Vegetable Crop Rotation

Vegetable crop rotation is a must-do for three reasons: soil nutrition, pest control and disease control. Below we’ll explain how garden crop rotation impacts each of these areas along with important points to consider when planning your rotation schedule…

What is Vegetable Crop Rotation?

Vegetable Families

Alliaceae (Onion Family)
Chives, garlic, leeks, onion, shallot

Apiaceae (Carrot Family)
Carrot, celery, parsley, parsnips

Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)
Endive, Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, salsify

Brassicaceae (Mustard Family)
Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi, radish, rutabaga, turnips

Chenopodiaceae (Goosefoot Family)
Beet, spinach, Swiss chard

Convolvulaceae (Bindweed Family)
Sweet potato

Cucurbitaceae (Gourd Family)
Cucumber, gourd, muskmelon (cantaloupe), pumpkin, squash, watermelon

Fabaceae (Pea Family)
Garden pea, green beans, bush beans, lima beans, pole beans, soybeans, snap beans

Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Basil, marjoram, mint, lavender, oregano, perilla, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme

Malvaceae (Mallow Family)
Okra

Poaceae (Grass Family)
Ornamental corn, popcorn, sweet corn

Solanaceae (Nightshade Family)
Eggplant, husk tomato, pepper, potato, tomato

Vegetable gardening crop rotation is the practice of moving one group of vegetables – also called a “vegetable family” – from one spot to another around your garden or yard from year to year. The more time that goes by before that family returns to its initial spot, the less likely you’ll be to deplete your soil and the more likely you’ll be to ward off pests and disease…

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Soil Nutrition & Vegetable Crop Rotation

Different plants require and extract different nutrients from the soil. If you leave one type of plant in the same garden spot year after year, it will deplete that spot of that plant’s required nutrients.

The longer you continue to plant the same vegetable, the more that spot will continue to yield fewer and lower-quality vegetables. At a minimum, don’t plant the same veggie for at least two years. Ideally, give it three or four.

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Pest and Disease Control & Vegetable Crop Rotation

To understand how pests “feel” about crop rotation, consider how you’d react if your favorite local restaurant moved across the country. Chances are, you’d never eat there again. Now pretend that restaurant was your only source of food and you’ll understand how garden pests feel about garden crop rotation.

Moving a pest’s favorite food across the garden or to another bed makes it difficult for them find... ideally difficult enough that they’ll perish before they find it. Since many of them can only thrive on one type or group of vegetables, continuing to move their favorite restaurant out of reach will prevent them from becoming an uncontrollable problem.

In addition, the farther pests have to venture out to locate their meal, the more likely they are to become the meal of a predator.

Diseases have similar issues with vegetable crop rotation… the longer you keep their plant groups away, the more likely they are to die out by the time their plant comes back.

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Points to Consider When Planning Your Vegetable Garden Crop Rotation

Generally speaking, the smaller your garden the easier the planning will be. However, if your garden is too small, you won’t have enough space or variety for an effective rotation.

Considering the countless combinations of garden vegetables out there, it’s virtually impossible to outline a specific rotation plan for every combination (hopefully you’ll be willing to help us out here and will share the rotation that works best for your veggies further down the page). But we can give you some points to make the job easier.

First and most obviously, never follow one vegetable family with another. The time between planting the same vegetable in the same space should be spread out as far as possible… at least two years, preferably three or four.

It would be nice if that’s all it took. Unfortunately, things get more complicated if you want to take your garden to the next level…

  • Companion planting: Some plants grow better together than apart (and vice-versa), an idea that companion planting seeks to benefit from. Trouble is, garden crop rotation is much more difficult when you’re trying to keep two plant types together than it would be if you only had one to deal with.
  • Taller plants (or plants on trellises or poles) should never shade out shorter plants.
  • Succession planting: Rather than leaving an empty patch in your garden after you harvest each vegetable, maximizing the yield of your garden means filling that space with a new plant. But now you’ve added yet another layer to your crop rotation cake.

To get around these issues, consider the following:

  • Companion planting: Don’t limit yourself to only planting one vegetable per row. After all, is that how nature does it? Instead, plant companions alongside their best friend in wider rows.
  • Taller plants: Have two rotations: one for shorter plants and one for taller (or trellised) plants.
  • Succession planting: First, don’t replace a harvested crop with the same plant. Second, your choices for which plants will have enough time left in the season for growing and harvesting will be somewhat limited which should make your decisions easier. Create a separate rotation for which succession crop will go in which bed (or area of the garden).
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What Vegetable Crop Rotation Do You Use?

Have you found an effective rotation? Please share!

Be sure to include the following along with any other tips or advice you feel is relevant:

- Which vegetables you grow and what groups you place them in
- Which companions you put together (if any)
- How many rotations you have (i.e. one for tall plants, one for short plants and one for succession plants)
- The order of your rotation

...and don't forget to include a photo or four of your pride and joy!

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Source for list of vegetable families: Iowa State University Extension: Horticulture & Home Pest News

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