What does “succession planting” mean to you?

Often times when I am chatting with fellow veteran gardeners, I hear the expression “succession planting” thrown around. This term technically has four different meanings, all of which may be new and exciting options for the beginner gardener. In my previous experiences working with first-time gardeners, more often than not they have the notion that the seeds get planted all at the same time and then they harvest crops upon ripening. Period. This is an option, sure, but your garden has so much more potential than that. Truly. Let us discuss the four methods of succession planting and how you can implement these tactics to maximize your garden’s productivity. I will warn you, succession planting requires planning and attentiveness. If you’re a minimalistic, sow and abandon then hope for the best type, succession planting may not be for you. Here goes…

Zucchini plants sown one month apart

Same Crop in Succession
Most often, this is the context in which I hear others refer to succession planting. They will sow the same crop repeatedly, at regular intervals. This allows them to harvest said crop over a longer duration rather than having an abundance ripen all at once. For example, you may want a handful of radishes ready to harvest each week for salads or roasting. One way to ensure that you have a small harvest of radishes several weeks in a row, rather than an entire plot worth that matures simultaneously, is to plant a few seeds each week for 4-6 consecutive weeks. They should, in turn, ripen in the order they were sown.

Radishes sown in succession – one week apart

Different Crops in Succession
The next most common use of this expression refers to sequential plantings of different crops, one following the other in the same space. This is particularly useful when trying to grow both cool weather and warm weather crops in the same bed/plot. A cool weather crop like carrots can be sown in early spring, after they are harvested in 50-75 days later, a warm weather crop can replace them (i.e. beans) and, if you’re season is long enough, when the beans are exhausted in late summer they can be replaced with another cold tolerant vegetable (i.e. turnips) for a late fall harvest. Yes, you read that right — three crops from the same patch of soil in one year. #awesomeness

Touchon carrots (cool weather crop); once harvested the space they had occupied was used for tomato plants (warm weather crop)

Same Crop, Different Varieties
Another way of extending the duration of a harvest is to plant multiple cultivars with different maturity rates. I like to do this with potatoes, carrots and summer squashes. (One can only eat so much zucchini before they start to turn green…) This year I have Yukon Golds planted that will be ready in ~75 days as well as La Soda Reds which won’t mature until a month later. These are commonly categorized into “early season” and “late season” varieties, respectively. When cultivars are selected thoughtfully, growth rate variability allows for staggered harvests.

Yukon Gold potatoes – “early season”

Different Crops Simultaneously
This method is more commonly referred to as “intercropping” and is more appealing to the “plant it all at once and be done with it” gardener. In this case, all crops are addressed in a single planting and then the time at which you harvest is entirely dependent upon the growth rates of each crop. The idea here is that you plant things more closely together to maximize space but there is strategy involved so that your yields don’t suffer. Example — planting lettuce in between your pepper plants. Pepper plants get tall (avg. 24-36 inches) and there is often a significant amount of space under/between them that goes unoccupied. Certain lettuce varieties grow in short, compact mounds that will fit in that space and during the dog days of summer, lettuce does well in a part-shade environment which is exactly what the surrounding pepper plants provide. The lettuce can be harvested early and continuously, while the peppers take more time to ripen. This concept can be applied to planting lettuce, radishes or carrots underneath trellised cucumbers, squash or melons too.

To the newbie gardeners reading this post, I hope this inspires you to try different planting schemes to maximize your garden’s potential. To my veteran growers, what type of succession planting methods do you employ? Suggestions and tips are welcome in the comments section below. Cheers, friends!

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