What is succession planting? Succession planting is how gardeners make the most of limited space and extend their growing season beyond what’s considered typical of a region. To speak to this topic, I invited succession planting expert Meg Cowden of the blog Seed to Fork on the podcast for a previous episode, and I am reprising that conversation this week because now is when vegetable gardeners are taking steps to have a successful fall garden.
Living on the outskirts of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Meg and her husband garden in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4B, one of the coldest zones in the continental United States with one of the shortest conventional gardening seasons. On her blog, Meg shares tips on growing in northern climates, but her advice can help gardeners everywhere increase their yields.
Your garden can be productive longer and much more bountiful than just a summer garden. And Meg’s own garden is proof that you don’t need a greenhouse to push horticultural boundaries.
Grow What You Love
To practice succession planting, you don’t have to switch from growing what you prefer to eat to other vegetables. Many of the veggies you love, such as tomatoes and potatoes, come in varieties with days-to-harvest of various lengths.
For instance, Yukon Gold potatoes mature in about 90 days, but Canela Russet potatoes take around 130 days to reach their prime. Planting both varieties means you can harvest potatoes for weeks longer.
You can find varietal maturity rates on seed packets or through a quick search online to see for yourself just how much range exists within your favorite plant family. If the seeds available at your local nursery don’t offer the range you are looking for, seed catalogs often will.
Plant Twice, Harvest Twice
While not every vegetable is suited to both a summer crop and a fall crop, there are many you can harvest in two different seasons. This is accomplished by staggering your sowing times. Sow one crop in May to harvest in August, and sow the same variety in another area in July to pick in October.
Carrots are great for this, and the ones planted in July and pulled from the soil in the colder months actually taste sweeter, Meg says.
Another succession planting practice is known as interplanting. This is sowing more than one type of vegetable in the same space at the same time.
Cabbage, for instance, can take several months to reach full size. But certain radish varieties mature in just 30 days. While your cabbage is young and small, you can plant radishes in the gaps between your young cabbage plants. Your radishes will be ready to pick before your cabbages need the room to grow. Tomatoes pair well with lettuce for the same reason.
Planting too densely can affect the production of crops, so interplant but don’t overplant. Broccoli is one example of a plant whose growth will be stunted if crowded. There are other plants that this is true of, so do your research before experimenting with tighter-than-recommended planting.
For gardeners trying to make the most of a small space, spacing seeds out generously according to the directions only to have half fail to germinate can be a big disappointment. This is one reason Meg is an advocate of starting seeds indoors — even when seed packets call for direct sowing in the garden. (Carrots are a notable exception, as Meg has never had great luck starting them indoors.)
Planting seedlings rather than taking a chance on seeds that may never grow allows for greater control of plant spacing, with no unnecessary gaps. Meg doesn’t limit her indoor seed starting to the weeks before her last first date of spring. She continues to start seeds indoors year-round.
Meg thrives on experimentation and encourages others to try something new at various times. Each year brings different weather and different challenges, and first and last frost dates are only a ballpark. Some years will be warm and dry, while others will be cooler and unusually wet. That variability of nature keeps gardeners challenged, but risks can produce great rewards.
Everyone stands to benefit from Meg’s years of succession experimentation. She’s shared her original planting guides that map out where she has found success when pushing seasonal boundaries: One for cooler climates with the use of row cover hoops, and one for gardening in the long, hot summers of the South.
Do you practice succession planting? Share your favorite methods in the comments below.
If you haven’t listened yet to my conversion with Meg Cowden, hit the Play icon on the green bar found near the top of this page. You can read more about succession planting and Meg’s Top Picks in the show notes for the original airing.
Online Gardening Academy™ Seed Temperature Chart
To learn the soil temperature range for optimal germination for common vegetable seeds, click to download the Online Gardening Academy™ Seed Temperature Chart.
Links & Resources
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Park Seed, and Exmark. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.