How you use space in your garden is obviously very important to the size and quality of the yields you can obtain. But how you use time is an equally important thing to consider. Making the most of time as well as space over the main growing season, and year round, is something that can make a big difference to the yield you get from your garden. Succession planting is all about thinking carefully about what you plant, and when.
What is Succession Planting?
Succession planting can take several different forms. But the idea is always generally the same. It is all about making sure that you are making the most of space and time available to you in your garden. Below, we will discuss the main types of succession planting you might consider, and how they might be of use to you in your situation.
No matter what type of succession planting you are implementing, the goal is to make sure you avoid areas of bare soil as much as possible, and make the most of every inch of space, and every second of the growing season.
Successive Planting of the Same Crop and Variety
First of all, successive planting or succession planting might involve planting multiple batches of the same crop and variety over a period of a number of weeks. For example, you might sow radishes, or lettuce little and often over the spring/ summer months.
Plant some more every few weeks rather than sowing all your seeds at once. This can help you prolong the harvesting period for those crops. And avoid having a glut that means you cannot eat all of what you have grown.
Successive Planting of Multiple Varieties
You might also plant in succession with multiple varieties. Rather than sowing additional seeds of the same variety, you might sow a different type. For example, you might sow first early peas, then second early, then your maincrop. You might take advantage of the different properties and time-to-harvest figures of different varieties to make the most of the space and time available.
This can be very useful as it can often allow you to harvest your favourite annual fruits and vegetables over a much longer period. Of course, since you are selecting different varieties, this allows you to increase biodiversity in your garden, This boosts resilience since you will not have all your eggs in one basket. And it is more interesting when it comes to eating your home grown produce too.
Succession Planting – Multiple Crops at the Same Time
One important thing to understand about succession planting is that you do not necessarily have to wait for one crop to be done before you plant another amid/ between it. Succession planting can also involve planting more than one crop in the same area at the same time. Combine a quick growing and quick to harvest crop with one that is slower to mature and harvested much later. This is another great way to make sure you are making the most of space and time.
One very common example is to sow quick growing lettuce between slower growing cabbages or other brassica crops. This is one common ‘catch crop’ as they are called. Though there are plenty of other plant combinations to consider. The goal is to find options that will be harvested before their companions need the space and resources. Or companion crops that do not overly compete with one another (due to having different needs, root formations etc…).
Succession Planting – Multiple Crops After One Another
Finally, succession planting can involve planting/ sowing a second, different crop after the first one has been harvested. In the UK, especially when growing undercover in a polytunnel or other form of protection, it is possible for most gardeners to grow year round – rather than just planting a summer crop in spring/ early summer.
While many gardeners focus on spring sowings and plantings, it can be interesting to spare some thought for planting at the other end of the year too. From July through to September or even October, there are still a great many plants that can be sown and planted out into growing areas. Succession planting can involve, for example, planting hardy brassicas or other winter greens into the space vacated by summer crops like French beans, for example.
Even where there is not time to sow another crop after the first has been harvested, cover crops or green manures can be used. These make sure the soil of the growing area does not remain bare over the winter months. And using them is one important step you can take to improve the soil in your growing areas.
Tips For Successful Succession Planting
Succession planting is a simple concept. But it is one that can quickly become quite complicated as you think about how to implement it. My first tip to make sure you are successful is to make sure you have a good plan in place before you sow anything at all.
Think about all the different factors:
- Which climate zone you are in and what conditions are like in your particular garden.
- Crops and varieties that you would like to grow.
- The needs, root form and growth habits of those crops.
- The time-to-harvest expected for each of those crops.
- How time-to-harvest varies depending on when they are sown (weather and other conditions).
Combine with Companion Planting
It is also important to think not only about the plants and the broader environment, but also about how those plants interact with others grown close to them. And how different plants can benefit from having certain neighbours.
Succession planting should be considered in conjunction with companion planting. It is possible to think about how to implement both of these strategies at the same time. Though it can take some work up front to puzzle out a good and effective plan.
Combine with Crop Rotation
Remember, you should not only plan for succession planting for a single year. Due to the requirements for crop rotation for certain crops, it is a good idea to work out a plan that spans several years. Take into account how successional plantings will tie in with what will follow in a growing area in the coming years.
With a succession planting scheme, you will be growing plants in your growing areas all year round. So it is even more important to make sure that you rotate legumes and nitrogen fixing plants to replenish this vital nutrient. And avoid build up of pests and diseases in the soil by making sure certain plant families are not grown in the same place year after year.
It may take a little time to perfect the successional planting scheme in your garden. But get it right and you can certainly reap the rewards. Just make sure that you continue to replenish fertility over time, through plant choices, mulching, and organic plant feeds.
Feel free to share your own tips for successional planting in the comments below. Or let us know about your experiences or how you adopt this gardening method.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.
To get in touch, visit https://ewspconsultancy.com.