Spring arrives, and you happily plant five rows of lettuce. Within weeks, you have lettuce coming out of your ears. The kids are begging you to stop making salads for each meal – lettuce can be for breakfast too! Then, three weeks later, you have no one leaf left in your garden bed.
It’s a problem all vegetable gardeners face at one time or another. Sometimes, you also plant a vegetable that quits before the end of the season, leaving you with bare beds that could be productive in your garden.
Both of these situations can be remedied by learning how to use succession planting. Succession planting allows you to extend your harvest throughout the entire growing season, maximizing your harvest.
What is Succession Planting?
Succession planting, sometimes called relay planting, is when you plant seeds of a certain crop on a time-space schedule. You can use this type of planting for vegetables that may be ready for harvest at one time only.
This form of planting is beneficial for all gardeners, but it is particularly helpful for gardeners with limited space. You can double or triple your garden’s production. While it does require planning, a bit of planning results in a lot more harvest than you would’ve had otherwise.
The Best Crops for Succession Planting
Certain crops are not candidates for succession planting. They harvest over an extended period, such as tomatoes or broccoli.
Some crops to consider are:
- Greens (almost all types)
When you’re choosing varieties, the maturity rate is the key to success. The earlier the plants grow and produce the harvest, the sooner you can replace. For example, some carrot varieties can be ready in as little as 55 days. Others take up to 80 days. While it is ok to plant a few long varieties, the shorter ones will maximize your harvest.
Bush varieties of beans and peas produce quicker because they don’t have to grow those long vines. They yield all at one time, while pole beans tend to produce a harvest over a period of time. Yielding at one time also helps for preserving.
How to Use Succession Planting
A simple method is to plan to plant a new set of seeds once every two to three weeks. For example, you start with a single row of lettuce. Then, in two weeks, you plant another row of lettuce. You plant another row in two more weeks. You continue doing so for the entire season. When the first row is ready for harvest, you eat the lettuce and then plant another row of lettuce.
Another form of succession planting to consider is crop rotation, which allows you to take advantage of the different needs of various crops and the seasonal cycle. For example, you might plant a short season, cool crop in spring. Then, harvest that and plant a longer season, warm weather crop in summer. Once that plant harvests, you plant another short season cool crop in the fall.
All of these three plantings would take place in the same area of the garden. These three crops might be lettuce (spring), tomatoes (summer), and carrots (fall).
If you live in a more tropical area where the winter doesn’t get as cold and summer is often very hot, you can plant a short season, cool crop in the winter. Then, harvest that and plant a long season, warm crop in the spring. Once that harvests, you plant a heat tolerant crop in mid-summer. Harvest that plant and plant another long season, warm weather crop in the fall.
This example could be kale (winter), zucchini (spring), okra (summer), and peppers (fall).
As mentioned, you need a plan if you want succession planting to work correctly. Here are the steps to follow.
- Pick the crops you want to grow. This step requires having an overall goal and plan for your garden, along with the crops you want to grow. From this list, you can pick the candidates for succession gardening. You should also know which crops do better in spring and fall or which crops are summer, which means frost-free, plants only.
- Determine their days to harvest or days to maturity.Each plant will have a listed date to maturity. For example, some variety of Brussels sprouts take between 100 to 120 days to come to a harvest.
- Know the length of your growing season. Your growing season will depend on your first and final frost dates. Some plants can survive in the frost, which is why you need to know what you are planting!
- Figure out when to start planting. Read the back of the seed packet, and it should tell you when to sow in the ground or start inside. It might say “sow up to eight weeks before first frost” or “start inside 10 weeks before final frost.”
- Make the plan. Using the information you have before you, it’s time to make your plan. Start with one crop. Read the packet and decide when you want to make the first planting. Then, set a 10, 14 or 21-day interval of planting, marking each new planting day in your calendar. Be sure to read the days to maturity. For crops that take a short period to mature, you can have a shorter interval of plantings. Look at your first frost date for your area and count back the days of maturity to determine your last planting. If the plant is frost hardy, you can extend further into the season.
To give yourself a headstart, you can sow transplants. You don’t have to wait for a crop to be finished before starting the next succession planting. You can grow them in pots and trays to start them ahead of time. Then, when space opens up, you can transplant your healthy seedlings.
Try Succession Planting in Your Garden
The main reason you should learn how to use succession planting is that it takes full advantage of your garden space throughout your entire growing season. You won’t have garden beds that are empty, wishing you were growing something. You won’t overflow with a crop for weeks then have none for weeks aftward. While this form of planting requires planning, you’ll be amazed at the amount of harvest you receive this year.