Succession planting takes a long term view of garden usage. Instead of simply planting whatever seed packets looked best in the garden catalog, successful gardeners look at the same space over time to see what can be planted after the current crop.
Benefits of succession planting
Succession planting makes efficient use of fertile ground by leap-frogging plants and crops for a continuous harvest. This eliminates the deluge of every plant reaching harvestable size within the same week. That’s great if you’re putting up tomato sauce, but it can be a bit much when talking about 20 Romaine plants! By changing the life stage and/or plant type in any given bed, the odds of total crop failure due to pests or disease are reduced. Growing plants at various life stages in the same place also cuts back on the amount of real estate available to weeds. Finally, planting fast-growing crops with slow-growing crops makes good use of soil that might have otherwise gone fallow.
Different methods of succession planting
In its simplest form, succession planting refers to following one crop with another crop. This is generally done as the weather changes, following a summer crop with a cool season crop. But there is more to it than that. In addition to consecutive plantings, there is also staggered planting, intercropping, and varietal planting.
Varietal planting means installing different varieties of the same plant in the same place, at the same time. These varieties have different maturity dates, providing a continuous harvest. You can fine tune your varietal plantings by taking note of days to maturity and mature size information on seed packets. You may be able to start with an early maturing variety, followed by a mid-season harvest, then a late-season harvest. You may even be able to squeeze in yet another early harvest at the end.
Staggered planting refers to planting seeds of the same plant in the same area, but on different days. This extends the harvest season, providing a continuous, smaller harvest of the same plant. Staggered planting is best suited for lettuce, spinach, radishes, beets, carrots, and peas. For most of these crops, you can start a new set of seeds every week or two, for the best possible production.
Intercropping puts different crops together in the same place, at the same time. This allows gardeners to make use of soil resources that might have gone unused with a single crop. It also increases biodiversity, reducing potential pest and disease problems. One example of intercropping is the Three Sisters Method of growing beans, corn and squash together. Intercropping is the scientific basis behind the Companion Planting craze. I’m sorry, but there are no magic pairings of plants that “like” each other. There are structural and developmental needs of different plants that either support one another or don’t interfere with each other, while growing in the same space. Basic intercropping pairings include:
Planning for succession planting
Your can take advantage of the benefits of succession planting, simply by growing two seasonally different crops in the same bed. As one crop is winding down, the next season’s crop can be getting started. Or, you can get really in-depth into this concept by investing some planning time. To make the most out of your garden space with succession planting, you will need to know the following:
Here in the Bay Area, our growing season is nearly year round. So the next step will be to collect information on all the plants you want to grow. You can do this with pencil and paper, in a spreadsheet, or you can clean off a big table and start moving seed packets around into different groups until you reach what looks like a good plan.
Do yourself and your garden a favor and take note of what works and what doesn’t. Just remember, every garden is different, every year is different, and sometimes we are simply unlucky when it comes to temperature extremes, pest infestations, and nutrient deficiencies. Succession planting can offset some of those problems.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!