Succession Planting: Extending the Growing Season in Garden Beds

If you’re new to gardening, you might be assuming that the vegetables you’re planting this spring won’t be ready for harvest until summer or fall.

That’s not necessarily true: Plenty of crops only need half a season to grow to maturity. And if you grow them, you’ll have time to follow up with a second crop that could be harvested by the end of spring — giving you even more fresh produce to enjoy.

Taking a staggered approach to growing your crops, instead of cultivating and harvesting everything at the same time, is a simple and effective gardening strategy known as succession planting. This technique is particularly helpful if you have limited space because it lets you make the most of your growing area. Even if space isn’t an issue, succession planting lets you enjoy a greater variety, quantity, or both of herbs and veggies from your garden.

And while you’re at it, the continual presence of plants in your garden beds will help you minimize two common gardening headaches. It will reduce the space available for weeds to grow and disrupt the life cycles of pests.

Planting options to consider

Seedlings for succession gardening
Seedlings for succession gardening

If you’d like to give succession planting a try, there are a few different routes you can take.

The first is to aim to increase your harvest size by staggering plantings of the same crop every few weeks. That will provide a steady supply of an herb or vegetable you like. To do this, set aside portions of your garden beds for each crop. If you try this with plants that take longer to mature, research their timelines so you don’t sow seeds or transplant seedlings too late, putting your plants at risk of frost exposure.

Another option is to grow different vegetables with short growing cycles in the same growing space. As soon as you harvest one crop, be ready to quickly plant a new one. This approach has been described as a relay method. You might start with a vegetable that prefers cool, spring weather, like lettuce, and then pass the baton on to a second crop that prefers the heat, like tomatoes. Make sure you choose plants that will both do well in your garden’s soil conditions and light exposure.

Or, if you’d like, you could try planting different varieties of the same herb or vegetable. You might opt to plant snow peas early in the season and follow with purple hull peas that will thrive when the weather heats up.

Think twice about late bloomers

Ideally with successive planting, you’ll want to choose herbs and vegetables that mature quickly.

The best options for you will depend on your tastes, the maturing time of each crop, the specific requirements of the plants you’re considering, and your local climate.

A few good possibilities to consider include arugula, beets, broccoli, bush beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, early potatoes, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsley, parsnips, radishes, spinach, and turnips.

When you plant your second crop

Succession planting does require an organized approach so you don’t have lag time between crops. Have your second round of seeds or seedlings for transplant ready so you can plant them as soon as you’ve harvested your first crop. 

Before you plant in a space where you just harvested, use a rake to remove weeds from your soil and break up clumps. If you added organic matter to the soil for your first crop, the soil should still be good, but if you think it needs help, add a thin layer of compost before you sow seeds or plant seedlings.

Succession planting isn’t difficult; it simply requires some research and planning. If you’d like to supercharge your harvest this season, now is the time to start. Your future self will thank you for the abundant and varied fresh crops.

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