Succession planting is a gardening strategy that incorporates two different approaches. One approach involves sowing seeds or transplanting a new crop in place of one that has recently been harvested. Another approach is to start plants of the same crop at intervals in order to prolong the harvest season of that particular crop.
Planting warm season crops in succession with cool season crops, or early season with late season, will keep every space in your garden always working for you. For example, plant early spring peas as soon as the ground thaws. Once the peas are harvested, transplant summer heat-loving bush beans. At the end of the summer, harvest the remainder of the beans and plant a cool-weather crop, such as spinach, for a late fall harvest. With this example, one plot provided space for three separate crops.
The same type of crop can be planted in smaller successions to bring a continuous harvest of your favorite vegetables for as long as possible. For example, instead of planting your entire carrot patch at the same time and harvesting 100 pounds of carrots all at once, sow only a portion of your carrot seeds in the beginning of the season, then sow another batch of seeds every 14 to 21 days for the rest of the season. Once you have finished harvesting and enjoying one succession of carrots, the next will be ready. These stages will give you a steady supply of carrots for a much longer period of time.
Succession planting allows you to make the most of your gardening space and maximize your yield. By planning successions, most gardeners can enjoy fresh produce from early spring to late fall, and those living in milder climates can garden year-round. Succession planting also ensures a continuous fresh harvest for a longer period. As one plant stops producing, another is getting ready to burst. A gardener who plans successions well will never have to go without.
The key to succession planting is timing. Good planning will ensure you time your successions well. Time the sowing or transplanting of one crop so that the harvest will occur just before the time is right to sow or transplant another. When planning successions of the same crop for a continuous harvest, start them as early as possible. Space out your succession planting dates so that the expected harvest periods will overlap. As one is ending, the next should be beginning, so there will be no gaps during which you will have to go without.
Just about any annual vegetable crop can be used in succession planting to prolong your harvest. Good choices for early spring vegetables are beets, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb and scallions. Some summer crops, planted in late spring to early summer, are beans, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, summer squash and tomatoes. In the late summer or early fall, you can plant many of the same vegetables grown in early spring, as well as cabbage, chard, spinach, turnips and winter squash. This may vary depending on where you live. Always check the best planting dates for each vegetable based on your USDA plant hardiness zone.