Succession gardening means using both space and time to maximize garden yield by growing in the same spot continuously throughout the gardening season.
If you have ever heard of succession gardening … or succession planting … you might think it only applies to people with small space gardens. After all, it makes sense to maximize every inch of space, and use it more than once, if you have only a small area to plant.
The truth is that succession planting is a valuable tool even if you have the whole back forty at your disposal.
When we moved out to our cabin in the woods, we had ample space.
Acres of it, in fact.
That was just the ‘front yard’ …. which later became pasture, a barn, a massive garden, and a big potato patch … a very small part of our property.
But I also had two young children, an infant – and soon another on the way. I might have had all of that land available, but I didn’t want to be WALKING it every day.
Enter succession gardening. It’s been used by French gardeners in their tiny little garden plots, and by people like me with acres of land that they just don’t want to be walking every day.
What Is Succession Gardening?
Succession planting involves growing the same or complementary crops in the same spot continuously throughout the season in order to maximize the yield a garden can produce. In other words, succession planting combines the efficient use of space and timing to obtain better results.
Many novice gardeners mistakenly believe that planting and sowing seeds is a one-and-done process that only happens at the beginning of the growing season. So, they head out to the garden each spring, get some plants and seeds in the ground… and wait for the magic to happen.
Unfortunately, following this one-off approach to planting is almost guaranteed to cause many peaks and valleys in what can be harvested throughout the season. If you want your garden to produce an abundant supply of fresh produce all season long, you need to plan ahead for it.
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Plan Ahead for Successful Succession Planting
To create a successful succession-planting plan for your garden, you need to take a number of variables into account.
For example, you’ll want to consider how long each crop takes to reach maturity, how long it produces once mature, and which crops can be harmoniously planted in the same space at different times throughout the season.
Although the number of variables involved in succession planting may seem a little intimidating at first, don’t let that discourage you.
It may take some practice, but you can definitely get the hang of it.
Here is a great list from Iowa State University that shows typical vegetables and their dates of maturity. It can seem confusing that they often show a wide range of dates – that’s to take different varieties into account. Short season tomatoes, for example, might mature in 60 days, but most require at least 90 days from transplant.
If you are just starting out, choose only one or two beds or containers to practice in your first year. Also, take detailed notes in your garden journal throughout the growing season so you know what worked – and what didn’t – when next season rolls around.
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Getting Started with Succession Planting
Before you start digging in the dirt, you’ll want to have a good idea of what you plan to grow.
Start by making a list of which plants you want to grow in your succession planting area.
As you are compiling this list, make sure you note the correct variety of each plant, because there is a lot of diversity among different varieties of the same plant species.
Then, next to each plant variety on your list, note:
- how long that particular plant takes to reach maturity,
- is it heat or cold tolerant,
- how many hours of sunlight it needs each day,
- what type of soil it prefers, and
- its spacing requirements.
The back of seed packets and garden catalogues are great starting points for this exercise.
Once you know what you’d like to grow in your selected space, decide if you want to focus on growing the same crop throughout the season or if you want to try inter-planting more than one variety.
Lettuce and herbs like basil and cilantro are great for repeated sowing all season long. Radishes are another good one since they grow so quickly. It might be possible for you to get multiple plantings of bush beans, depending on the length of your growing season.
However, if you want to try more than one crop, try to find a couple of recommended companion plants for your favorite choices. In my garden, I grew lettuce around my baby tomato plants – by the time the tomato plants were large and needed the space, the lettuce were gone. That is a perfect example of efficiently using the growing space.
Of course, much of this will depend on your climate.
Here in dark and cool Nova Scotia, we have a growing season that is less than four months. Warmer places might get multiple plantings of crops that we can only plant once. That’s why you need to start with knowing your growing season and the maturity dates for each plant you want to grow.
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Although succession planting may seem complicated at first, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can make it work for you.
By applying the principles of succession gardening to your own backyard garden, you’ll soon be growing more fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs than you ever thought possible.