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Basics of Succession Planting

Two high tunnels sit in a field with sunlight in the background

Do you want to get the most out of your garden? Try succession planting. Most gardeners believe succession planting means after one crop is harvested, another is planted in the same space immediately. This is true, but combined with careful preparation and planning, succession planting not only will produce more food and extend the amount of time each variety is available for harvest, it also maximizes garden space, improves yield and quality, and provides a continuous supply of fresh vegetables over a longer period of time.

The easiest and most common method is to make several smaller plantings of the same crop at timed intervals, rather than all at once. Quick maturing vegetables, such as radishes, lettuce and other salad greens, are common crops for this technique and are generally planted at two-week intervals. If the weather cooperates, your crop will mature at staggered dates and supply a continuous harvest over an extended period. Variety selection within a certain crop is also important to get an early start or lengthen the growing season. Some varieties perform better in cool/warm weather as well as mature at different times.

Paying close attention to days until maturity is an important part of succession planting. Certain varieties of radishes and spinach may mature in 35 days, while many varieties of beans and summer squash may mature in 50 days. Cole crops, such as cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, need at least 75 days until harvest. 

A second type of succession planting allows you to choose vegetable varieties with different maturity dates. For example, instead of planting all your sweet corn to be harvested at one time, select an early-season variety (“Sweetness” at 68 days), a mid-season variety (“Allure” at 75 days) and a late-season variety (“Silver Queen” at 91 days). Using this method, you can harvest sweet corn over a period of several weeks. 

A third type of succession planting is harvesting a crop that has matured and replacing it with a completely different crop. After harvesting spring cool-season crops, such as spinach or radishes, you can replace them with warm-season crops, such as tomatoes or peppers. 

It is crucial to do your homework with variety selection. Short-season varieties can allow you to harvest a crop and replace it with another quickly. Know the heat and cold tolerance of your crops. Cool-season crops, like radishes, lettuces, peas and spinach, do best in cooler soils. These crops are best to plant in succession in the early spring and late fall. Some of these crops can be harvested before warm-season crops are ready to plant, making room in the garden for those crops. Warm-season crops, like tomatoes, eggplant, melons and beans, are more sensitive to frost and grow more slowly in cooler temperatures.

Finally, using high tunnels, low tunnels, row covers and cold frames are an important part of getting an earlier start in the spring or extending the growing season well into late fall. Good luck and happy gardening!

J.J. Barrett, WVU Extension Agent – Wood County