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How to Rotate your Crops

by Dawn
sunset over crop field

A Simple Plan for Keeping your Garden Healthy with Crop Rotation

If you read my last post, you now know why you should be practicing at least the basics of crop rotation. If you didn’t, you can find that post here.

Now that you know how important crop rotation is, you might be wondering how exactly to go about it.

Let’s dive in!

The Very Simplest Rotation Plan

If you’ve been gardening for a few years and haven’t seen much in the way of insect or disease problems in your garden, you can probably safely do things very simply. Oh, and by the way, I’m jealous!

Basically, let’s say you grow potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, zucchini, and peppers. Just pair them up, keeping those plants in the same crop family separate.

colorful peppers

Since tomatoes, potatoes and peppers are all in the same family, they’ll comprise one plant in each of the pairs. Then just choose the other plant you’d like to pair them with. For instance, potatoes and zucchini, tomatoes and beans, peppers and cucumbers.

Then, in year one, plant each of your plants in a separate plot. In year two, simply switch the plants out. So, where the tomatoes were, you’ll put the beans, and where the beans were, you’ll put the tomatoes.

As long as you aren’t seeing lots of pest or disease problems, you can continue this program indefinitely. You can swap out any of the solanaceous plants for any other, and any of the other plants for anything that’s not solanaceous, or you can just keep going back and forth within the pairs.

A Word About Plant Families

You may be wondering how you know what plants go into what families. Well, look at that, I’ve got a handy little list for you below!

parsley plants
  • Onion ~ onions, asparagus, chives, garlic, leeks
  • Spinach ~ beets, spinach, Swiss chard
  • Squash ~ cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, summer & winter squash
  • Tomato ~ eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers
  • Cabbage ~ broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collards, kale, turnips, radishes*
  • Carrots ~ carrots, celery, dill**, fennel**, parsley, parsnip
  • Grain ~ corn
  • Legume ~ beans, peas, peanuts, clover
  • Sweet potato*** ~ sweet potatoes, morning glories (only relevant if you plant them close together, as morning glories can carry a disease that will affect your sweet potatoes).

*Radishes, although technically part of the cabbage family, can pretty much be planted anywhere in the garden. I just tuck them in wherever they fit, and even plant some just to go to seed because the bees LOVE radish flowers. They aren’t particularly susceptible to disease, and in fact, can act as a trap crop for some annoying insect pests that would otherwise bother your crops.

**Dill and fennel have a tendency to cross-pollinate because they’re so closely related. If you’re growing them exclusively for pollinators, it doesn’t make any difference. However, if you’re growing them to eat, you’ll either need to replant each year instead of letting them reseed, or you’ll need to keep them several hundred feet from each other in your gardens, because NO ONE wants fennely dill or dilly fennel!

***Sweet potatoes ~ Because I’m in the North, I’ve found that most sweet potato issues don’t occur around here, and even insect pests don’t touch them. For that reason, I don’t include sweet potatoes in my rotation, but give them their own dedicated box each summer. The only problems I’ve had with them are voles and deer, so the box is lined underneath with wire and is kept within a tall garden fence. If you’re in the South, you may want to include them in your rotation plan, however.

sweet potato plants
Notice the pink flowers towards the bottom right of the pic ~
you can definitely tell sweet potatoes are related to morning glories!

A Slightly More Involved Rotation Plan

Ok, let’s say that you’ve got a few pest problems, or diseases have reared their ugly heads along the way. Even things like powdery mildew can come back year after year if there are spores left in the soil, so if you’ve got it, move those veggies around!

How to go about it, though? If you look online, you’ll see lots and lots of really complex rotation plans taking into account heavy feeders vs. light feeders, and what can go after what, and what shouldn’t go after what, etc, etc until your head starts to spin.

If you’d like all that info, I’ve got quite a bit of it in my Ultimate Garden Planner. Just head on over and purchase it and you’ll have that, plus more than 40 other pages of information and places to keep all your gardening notes and lists from year to year. As a plus, you can print any or all of it over and over again for as long as you’d like once you download it, so it can last forever.

Let’s just say you want to keep things fairly simple, but still keep those insects and diseases at bay.

garlic

Ok, let’s assume you’re going to grow garlic, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, peppers, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, radishes, several lettuce varieties, beans, and peas. Let’s also assume you don’t want anything to repeat in any one spot more than once every 3 years.

Let’s get started. As you now know, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers are all in the same family. Butternut squash and zucchini share a family as well, as do beans and peas.

So, plant them each in their own section in year one. In year two, plant tomatoes where the garlic was, zucchini where the tomatoes were, beans where the zucchini was, garlic where the butternut squash was, butternut squash where the potatoes were, lettuce where the beans were, potatoes where the sweet potatoes were (although they both have the common name of potato, they aren’t related), sweet potatoes where the peppers were, peppers where the peas were, and peas where the lettuce was.

I have a reason for a few of these. Following beans and peas with lettuce and peppers makes sense as the legumes add nitrogen, and both lettuce and peppers like and need quite a bit. Planting peas where the lettuce was will replenish the nitrogen the lettuce used, as will planting beans where the zucchini was.

So now, year 3. It does get a little more complicated, as you don’t want to repeat any families from either year 1 or year 2.

Where tomatoes were in year 2, plant sweet potatoes. Where the zucchini was, put in beans, while peppers will go where the beans were in year 2. Lettuce will replace the year 2 garlic, and peas will go where butternut squash was. You can plant the potatoes where the lettuce was in year 2, with garlic replacing the potatoes. Zucchini replaces the sweet potatoes, while butternut squash takes the place of peppers. Lastly, tomatoes go where peas were to take advantage of the nitrogen-building power of the legumes.

Head spinning yet? Here it is in chart form, from year 1 to year 3:

  • Garlic (year 1) ~~ Tomatoes (year 2) ~~ Sweet potatoes (year 3)
  • Tomatoes ~~ Zucchini ~~ Beans
  • Zucchini ~~ Beans ~~ Peppers
  • Butternut squash ~~ Garlic ~~ Lettuce
  • Potatoes ~~ Butternut Squash ~~ Peas
  • Beans ~~ Lettuce ~~ Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes ~~ Potatoes ~~ Garlic
  • Peppers ~~ Sweet potatoes ~~ Zucchini
  • Peas ~~ Peppers ~~ Butternut squash
  • Lettuce ~~ Peas ~~ Tomatoes
radishes

You may be saying, “But you forgot the radishes!” Nope, I didn’t. Remember how I said they could be placed anywhere you want them in the garden? Just place them wherever you’d like, whether with the lettuce or anywhere else you can find room. As I mentioned in the previous post, mine were tucked under my miniature peach tree this year.

Maybe you’d rather grow broccoli or cauliflower than butternut squash. That’s fine, just change the butternut squash to broccoli or cauliflower and your plan will still work fine. You can customize this plan as you’d like as long as you keep plant families in mind.

I hope this introduction to crop rotation has been simple and helped you see you can do it too. If you have further questions, please feel free to comment below and come back to visit for my answers!

There are several pinnable images below. Please pin to your Gardening boards on Pinterest for future reference.

Otherwise, thanks for reading, smile and have a crazy organic day!

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A Simple Plan for Keeping your Garden Healthy with Crop Rotation

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5 comments

Nikki Gwin 09/25/2019 - 7:37 pm

I got a giggle out of fennelly dill or dilly fennel. LOL And these lists are very helpful! I’d love to get these charts in a printable form…
🙂 gwingal

Reply
Dawn 09/27/2019 - 7:21 am

I can certainly do that at some point. There are more detailed charts in my printable Garden Journal, as well.

Reply
Sarita 09/24/2019 - 6:44 am

Very practical and useful post! I’m bookmarking this to return to when planning next year’s garden.

Reply
Dawn 09/27/2019 - 7:21 am

Thank you. Glad it was helpful!

Reply
Linda Carlson 09/17/2019 - 11:14 am

So much great information ..

Reply

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