plants for successive planting. Some plants thrive during cooler seasons, while others are more tolerant of hot summer weather. By understanding what conditions your plants prefer, you can make the best use of your available growing space.
For example, you can plant cool-weather crops like radishes and carrots early in the year and then again in late summer or early fall. In between, you can fill those beds with more heat-tolerant transplants such as eggplant or hot peppers.
Whether you are a small space backyard vegetable gardener or have a large plot, adopting succession planting techniques will increase your harvest yields and make the best use of your space. Have you tried succession planting in your garden?