A Comprehensive Guide For Succession Planting in The Garden

Have you ever wondered how some gardeners manage to have abundance all season long and manage to keep their garden disease and pest-free? In this article, gardening expert Jenna Rich walks us through the importance of succession planting, which crops you should try planting this way, and the benefits of this process, so you have crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes to eat all summer long.

succession planting

Contents

Succession planting in your garden may seem daunting if you are just starting out, but I’m here to tell you, you can do it, and it’s worth it.

Today I’ll walk you through why succession planting is important, how best to plan out your garden plot and your season by the month and discuss how to create your own sowing schedule using succession planting. Let’s dig in!

About Succession Planting

Succession planting, sometimes called successive planting, is the intentional staggered planting of the same crops in your garden that will allow you to harvest continuously throughout the season.

This way of planting will also help you extend your season and allow you to grow different varieties appropriate for various parts of the season.

Why You Should Succession Plant

Close-up of a raised bed with two types of lettuce growing using the Succession Plant method. One type of lettuce is already mature, forming large rosettes of broad green leaves with strongly curly red-purple edges. A young lettuce grows in the background, forming small rosettes of oblong green leaves with wavy edges.
Succession planting allows for continuous harvest and prevents disease and pest issues.

Succession planting is great for many reasons, including the continuous harvest of your favorite crops. It allows you to thwart disease or pest pressure by moving the crop to a new area of your garden, and since some plants simply won’t stay healthy and happy all season, you can start fresh again every few weeks!

Crops That Work Best With Succession Planting

Depending on your growing zone and how long your gardening season is, you can succession plant just about anything. Here I’ll discuss nine commonly grown crops that can be grown successively and are easy to do if you are new to this technique.

Head Lettuce

Close-up of growing lettuce vegetables in the garden. Head lettuce produces beautiful, rounded heads consisting of rounded, broad, bright green leaves with a smooth, buttery texture.
Head lettuce is an ideal crop for beginners in succession planting.

If you have never succession planted before, head lettuce is the perfect crop to start with. There are countless varieties of head lettuce, each with unique characteristics, an ideal best time of year to grow, and growing habits. You can try multiple in a given season to see which ones work for you and which don’t.

When growing head lettuce, one thing to remember is that the regrowth will depend on how you harvest. The options are cut-and-come-again or cutting the whole head.

Cut-and-come-again

You can harvest a few leaves here and there for sandwiches, and the plant will regrow. Choose this way if you don’t go through a lot of lettuce quickly or don’t have much growing space.

Two Ways to Harvest

Method 1: Cut the whole head out at the base

Cutting the stem below the surface will give you a whole head of lettuce, but no regrowth will happen. Choose this way if you plan to plant something else in its place.

Method 2: Cut the head above the growing tip

This will give you a whole head of lettuce and allow the plant to regrow itself.

A great thing to remember about lettuce varieties is there is something for everyone on the market these days. Most seed companies offer a filter for cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant growing conditions, so be sure to research and get what will work best for you all season long.

Tango, Green Forest, and Rouge d’Hiver are fantastic cold-tolerant options, whereas Panisse, Red Cross, and Adriana are known for their heat tolerance and extended harvest windows.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
4-8 weeksAbout 3 weeksAbout 4 weeks before the first frost

Pro tip: If you grow in zones where summers are hot and dry, try hooping your head lettuce and covering it with a 30% black shade cloth. This will diffuse 30% of the sun’s UV rays and can lower temperatures a few degrees underneath while still allowing proper airflow.

Cucumbers

Close-up of growing cucumber plants in the garden. The plant forms upright vines, with large, broad, heart-shaped leaves, dark green in color, with a rough texture and serrated edges. The fruits are oblong, firm, covered with a shiny dark green smooth skin.
Succession planting is highly recommended for cucumbers due to their productivity and medium feeding needs.

Cucumbers tend to be hard workers, are medium feeders, and are prone to pest and disease pressure, so succession planting is a great option for this crop. You might even get lucky and break the pest breeding cycle between successions. Besides, who can have enough cucumbers?

Even though many cucumber varieties are available with high disease resistance, plants tend to peter out quickly if they are picked heavily, and conditions aren’t just right, so I find that planting several successions per season offers the best results.

A few of my favorite options that have some resistance to downy mildew, powdery mildew, and cucumber mosaic virus are Max Pack pickling cucumber; Diva, which is a smaller, thin-skinned, and seedless variety perfect for both greenhouse and field growing; and Corinto, an amazingly productive slicing cucumber.

Pro tip: My general rule of thumb is to sow the next succession of cucumbers within a few days of transplanting out the previous succession. If you are behind on transplanting due to inclement weather, but your sowing schedule calls for more of a certain crop to be sown, push the date back, noting the reason in your garden journal. If you proceed with the sowing, what might end up happening is you’ll have two successions very close to one another and end up with way too many of that crop. 

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowingsLast recommended sow date
50-70 days3-4 weeks4-6 weeks before the first frost.

If you have a greenhouse and can establish plants before it cools down in the fall, cucumbers can be a great producer, even in cooler growing climates.

Carrots

Close-up of a gardener's hands in gray gloves holding a bunch of freshly picked carrots in the garden. The plant has long thin taproots and feathery green leaves. The leaves are arranged in a rosette shape and grow straight from the top of the carrot plant. They are finely divided into several leaflets that give them a delicate fern-like appearance. The roots are cylindrical, with narrowed tips, bright orange.
Homegrown carrots surpass store-bought in flavor, requiring multiple successions for continuous supply.

When comparing store-bought to homegrown carrots, the flavor difference is undeniable. The crunch and the juicy sweetness of a carrot pulled straight out of the earth is something we all should get to enjoy for as long as we can.

However, as you may know, carrots take quite a long time to mature. Mark your calendars for approximately 75 days after sowing your seeds under perfect conditions for full-sized carrots.

In USDA hardiness zones 7+, carrots can be sown as early as February. In general, they can be sown about 3 weeks before the last expected frost in the spring. That means you could get in 4-5 successions in one season!

If you live in a fairly hot growing zone, try an early carrot variety like Mokum, which matures more quickly and tends to hold its sweetness even when it’s hot. If you live in zones 3-6, try getting your last sowing round to establish before the first frost. The cold will sweeten up your carrots. You can even try over-wintering carrots if you can keep the critters away.

Although they are technically considered cool weather crops, germination rates will not be great if the soil is too cold. So, keep watch of your weather forecast when sowing early in the season, no matter what zone you grow in. Sowing a new carrot succession every 3-4 weeks should give you a constant supply for summer snacking.

Pro tip: After direct sowing carrots, cover them with a row cover and water daily. Carrots require even moisture to germinate, so keep this up until you see them starting to sprout, which can take up to 3 weeks. Remove the row cover after germination.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
55-80, variety dependent21-30 daysAbout 3 months before the last frost in the fall

Tomatoes

Close-up of a tomato plant in a sunny garden with ripening fruits. The plant has pinnately compound leaves, consisting of oval green leaflets with serrated edges. The fruits are medium in size, round in shape, covered with a thin shiny skin of red-orange and green.
To maximize tomato production, consider planting both indeterminate and determinate varieties.

Tomatoes are in the ground for a long time, so most gardeners will only plant them in one succession, especially in growing zones 3-5, simply due to the shorter season.

However, you could try starting with planting indeterminate tomatoes and planting out determinate tomatoes a month or so later. This will allow you to get a flush of fruit in a short amount of time to process them into items like salsa, tomato sauce, or dried tomatoes while continuing to have normal production of the indeterminate varieties.

To get more bang for your buck, you could try taking a large cutting from one of your tomato plants mid-late season, pot it up directly in the soil, or keep in water until roots form, and then transplant it outside in about 2-3 weeks.

This process is called propagation by cuttings. You could repeat this process several times and try overwintering your cuttings, giving you a head start on spring plantings.

If you are growing in a warmer climate, your tomatoes will continue to grow until the first frost or until conditions are no longer ideal, although growth will slow when temperatures are cooler and days are shorter.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
50-85 days4 weeks60-80 days before your first frost date, although not recommended in growing zones 3-5

Radishes

Close-up of a growing radish in the garden. Radish plants have bright green leaves and crunchy, edible roots. The leaves of the radish plant are arranged in a rosette and grow straight from the root. They are oval, with a rough texture, with jagged edges. The roots of the radish are round, firm, edible, pink-red in color.
Radishes are ideal for succession planting, allowing for experimentation with various varieties.

Radishes are one of the easiest and most reliable crops to grow successively. They are very quick from sowing to harvest, which means you can try lots of different varieties in one season or produce lots of your favorites.

One of the best aspects about radishes is that they are so fast-growing and are such light feeders that they can be sown alongside many different larger, longer-growing crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, or summer squash. This intercropping process allows you to get two crops from one space!

Radishes are frost-tolerant once established, but if you live in cooler zones, you may want to consider using a row cover when newly sown to keep the greens looking good. If you grow in zones 9+, radishes will do best when grown fall-spring and will not do well in the peak summer heat. Radishes require even moisture and prefer about one inch of rain per week.

If they do not receive this, they will begin to split, and shapes will become misshapen as they stretch their roots in search of water. Also, be sure not to leave them in the ground after maturity, as they will become pithy and inedible.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
3-5 weeks2-3 weeksAbout 4-6 weeks before the first frost

Cold-hardy Leafy Greens

Close-up of a growing spinach in a sunny garden. Spinach plants are distinguished by bright green delicate leaves. Spinach leaves are usually broad, flat and smooth, with a characteristic heart or arrowhead shape. The leaves are bright green in color and have a slightly wrinkled texture.
Succession planting of cool-weather greens like spinach, Swiss chard, and arugula ensures continuous harvest.

Cool-weather-loving and nutrient-dense greens such as spinach, baby Swiss chard, and arugula grow best early season and late season when soil and air temperatures remain cooler.

When starting with succession planting, plan for 2-4 successions in the spring (depending on zone) and 2-4 successions in the fall, as the peak summer heat does not treat these guys well. Sure, we’d love to enjoy them all season long, but the first bite of spicy arugula each spring makes it worth the wait!

Similarly to head lettuce, you can try growing leafy greens in the summer in zones 5-7 by using shade cloth, but be sure to provide lots of moisture, or they will likely bolt due to the stress.

Spinach is one of the quickest greens to bolt, especially when there is a dramatic increase in the daytime heat like much of the United States experiences at some point in the spring. Extreme fluctuations in temperature will typically send crops into a tizzy and cause them to send seeds out.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
21-40 days2-3 weeksThis will take some trial and error. You want to stop sowing before it gets hot in the spring and, once it cools down in the fall, before the first frost.

Bush Beans/Cowpeas

Close-up of bean bushes in a sunny garden. The leaves of the bush bean are medium to dark green in color and consist of three leaflets arranged in an alternating pattern along the stem. The leaves are large, have a smooth surface and a slightly serrated edge. The pods are long, narrow, pale green in color.
Bush beans are productive and versatile, requiring multiple successions for continuous supply.

Bush beans are highly productive and one of the easiest crops to pickle or freeze for later consumption. They’re also great raw as a healthy snack. I have found that I like to put in at least three successions each summer. This helps to ensure I don’t run out.

Bush beans prefer soil temperatures between 70-80° for optimal germination. I sow these seeds in trays and keep them on a heat mat. Then I allow them to grow for about 2 weeks in my greenhouse before transplanting them outside. Once planted outside, bush beans perform best when temperatures are 65-85°, making them an ideal spring-summer crop for many growing zones.

Once again, I’ll mention and recommend having shade cloth on hand in the event of a sudden increase in temperature. If you are growing in warmer growing zones, check out Pinkeye Purple Hull Bush Cowpea or California Blackeye #5 Bush Cowpea varieties, which are more tolerant to drier conditions and higher heat.

Pro tip: If you have beetle pressure, use insect netting to keep them from laying eggs on your bush bean leaves. You can also try intercropping green onions or garlic, whose odor could help deter pests. Planting tansy nearby is another great option!

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
50-75 days3-4 weeks10-12 weeks before the first frost

Sugar Snap Peas

Sugar snap pea plants are climbing vines that produce delicate leaves and delectable pods. The leaves are bright green and consist of several pairs of leaflets, with a tendril emerging opposite each leaflet. The leaflets are oval, with a smooth texture and a slightly glossy appearance. The pods are plump, crispy and juicy. They are elongated, and slightly curved, bright green in color. Inside the pods, peas are arranged in rows.
Sugar snap peas are a delightful crop that can be grown in multiple succession.

Here’s another crop I feel I can never grow enough of. If I’m being honest, I probably eat more than enough while I am harvesting them! So what better way to have more of a good thing than to plant multiple successions of a great crop like sugar snap peas?

Luckily for cooler zone growers, peas are one of the first things you can direct sow in the spring. They can handle cooler and wetter conditions than most others. Just prep a bed and create a trench down the center or two trenches on either side of the center.

Put a pea seed every inch or so, cover them with soil, and gently tamp them down. After peas start to emerge and grow to about 2-3 inches, add a fence so your peas will be supported as they grow up. Sow more in about 3-4 weeks, so you have a consistent supply of sugar snap peas!

I always think of sugar snap peas being the real intro to summer crops, but don’t be afraid to try planting some in the later part of summer for a nice fall crop.

Pro tip: If you only want one bed of peas but don’t want them to all come in simultaneously, build your fence and stagger your sowing along that fence. To really maximize your space, plant lettuce along the edge of the bed that will mature and be out before your peas are full size.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
55-75 days3-4 weeks or more when moving from spring to fall sowings6-8 weeks before the first frost

Basil

Top view, close-up of a growing basil on a garden bed. Basil leaves are medium to large in size, bright green in color and have a smooth, slightly glossy texture. They are distinctly oval or lanceolate in shape and grow in pairs opposite each other on the stem.
Successive basil plantings prevent crop loss, utilizing disease-resistant varieties and pest control.

We all want to enjoy basil all season long, right? It so generously livens up early spring salads, can be eaten with the first fresh tomatoes as caprese, and can be used later in the season to season our tomato sauce we plan to freeze for winter consumption.

However, basil can fall victim to various fungal diseases during particularly humid summers or get chewed by beetles, so having multiple successions helps avoid losing the whole crop.

Luckily, many basil varieties on the market today offer high disease resistance if this is something you struggle with.

Depending on your basil consumption, 2-3 successions per season should suffice. Remember, basil is extremely sensitive to cold and will absolutely not survive frost. Keep this in mind when planning out your sowing dates for your growing zone.

Wait until the chance of frost is long gone before transplanting outside, and use row cover on chillier nights. If you are growing in hardiness zones 8 or 9, you can sow your first succession of basil as early as February 1 or March 1, respectively. If you are in zones 10 or 11, you can grow basil all year!

Pro tip: Basil is a great companion to tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant, among many others. Their strong scent makes them a natural pest deterrent, and some growers even believe basil improves the growth, performance, and flavor of some companions, such as tomatoes. Try planting each succession with something new and take note of the results.

Time to maturity**Time recommended between sowings*Last recommended sow date
65-70 days but can be harvested much sooner3-4 weeks6-8 weeks before the first frost

*The time recommended between sowings is just an estimate and will depend on how long your growing season is and the size of your successions each time you sow.

This will depend on your need for each crop. It will also be based on your results, you can adjust how much you sow each time. The beauty of creating your own succession planting sowing schedule is that you can change it in real time.

**The days to maturity are growing zone and variety dependent

How to Plan Your Garden With Succession Planting

Top view, close-up of a man's palm with a handful of seeds on a blurred background of a garden bed. Seeds are small, brown. In the garden bed there are various seed bags and a large black watering can.
Plan your garden by gathering seed information, creating a map of plots, and developing a sowing schedule.

Once you have decided on crops you’d like to grow, gather your seeds so you have access to the information on the seed packets. Then draw a map of your garden plots/raised beds. Include bed width and length in inches or feet. This information will be important when planning how much space you need for each succession.

Now you’re going to create a sowing schedule that will include the crops you’ll be growing. It should include the days to maturity, the average first date of harvest, and perhaps most importantly, the length of time in your season that you want each crop available for harvest. This information will help you decide how long between successions you’d like to plan for.

Remember to rotate your crop families the best you can each season and subsequent year to keep disease and pest pressure at a minimum.

This will also keep your soil from being totally depleted of one nutrient. In general, crops that stay in the ground for a long time will take more nutrients from the soil, and it’s important to know which nutrients as this enables you to replenish as needed. Tomatoes and peppers are heavy feeders. Make sure to amend your soil accordingly and soil test as needed.

Creating a Sowing Schedule Using Succession Planting

Using a spreadsheet app of your choice, create a simple table. Start with the basics, such as crop, variety, days to maturity, spacing recommendations, and the garden area you plan to put each crop into. As you become familiar with the app and gain experience with succession planting, you can add columns with other needed information.

Each season, you can tweak the sowing dates based on past experience. For instance, if you had been sowing radishes every 4 weeks but were running out after 2.5 weeks, simply push the date up 7-10 days so you have a continuous harvest. I recommend adding this information to the notes column so you can reference the following season and know why you need to adjust the sowing dates. The more information, the better!

Below is an example of a basic sowing schedule before many notes have been added.

basic sowing schedule table

And there you have it! A sowing schedule at the start of each season will help you kick your season off on the right foot. It will help you stay organized and keep all of your plans and what actually happened in one place.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes! This is a great way to trial new varieties and compare the results in a season. For example, if you have two types of zucchini that you would like to try, sow some seeds of the first variety during your first succession and some seeds of the second for your next succession. Take notes on germination, growth, true date to maturity, yields, etc. This will help jog your memory when it comes time to order seeds for next season.

Yes, this is an excellent way to take advantage of your space. Try popping green onions in between your lettuce heads. They will be ready to harvest around the same time, and you’ll get two crops out of one plot!

You can also plant basil with your tomatoes, radishes alongside your cucumbers, and head lettuce through the middle of a long-season green such as kale or chard. The radishes will be harvested before the cucumbers start to vine out, and the head lettuce will be harvested before the greens shade them out.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever thought about succession planting, let this season be the one you start. It’s a great opportunity to try new varieties, extend your season and really take advantage of your garden space.

The best way to start a sowing schedule is to start and then add details that make sense for you. Keep lots of notes and even take pictures to vividly recall each year. This will help you remember what worked and what didn’t so you can make each subsequent season even better.

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