The term “succession planting” has become a real hot topic in backyard gardening in recent years. But many are still asking themselves, “What is succession planting, exactly?” And also, “Is it a sustainable model for home gardening?”
We’re here to help you learn about–and plan for–a successful succession planting experience. Read on to learn about what this method entails, the different ways to do it, and the key questions to ask before you get started.
What is Succession Planting?
Succession planting is a method of gardening that allows you to reap a more continuous harvest by staggering your crops throughout the growing season. Or by combining different plants for better yields in a staggered growth pattern.
In the course of gardening–either by practice or learning–you have likely seen how some fruit and vegetable crops are heavy yielders initially, but will tend to taper off on produce after their first batch of a crop sets in. This is often particularly the case with certain types of beans and vining fruits.
With succession planting–also known as “successive planting”–you can course correct on these slower later season outcomes.
Instead of sowing all of your seeds at the beginning of the season, with succession planting, you can switch out for new plants, try different varieties, or watch various plants grow and thrive together.
This method of successive planting ensures that, just about the time one plant puts out its first crop and then begins to taper off, another plant is ready to get started and produce another bumper first crop.
You can continue this method throughout the whole growing season, extending your yields all the way through harvest time!
Why Is Succession Planting A Smart Way to Garden?
Equally as important as knowing what succession planting is, is to know why it’s important. After all, many of us are more familiar with just a single planting session at the beginning of the season. And there may be concerns about whether the soil can handle successive planting throughout the growing season.
There is certainly no denying that succession planting is more work than a single planting session. It requires more effort, a mind for timing, and keeping close watch over the state of your garden. You may end up having to course-correct based on the soil needs, spacing, etc.
However, there are many benefits that also make succession planting a very smart way to garden!
Cuts Back on Crop Waste
Succession planting is a great way to produce a slower, steadier crop of fresh produce, without the risk of high waste. Rather than having a large bumper crop from twenty plants that you must harvest all at once, you can slowly glean harvest plant by plant. This helps ensure you don’t wind up with too much produce to process and store from a single harvest.
It’s a Great Fallback Plan
Another benefit to succession planting is that it puts in a fallback plan for struggles in the garden. If one planting round is decimated by disease, pests, an early or late frost, etc., you won’t lose all your prospects. There will always be the next successive planting round to pick up the slack!
Maximizes Garden Space
Depending on where and how you plant, you can also save space in your garden with succession planting. Rather than taking up a lot of space all at once, space is traded out between plants. This makes succession planting particularly appealing for folks with smaller gardening plots.
There are also types of succession planting that allow you to double or triple the amount of plants that take up a single space, with each one maturing at a different time. This is another great way to make better use of a smaller gardening area.
Ensures Better Yields
With succession planting, you can extend your growing season by having fresh crops right up until the end of harvest time. This will also help ensure strong yields rather than the tapering off that is common with all-season plants.
Types of Succession Planting For Your Garden
Staggered Planting Of the Same Crop
When it comes to succession planting, you actually have a couple of options for where to go with your plants. One of the most popular ways to do succession planting is with staggered plantings of the same crop.
In this case, you will plant one row or a few of a single type of plant, such as a tomato plant; then, after about four weeks, plant another row. Once the first row has yielded its heavy first crop and starts to slow down, you can then pull them up and replant with more of the same plant…and so on and so forth, throughout the crop season.
Using a Variety of Different Crops
Another method of succession planting is to change up the type of crops you’re planting. In this case, you might start with an early-season grower, or one that matures rapidly, such as certain types of beans or peas. Then, once you have that first bumper crop, pull those plants up and opt for a late-season grower, like an eggplant variety.
Using A Variety of the Same Crops
This method of succession planting can really be the best of both worlds! In this case, you will grow the same type of crop, but using different varieties. This can often look like planting early, mid-season, and then late-season varieties of the same crop.
Many seed packets and seedlings will offer a “day to maturity” date on the label. You can use this as a guidepost to plan out which varieties to plant first and which ones to do later in the season.
This type of succession planting requires a bit more knowledge of how plants work together. However, this is an ancient and highly effective practice that can help maximize on reduced garden space. So, if you have a smaller garden, definitely consider giving this one a shot!
With companion planting, you will be sowing seeds of plants with similar needs but different maturity rates in a single seed mound. This allows them to share space, come up at their own pace, and even aid in soil health for one another.
A great example of this is the Native American “three sisters” planting method, where beans, squash, and corn are all planted in the same mound. Each plant sprouts at a different time, but all use the same growing space. In this case, the end result is staggered crops, healthy soil, and minimal spacing required.
Frequently Asked Questions About Succession Planting
What are the best kinds of crops for succession planting?
There are many types of plants that are great for succession planting. However, you will want to bear in mind which plants go well together, what individual plants bring to the soil, and what will allow them to thrive. There are certain plants which should not be grown in the same soil as other plants within one to three seasons, so growing them successively is a recipe for disaster.
When it comes to succession planting, some of the best crops for this kind of method are spinach, swiss chard, kale, beans, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips, lettuce, etc. Various herbs also do well with succession planting, such as cilantro and dill.
How do I keep my soil health when succession planting?
Soil health is a big deal, whether you’re engaging with a single crop in a planting season or trying out succession planting. But particularly when you have more plants pulling from the soil over a longer period of time, soil health is key.
One of the best ways you can help the soil health of your garden when succession planting is to plan for crops that help feed the soil. Beans are particularly high in nitrogen, which helps naturally amend the soil and keep it healthy and thriving. This is why commercial fields often rotate beans in and out of their cover.
Consider adding in certain bean varieties, such as pole beans, into your succession planting schedule. You can also help with the soil health by composting between plantings. Using organic compost such as leaf mold will give the soil an extra boost.
Is it wasteful to pull out plants that are still producing some crop?
This can be a tricky subject, and likely the one that keeps folks the most from engaging with succession planting. It’s true that certain types of succession planting, such as staggered planting and variety planting, do require you to pull out plants that are technically still producing.
However, all plants have a prime time for putting out their fruit. Once past that time, the plants tend to take more health from the soil but put out far less of a crop. In the interest of the soil, your planting schedule, and your succession plans, it’s wiser to replant a new, happy, healthy plant in that space.
This is better all around than allowing a plant past its prime to limp along, soaking up nutrients and taking up the space.
Wrapping Up The Benefits of Succession Planting
Excited to try succession planting in your garden? Be sure to check out our seed starting guide! No matter what crop varieties you choose to start with or grow throughout the year, this can help get you off on the right foot…and to have a successful successive growing season.
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