How to Succession Plant to Maximize Your Harvest
I’m calling all gardeners, both beginning to advanced, to share in this discussion of succession planting. While the idea behind succession planting is simple to understand, the practice itself can be vastly different and challenging. I say this not to scare you, but to share that even those of us who have been gardening for years are still practicing and refining how we go about succession sowing to get the most food we can out of our gardens.
Succession sowing is:
A collection of seed sowing methods that are specifically aimed to increase the availability and consistency of crop harvests throughout any season.
Why is succession sowing important?
Have you ever wondered how gardeners are able to harvest fresh veggies from the garden every single week? It’s the continuous flow of freshly grown food that we are all shooting for. Succession sowing prevents the “feast then famine” theme from ruling your garden. To give you an example, if you plant a hundred lettuce seeds in April, then you will have an enormous harvest of lettuce come June. Will you be able to eat one hundred heads of lettuce in June before they all go bad in the fridge? What happens in July, when you want lettuce, but realize you don’t have any more to harvest? This is the main reason succession sowing is important. Maybe you sow ten heads of lettuce every two weeks so that they will be ready for harvest in batches of ten over the whole season. Doesn’t that sound better? Fresher? More efficient?
Succession sowing is about a constant cycle of sowing, planting, pulling, and rotating. When done correctly, you will be maximizing your space and producing more food than you ever thought possible!
The main methods of succession sowing
There are different ways to practice succession sowing in the garden, and you might find that certain methods are easier for you or your space. You also might find that the kind of vegetables you want to grow will guide which method of succession sowing you want to choose.
Sowing the same plant every 1-4 weeks
To practice this method you simply sow seeds every few weeks so that the vegetables mature and are ready for harvest at different times. The best example for this would be a radish. Now, because different varieties of radishes mature at different times, the most accurate example would be using the same radish seeds for every sowing. If you sow radish seeds every two weeks, then you’ll be able to harvest a fresh batch every two weeks.
Start your garden with vegetables with different maturity dates
Sometimes you’ll see the words “early” “mid” or “late” season in the description of a vegetable. This method of succession sowing involves choosing varieties to plant at the SAME time that will mature at different times of the season. Back to our radish example, if you plant three different radishes—one that matures in 30 days, one that’s 40 days, and one thats 60 days— then you’ll have a steady supply of radishes throughout the season.
Always be starting seeds!
This method involves transplanting, and is one of my favorite methods I practice in my garden. The basic idea is to always have a new seedling ready to be transplanted into the ground the minute one vegetable has been harvested/pulled. For example, in my cut flower bed, I don’t want any gaps or areas that are not being used to grow flowers. I always have a selection of seedlings ready to go for when I pull a plant. For example, I’m about to pull my poppies and I already have cosmos seedlings ready to be planted in their place. This is how we produce tons of food and flowers in our small, urban backyard. Don’t forget to check out my DIY seed starting mix recipe!
Choosing Plant Pairings and Interplanting
If you think of succession sowing simply as a way to increase crop harvests and get the most from one space for the whole season, this method will make sense. The idea is to plant certain plants together that will mature at different times—allowing for the space to be harvestable at all times albeit different products. For example, I tried growing artichokes with my dahlias this year. In my climate, artichoke season is early Spring while dahlia season is mid-late Summer. I was able to harvest artichokes all Spring while my dahlias were dormant tubers underground, and then chop back my artichokes to give my dahlias sun to grow in Summer. So far, this has worked perfectly.
Read→ Growing Artichokes FAQs
My best tips for easy succession sowing!
♦Start small! Much like starting a garden, learning to succession sow can be overwhelming. I like to make a short list of the crops I want to focus on succession sowing each season. For example, my Summer list right now is: beans, corn, and sunflowers. I simply keep those seeds set aside, and every week I’ll choose one packet and sow some seeds! It feels so much more manageable!
♦Keep notes and download my Succession Sowing Interval Chart. This simple chart is part of my Garden Resources Library (available to all subscribers) and lists some basic vegetables and how often to sow them to have consistent harvests. Keep notes for the days you sow seeds so you can see how fast your garden grows and remember how many weeks until the next sowing. Keeping a garden journal will also allow you to make notes on how much you need to plant to sustain your family.
♦Sow the right crops! This might be obvious, but if you are sowing cool season crops in the heat of Summer, you aren’t going to have much success. Know your gardening zone, google planting charts, follow local gardeners on social media, and talk to your local nursery if you are curious what crops are in season. I’ve got my personal zone 10b seed starting schedule available to all subscribers for you to reference.
Need to know your gardening zone? Click here.
Southern California Succession Sowing
Here in zone 10b, our growing seasons are extremely long. Let’s be honest, most of us SoCal gardeners even have sunflowers growing all Winter long. When I talk about succession sowing—or ANY seed sowing really—I’m referring to the ideal times to plant things. This is mostly a consideration for small space gardening where every inch should be maximized.
Specific to gardening here in zone 10b, I practice another kind of succession sowing I like to call “second wave” planting. This refers to sowing a whole other round of squash, tomatoes, and other summer vegetables midway through the Summer (except eggplants and peppers). For more specific details on months to sow, make sure to check out my zone 10 seed schedule I mentioned previously. In general, I do another round of summer squashes, winter squashes, and melons in June and the other “second wave” crops in August. I should also mention that this “second wave” is totally optional, and if it ever feels overwhelming (or you just need a break) don’t worry about it! It’s very common to feel garden burnout here in California due to the ability to grow year-round. Be kind to yourself.
What are some good crops for succession sowing?
Like I mention above, I like to choose a few crops each season to really focus on. It’s less overwhelming, and I get to practice and observe how it works for me. The crops below I’ve written articles on and they are great candidates for succession sowing:
Beans (part of 10 Heat Loving Veggies & Flowers to Grow From Seed)
As always, follow local gardeners, experiment, and just have fun! Over time you’ll find the ways to succession sow that work for you and your garden. Record your findings in a garden journal so each year gets better and better. Now that you know all about succession sowing, be sure to check out the articles below to get you started with healthy, happy seedlings!
Are you practicing succession sowing? Tell me below! ⇓