Succession Planting: How to Plan for Plenty

The weather of late has had me very much out in the gardens!  We have been tilling up our Spring beds, adding loads of compost, turning it in, and preparing the soil for seeds and starts and all that soon will follow.  With all the soil warming and sunshine recently, in many of our clients gardens we have already done our first seedings of Arugula, Carrots, Spinach, Snap Peas, Fava Beans, and Lettuces!

Spring Plantings

Well the rain has finally returned, at least for a minute here, and I am seizing the opportunity to stay inside and put together an overdue blog post!


People often ask me about "succession planting..."  "What's the deal with it? Why do you do it? How do you do it?"  Well today I am going to delve into those very questions and share my perspective and experience with successions. 

For me, succession planting is one of the things that marks the shift from a beginning gardener who grows vegetables without a clear plan to an advanced gardener who grows with purpose and intention.  With a little bit of planning and some basic guidelines, your garden will go from ordinary to extraordinary, yielding the vegetables that you want when you want them throughout the year.

What is Succession Planting?

Succession planting, in a sentence, is the practice of planting the same vegetable more than once during a season to ensure a longer and more consistent harvest of that vegetable throughout the year.

Many beginning gardeners have had the experience of doing a big spring planting of all of their favorite vegetables, watering them, caring for them, doting upon them, and (with a little luck) harvesting them when they are ready, and eating them.  And for many gardeners this alone is enough! 

But after the satisfaction of eating that June salad of lettuce, spring radishes, and carrots, many gardeners return to their garden and find that there are no more carrots, radishes or lettuce that are nearly ready to be harvested.  So they plant more, and are met with the reality that their next salad is 6-8 weeks away!

 Multiple plantings of certain vegetables throughout the season assures a consistent harvest of the veggies you want the most!

Multiple plantings of certain vegetables throughout the season assures a consistent harvest of the veggies you want the most!

So how do we avoid these lean times in the heart of our growing season? 

...You guessed it:   Succession Planting!

By planning ahead, we are able to ensure a steady harvest of the things we want to eat, maximizing our time, our space, and our satisfaction during the precious growing season!

What are Good Vegetables for Successions?

Not all vegetables are suitable for succession planting.  Some vegetables take a long time to mature and then have a long "harvest window" producing for a long period of time.  Because of these factors, these vegetables are usually planted only once per season and are not good choices for succession planting.  Generally, by the time the first planting is done producing, the growing season is nearly over. 

Most vegetables however, are either quicker to mature or have a shorter harvest window (or both), and are good choices for succession plantings. 

 Leafy greens like spinach (pictured), lettuce and arugula are quick to mature and have short harvest windows making them excellent choices for growing as successions

Leafy greens like spinach (pictured), lettuce and arugula are quick to mature and have short harvest windows making them excellent choices for growing as successions

Vegetables that are not generally grown as succession plantings include: Cucumbers, Eggplant, Fava Beans, Garlic, Leeks, Melons, Storage Onions, Peas, Peppers, Potatoes, Summer Squash/Zucchini, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, and Winter Squash

Vegetables that are often grown as succession plantings include:  Arugula, Basil, Beets, Bok Choi, Broccoli, Broccoli Raab, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Chard, Cilantro, Collards, Fennel, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mizuna, Mustard, Parsley, Parsnips, Radishes, Spinach, and Turnips.

How Do I Plan a Succession Planting?

Lettuce use an example...

Lettuce Specs

Lettuce is a classic vegetable for succession planting.  It is beloved by many, quick to mature, and quick to "bolt" or flower prematurely, meaning it has a very short harvest window, especially during hot weather. 

If you are a Lettuce lover and you want salads all summer long, then listen up.  You will need to plant lettuce several times throughout the year to get a steady harvest.

What follows is a simplified planting plan for the lettuce lover:

 

Lettuce Succession Spreadsheet

You will see that 7 lettuce starts are planted out every two weeks starting on 3/1, (the earliest suggested planting date for lettuce.)  The first planting is first harvested on 4/10, (40 days later since lettuce takes about 40 days to mature)  The last harvest from the first planting is two weeks later on 4/24 (since lettuce has an average 14 day harvest window).  The second planting (which was planted on 3/15), is first harvested on 4/25 (as soon as the first planting is exhausted).  Following this pattern, 7 lettuce heads will come into maturity every two weeks starting around 4/10 and offering a head of lettuce every couple of days for your kitchen!

You will also see that there is a 6 week break from lettuce planting between 6/1 and 7/15.  This is because these plantings would mature between late July and late August, typically the hottest part of our Portland area summer!  In my experience, these plantings never do very well and so I take a little break from lettuce and other leafy greens during this time of year.

***Note:  The "days to maturity" for a given vegetable is highly variable.  It can be influenced by the variety, the weather, stress factors and the season!  In general, things that are planted in early Spring and later Fall are notably slower to mature than the same thing planted in the middle of the summer.  Be observant and you will get better and better at planning the perfect successions! 

The Next Level: Creating a Comprehensive Planting Plan

 Creating a comprehensive planting plan that meets your needs is complicated!  Start with a simple plan, have fun with it, and learn as you go.

Creating a comprehensive planting plan that meets your needs is complicated!  Start with a simple plan, have fun with it, and learn as you go.

You can see that even planning for a bounty of even a single vegetable is no simple task.  Creating a more comprehensive planting plan that meets all of your needs and tastes is even more complicated and requires a lot of forethought.  Your skills in planning successions will evolve each year as you put your new knowledge into practice!

Vegetable gardens are a total joy even without a plan, so don't get hung up on the master plan right away.  And I can tell you from experience, even after years of crop planning for farms and gardens, I have never made a plan that didn't change somewhere along the way!  So go forth and make plans.  The most important thing is that you give it some thought and give it a try!

If you decide you want professional support in creating a planting plan for your garden, Portland Edible Gardens offers garden planning services catered to your particular space and tastes. 


Review

• "Succession Planting" is: the practice of planting a certain vegetable multiple times throughout the year for a longer harvest throughout the season.

• Not all vegetables require succession planting.  (See lists above)

• When Planning a succession of plantings keep in mind: earliest and latest suggested planting dates, average days to maturity, average harvest window, and how much of that vegetable you want to eat in the average harvest window.  Use this information to determine when and how much to plant.

• Be patient, keep good notes, and have fun!

• If you want professional support with a comprehensive planting plan, you know who to call...

 

Until next time, Happy Growing!

Ian Wilson

Owner and Founder, Portland Edible Gardens, LLC