Arts & Leisure

Ask a Master Gardener: What is succession planting?

Plants such as cilantro and onions can share the same space in the garden as they mature at different times so don't compete for space. Photo / Bonnie Kirn Donahue

Do you ever plant your vegetable garden in the spring, and wish that you had more space to plant other crops? With careful succession planting, you can plant more with the same amount of space.

Succession planting is a technique where you stagger plantings of either the same plant or different plants throughout the growing season. This can be done in any sized space, such as containers, raised beds or in-ground gardens. 

Certain crops, including lettuce and peas, are considered cool crops and grow only in the cooler temperatures of spring or fall. Others prefer the warmer soil and air temperatures of summer, such as cucumbers and corn. By planning out your plantings based on harvest time, preferred season and days to maturity, you can plant more crops throughout the year. 

If you’ve already finished planting your garden, you may need to wait until next year to fully try succession planting. However, you can still try it with crops such as lettuces or greens this summer. 

To start planning, make a list of the plants you plan to grow this season in a column. Next, make a column of the harvest season. Finally, add another column with the days to maturity.

Using a digital spreadsheet could make this easier, as you can quickly sort each category after recording the information. You can find this information on seed packets, through online cooperative extension resources or on seed company websites. 

Next, organize the list by season. This way you will be able to see which plants prefer or are harvested in the spring, summer or fall. Take a look at the list, and think about which plants could overlap, using the same space at different times during the same year.

For example, sugar snap peas are cool-season plants and tend to be sensitive to heat. These can be planted in early spring and harvested about 60 days later. Depending on the weather and microclimate, if you planted the peas in late April, they would be ready for harvest by late June. This opens up a space in your garden to plant something else from late June through fall. 

One idea for the space left by peas is to plant cucumbers, which can reach maturity in about 50 days. If you are feeling creative, perhaps you could even come up with a trellis that works for peas and cucumbers!

Lettuces are an easy crop to succession plant. Choose cool-season lettuce varieties for spring and fall, and heat-tolerant lettuce varieties for summer. Or start with lettuce in the spring and early summer, followed by kale or Asian greens such as mizuna or pak choi in late summer for a luscious fall crop.

Seed companies often have charts that suggest how often to plant certain crops to maintain a continuous supply.

Another form of succession planting is interweaving two types of plants that share the same space but reach maturity at different times. For example, this year I planted a row of cilantro in a raised bed filled with onions. The cilantro is fragrant and ready to pick now, while the onions are still fairly small, so there is plenty of space for each.

Dill seems to reseed itself each year in my garden, and this year it shares space with garlic. The open-leafed structure of the garlic works well with the airy shoots of dill, and they seem to compliment one another without competing for light and space.

Succession planting is a great way to get more variety and abundance out of your garden, whether big or small.

Bonnie Kirn Donahue is a UVM Extension Master Gardener and landscape designer from central Vermont.

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