Succession Planting: The Best Way to Grow a Continuous Harvest
INSIDE: Want the top tips on succession planting vegetables? Avoid harvest overwhelm (and grow more crops in less space) with this helpful guide to succession sowing.
Ever wished you could hit the “pause” button on the rollercoaster ride of veggie harvests?
I get it – the struggle is real when everything ripens at the same time!
In. One. Big. Harvest.
There’s got to be a better way. Right?
Imagine enjoying a steady supply of your favorite veggies without feeling overwhelmed or wasteful.
Seem impossible? It’s not when you succession plant.
It’s like a magic backyard pantry that always keeps its shelves stocked with fresh ingredients for your next meal.
Instead of a flurry of produce and a race against time to use it all, you spread out your harvests.
It’s all about crop timing. Instead of planting everything in one big batch, you stagger your plantings. So, you have quick, successive harvests.
So, you can get your veggie fix at every meal.
Keep reading to learn how to keep the harvest train chugging all season long.
We’ll explore what to plant and how to time your plantings just right.
And I’ll share some helpful tips to ensure your harvests are the stuff of garden legends.
Let’s dive right in!
What’s inside this article:
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Succession planting is the Goldilocks of planting techniques.
Rather than planting everything at once, you continually plant smaller amounts of seeds and/or transplants throughout the growing season.
You get the benefit of continual but manageable harvests. So, instead of feeling over or underwhelmed, your harvests feel just right.
It’s a great way to maximize your harvests. And it’s a simple technique anyone can learn!
Succession planting = planting a small amount, often.
There are several different ways to go about it.
What are the different types of successional planting?
- Seasonal replacements.
- Planting in intervals.
- One or more vegetables planted side-by-side.
- Same plant, different maturity rates.
In the next section, we’ll go into more detail about how each of these work. But first, let’s get things organized.
Managing multiple sequential plantings can seem a bit challenging, especially if you’ve never done it before.
But with some organization and planning, you can produce a continuous harvest.
Here are the steps to follow:
- Find your last and first frost dates. These dictate when you can plant what. And it makes planning more reliable, especially in the fall. (See when to plant a fall garden for help.)
- Make a list of what veggies you and your family like to eat. Focus on your favorite vegetables first. And add more to your list next season when you’re more comfortable with it.
- Decide how much you can expect to eat in a week or two. But don’t go overboard. It’s easy to end up with more than you can eat.
- Note the days to maturity. You’ll find this on your seed packets. Use this info to establish your planting schedule.
- Choose the type(s) of successions you want to try. Start with one or two types. And add more as you get more experienced. See the list below.
- Use a planting calendar to track your plantings and harvest dates and to note when to plant the next round of vegetables.
Successional planting is the art of fine-tuning when you plant.
Now that you’ve figured out what to grow, let’s talk about the different ways to plant.
We’ll go over everything you need to know about each planting strategy.
And if you’re just starting out, choose one, maybe two methods to try.
This is probably the most common method.
And you may even be doing it already!
Start by dividing your list of vegetables you want to grow into cool season, warm season, and transitional crops.
- Cool season: Plant these in early spring and/or autumn (Examples include: lettuce, kale, and peas).
- Warm season: Plant these during the frost-free period (Think tomatoes, peppers, and beans).
- Transitional: These veggies can take advantage of the short windows between warm and cool seasons. They’re quick-growing vegetables that can straddle both seasons (For example, radishes, scallions, and baby greens).
Transitional crops pro-tip: Grow heat-tolerant varieties in the spring to extend your harvest time into the warmer months. That way, you can harvest heat-tolerant Black Seeded Simpson leaf lettuce in the summer. And then look forward to harvesting frost-tolerant Buttercrunch Butterhead lettuce in the fall.
This is what it would look like throughout a growing season.
- Spring: Plant cool-season, frost-tolerant vegetables.
- Early summer: As your spring-planted cool-season vegetables mature and get harvested, plant either a transitional crop or warm-season crop in their place.
- Late summer: Once your warm-season crops are spent, replace them with either a transitional crop or a cool-weather crop.
Related post: Things to plant in August.
This is what comes to mind when most gardeners think about successional plantings.
It’s also called successional sowing.
You replant a crop at regular intervals – for example, every 1-2 weeks.
What are the advantages of staggered planting?
It creates a slow and steady harvest.
This works well for veggies with a short harvest window, like radishes, carrots, and bush beans.
And who really needs 50 radishes to mature at once?
Pro-tip: Choose fast-growing varieties that will free up space sooner for the next round of planting.
Plant different vegetables with complementary growth habits to save space.
It’s an easy way to work companion planting into your garden.
- Typically, you’ll plant a quick-growing crop with a slower one. The quick one gets harvested before the slower one matures.
- This is especially helpful for things you only want to harvest once.
- Mixing deep and shallow-rooted plants is another way to maximize yields with this technique. For example, plant deep-rooted lettuce among shallow-rooted scallions.
What are some examples of intercropping?
- Radishes and carrots.
- Dill and summer squash.
- Beets and pumpkins.
- Lettuce and cabbage.
You can also do this with one vegetable. You plant more of the same crop in the same spot when the first wave is close to maturing. When you do it this way, it’s called relay planting.
Replanting radishes is a quick and easy technique even new gardeners can implement right away.–Simply Smart Gardening
This method takes advantage of vegetables that have early-, mid-, and late-maturing varieties.
- For example, some tomatoes mature in just 50 days, while others need 70-100 days.
- Plant all the varieties at the same time.
- You’ll extend your harvest time without replanting by growing two or more vegetable varieties with different maturity dates.
So, how do you plan all of this?
To do this right, you need to make a PLAN. (Ugh. REALLY?)
Yep. Trust me. It’ll pay off big time!
And it’s not hard.
You can work out your plan once you have a framework of possible planting dates.
You can do it with a pencil and paper. Or use a spreadsheet. (Or go crazy and use both!)
And trust me on using a pencil rather than a pen. It makes it much easier to adjust things later.
Step 1: Make a map of your vegetable garden beds
- Draw a diagram of each bed.
- For each bed, decide what you want to plant in the spring and what might follow it.
- Creating spring, summer, and fall maps for each bed is the way to do it.
- But this isn’t set in stone! As the season progresses, you can change your mind. (That’s why you used a pencil!)
By staggering the planting times of succession crops, you’ll have a harmonious harvest rhythym throughout the growing season.
Step 2: Decide when to plant what
There are two ways you can approach this.
First method: Requires more up-front planning:
A great way to plan crop successions is to plan around your first frost-free date in the spring and your first freeze date in autumn.
- Find your average first and last frost dates. These dates define the length of your growing season.
- Find the suggested planting time for your vegetables. You can find this on seed packets, plant labels, or online.
- Note the days to maturity.
- Plan your spring and warm-weather summer plantings.
- Choose the date for your first planting based on your last frost date.
- Then, plan out subsequent plantings by adding the planting interval to each date.
- Adjust your plan if needed as you go through the season.
- Find the first date to plant autumn crops by calculating backward from your first frost date. For the full details, see my article on when to plant a fall garden.
- Plan out your subsequent plantings by adding the planting interval to each date.
Learn about succession planting flowers:
Second method: Rather take things day-by-day?
If you don’t want to plan everything in advance, here’s another way to do it.
Schedule your plantings based on the optimum soil temperature for that crop. This can result in better germination, root development, and plant growth.
- Find the recommended soil temperature ranges for the crops you intend to plant. You can find this information in seed catalogs or online.
- Measure and monitor your soil temperature.
- Use a soil thermometer to measure the temperature at the desired planting depth (typically 2-4 inches deep) in your garden.
- Take multiple readings at different times of the day to get an average temperature.
- Understanding the typical warming trends in your area will also be helpful.
- Once your soil reaches the ideal temperature for a given plant, it’s time to plant!
- Then create a succession schedule for that plant based on how much time is left in your growing season.
- Regular monitoring of your soil temperature will help you fine-tune your planting schedule.
Step 3: Decide what to plant where
A visual aid, like a garden plan, map, or layout, is incredibly helpful for tracking your plantings.
This way, you can easily see when one crop will be ready to harvest and when to sow the next.
As you make your diagram, list what to plant in the bed. Include the date to be sown or transplanted and the expected harvest date(s).
Other factors to consider as you make your plan:
Insect and disease spikes.
- Find out when your crops are most vulnerable to insects or diseases.
- You may want to avoid planting those crops when they’re most at risk for problems.
Weather and available sunlight.
- These affect seedling establishment and overall plant growth.
- For example, peas planted at the first possible time in the spring and again two weeks later will usually mature only one week apart.
- It’s because germination conditions at the time of the second planting are usually better. And the young plants will grow faster as the days lengthen. So, they quickly catch up to the first crop.
- This happens in reverse in the fall. Even a couple of days’ difference in summer planting can lead to a harvest date difference of two to three weeks.
Planting in succession means you can always get your salad fix.Simply Smart Gardening
But what should you do if it’s already mid-summer?
Focus on replacing warm-season vegetables with cool-season ones.
Here’s an easy way to get started.
- Make a list of plants that have bolted, are spent, or will be harvested soon. This will help you see what space you have available.
- Then start making matches.
- For example, spent pea trellises might be a good place for beans, vining squash, or cucumbers.
And stay flexible
As your garden grows, you may need to adjust your plans based on real-world results.
- Maybe you decided to try a new vegetable variety. And you don’t know how it’ll perform in your garden.
- Or crazy summer weather messes with your carefully laid plans.
- Or life gets in the way.
Updating your chart when things go awry will help you stay on top of your garden’s progress and help you create a better plan next year.
Students in my gardening course, Small Space, Big Harvest, created these plans. Becky G. said the course “Gave me the confidence I needed to change the way I garden.”
- Every 14 days in the spring: plant beets, lettuce, radishes, and green onions. No planting mid-summer. One planting in autumn.
- Every 14 days in the summer, plant bush beans.
- Every 4-6 weeks in the summer, plant new summer squash.
- Plant muskmelon and watermelon twice, about a month apart
- Plant tomatoes and potatoes twice, 2-3 weeks apart.
- Plant garlic, bulbing onions, peas, peppers, winter squash, and pumpkins once.
- Plant spinach, lettuce, radishes, or Swiss chard every 2 weeks.
- Plant peas every 3 weeks.
- Sow cabbage, broccoli, or kale as transplants every 2 weeks.
- Succession planting after pea: plant tomatoes, peppers, or eggplants once. Plant two varieties with different maturity dates.
- Plant summer squash 1-2 times max.
- Plant pole beans and cucumbers every 2-3 weeks.
- Sow heat-tolerant varieties of lettuce and spinach every 2 weeks until it gets too hot.
- Plant beets, radishes, and carrots for a fall harvest, leaving enough time before the first frost for them to mature.
- Plant parsley, oregano, and thyme once.
- Sow basil, cilantro, or dill every 2 weeks for a steady supply.
- Start Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, or broccoli as transplants for fall and winter harvests.
- Plant turnips, rutabagas, or parsnips every 2 weeks.
- Plant frost-tolerant spinach and lettuce varieties every 2 weeks.
- Plant kale, arugula, and mustard greens every 2 weeks for baby greens.
- Plant radishes every 2 weeks until it gets too cold for them to mature.
- Sow onions, garlic, or shallots once in early autumn.
These are just two examples that have worked well for my students. Check out Small Space, Big Harvest, to learn more about the course.
The great thing is you can customize it to your needs. And you can make it as simple or complicated as you want.
Next, you’ll want to check out the planting charts that group veggies by planting technique.
What are the best vegetables for succession planting?
I’ve created these helpful charts that break down which vegetables to pair with each planting method.
Cool Season Crops
Other Leafy Salad Greens
Warm Season Crops
Vegetables for interval planting:
Two (or more) vegetables in one spot
Mix & match from this list unless otherwise noted.
Same vegetable, different maturity rates
Choose different varieties of the following vegetables:
When succession planting tomatoes, this is the way to do it!
A great place to start is with quick-growing crops in your spring garden. It’s not a big deal if you make a mistake because you haven’t tied up precious garden space for the next few weeks.
Another time to experiment is in the heat of summer. Your peas and radishes have all been picked, your cilantro is flowering, and your spinach is a tasty memory.
Don’t let those summer garden gaps sit empty. The sunlight and warm soil are an irresistible invitation for weeds to take over!
And remember a few guidelines to maximize your yields.
- Plant often.
- Adapt your planting schedule to your growing conditions and available space.
- Be mindful of the shade cast by taller plants when planting.
- Weed as you plant.
- Harvest often to prevent cool-season plants from bolting and to keep others producing as long as possible.
But don’t make it too complicated when you first start.
- Keep a close eye on your garden and calendar.
- Visit your garden every day.
- Take notes about what worked and what didn’t.
- And plant seeds and transplants when there’s an opportunity.
These simple strategies will stop the harvest rollercoaster and start the slow and steady harvest train!
Do you have any questions about planting in succession?
Let me know in a comment below!