Rotating Vegetable Crops for Garden Success

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Rotate tomatoes, beans, and squash from year to year to avoid problems in the garden.

This vegetable garden includes onions, tomatoes, and peppers in the foreground, squash toward the back, and beans along the edge. Next year, these crops will be rotated so that plants of the same family aren’t grown in the same spot two years in a row.

To keep the vegetable garden healthy, avoid repeating the same planting plan in the same spot. This practice, called crop rotation, can feel a bit like juggling, but it’s important to prevent crop-specific pests and diseases from building up and carrying over from one season to the next in the soil. If you move the crop, the problem has no host on which to live. Ideally, rotate a vegetable (or vegetable family) so it grows in a particular spot only one year out of three.

Rotating vegetable crops is an easy juggle in large vegetable gardens. Rearranging small gardens can be more challenging, but even minimal rotation will make a big difference. In a raised bed, if you use a planting mix that is changed out every two or three years, crop rotation is less important.

Start by making a rough sketch of the garden as you plant and date the sketch in your garden journal. Nothing fancy, “X marks the spot” will do. Note each planting of the year if you make successive plantings in spring, summer, and fall. Sketches in your garden journal remind you how you planted the garden last year so you won’t follow the exact same plan this year.

Putting your garden rotation on paper also lets you plan ahead to know how many plants of each type you need. If you note the variety name, such as “Bonnie Original Tomato,” instead of just “Tomato,” you’ll have a record in case you can’t remember the name of your favorite tomato.

Rotate by Vegetable Plant Families

Vegetables that are members of the same botanical family are susceptible to the same problems, so try to follow members of one family with members of a different family.  For example, plant tomatoes in the spot where the beans grew last year, the squash in the spot where peas grew, etc.

Tomatoes can be planted where beans or peas were the year before.

Beans and peas enrich the soil. A good gardening practice is to follow beans or peas with leafy greens such as cabbage or kale, which love the nitrogen left behind by their predecessors.

The Tomato Family The tomato family includes tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. These are heavy feeders and are best planted in enriched soil. Tomato Family members also are often affected by the same diseases. Never follow tomatoes after potatoes because deadly late blight can overwinter in potatoes that might have been missed and remain in the soil.

The Bean Family  These crops enrich the soil by adding a little nitrogen. This group includes green beans, green peas, southern peas, jicama, and peanuts, as well as clover and vetch used as cover crops in the cool season.

The Squash Family  Squash family members are heavy feeders that grow best in rich soil. They include summer and winter squash, pumpkins, gourds, cucumbers, and melons (including cantaloupe and watermelon).

The Cabbage Family These leafy greens thrive on nitrogen-rich soil. Plant them where a member of the bean family has grown before. Members include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and turnip greens.

Crop rotation is not as complicated as it sounds, especially if you take the time to sketch a garden plan and refer to the list of families. The benefits are definitely worth the effort!

 

12 thoughts on “Rotating Vegetable Crops for Garden Success

  1. What is the best thing to plant in the area that I had tomato plants in last year? I know it is important to rotate the plants each year. I have an approximately 400 sq. ft. garden and grow tomatoes, brussel sprouts, peppers, zucchini , and beans. I am also going to try cabbage, onions, carrots and parsnips this year. Any advice?

    • Hello Debbie,
      Good thinking! Plant anything other than another plant in the tomato family such as eggplant, peppers, tomatillos, or Irish potatoes. Try squash, beans, or even herbs! – danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. When you talk about rotating crops how far away should you plant from the previous year. I have a raised bed that is 5′ wide by 30′ long. If I planted tomatoes in the middle of the bed last year is moving down say 15′ to the end of the bed far enough where peppers were last year?

    • Hi Roger,
      Happy to hear that you are thinking ahead. Garden planning is often overlooked :) I know it is hard to rotate in raised beds, but every little bit helps. Just remember to rotate families. Tomato, pepper, eggplant and Irish potatoes are all in the same family. Try not to follow one with another if it can be helped.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. I am about to start my second year of gardening. If I till the land every year in the spring do I still need to rotate my crops?

    • Hi Casey,
      This document includes a list of the “family” of plants for both carrots and onions. We don’t sell carrot seed, but you’re right – they should be in this list! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  4. What family is lettuce in? I planted some romaine that is just about out, and would like suggestions on what could go next. I am in zone 8b if that helps.

    • Hi Rick,
      Good question. We list the main families that do indeed need rotation, whether its due to preventing pests from recurring in the same spot or because of the nutrients they deplete from the soil. Lettuce is in the aster family, which you would immediately recognize if yours has ever bolted into flowering; those pretty purplish blooms are a dead giveaway. It’s not as much of a concern for rotation, though it’s often grouped with leafy greens like spinach, arugula, endive and others. I would consider it more of an “intercropper” as you can plant it among and alongside other crops and harvest it quickly before the companion plant needs the extra space. This indepth article on crop rotations may share a little more for you, but personally I think it’s fine to plant anything following lettuce. Enjoy!~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  5. Can you plant potatoes in the same soil that they grew in this year. I grow potatoes in bags and saved the soil.

    • Hi Julia,

      I wouldn’t recommend replanting potatoes in the same soil. Potatoes are one of those crops (they are members of the Tomato Family) that should be rotated around the garden to reduce chances of disease. Read our article about rotating vegetable crops for more info. You should replace your bags with new soil before replanting. Potatoes like fertile, well-drained soil that’s loose and slightly acid (pH 5.8 to 6.5). By the way, how do you like growing potatoes in bags, and what kind of bags? I want to try this method, too!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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