If you’re sighing because you just encountered yet another horticultural term you aren’t yet sure what to do with, relax! Here’s the lowdown in the process that we’re encapsulating in two handy words. Succession planting basically means extending your harvest, and maximizing its usefulness, by not sowing all your seeds at once. Easy, huh? Well, it can be a little trickier in summer, so we’re going to give you some tips to boost your summer succession planting success.
In summer, the main challenges are heat and drought and along with that the stronger light intensity of summer – they’re all related factors that have the potential to stress plants (and gardeners) out a little more than usual. We look at ways of combating that, ensuring a continuous and plentiful harvest.
Plan and Keep the Seed Supply Healthy
You know which of your summer to autumn crops you most enjoy. Plan your space for succession planting and decide when you’ll start and stop sowing them. Now, it’s just a matter of ensuring you have a steady seeds supply to cover it. That’s easy enough. When you sow the last seeds from your previous pack, get a new one for the next sowing. When you reach “stopping point” for a crop – ie, it’s getting too late to sow it, it’s time to substitute a cool season crop and repeat the process with that.
On the subject of planning – nothing says you should have all your succession planted summer crops of a single type in one bed. My preference is to create little mixed gardens, with each succeeding one having a few of each of my crops. Dotting things around a little in this way means that you don’t prepare a whole bed for a crop and then leave it lying unproductive as you plant each successive batch of seeds. Plus, having fewer plants of one type in a single bed means you’re less likely to attract pests – and if one batch gets them, the next may avoid it altogether.
Compost and Mulch
Compost holds moisture and improves drainage, so it’s a good thing at any time of the year, but the water-holding capacity of compost makes it even more important in summer. Dig your beds over to at least a spades depth, adding one spade of compost to every three spades of soil.
Mulch helps to protect the soil from drying out. You can even use compost as mulch. My favorite is grass clippings. Wood or bark chips are prettier, but might attract termites. A very thin layer is all you’ll want after sowing, but you can thicken it up as the plants grow. By keeping the soil a little cooler and moister, you will avoid having to water too frequently and it’ll keep the fast-growing warm-weather weeds down to a certain extent at the same time.
Sow in Shade and Grow Them a Bit Bigger Before they Hit the Ground
Seedlings are just babies, so they’re more delicate than bigger plants and can use a little more TLC in the hot weather. Container sowing in shade helps you to keep your seeds moist and get better germination. You can also transplant from sowing trays to small pots (finer seeds) or just sow in small pots to begin with (larger seeds) to allow the plants time to get bigger and stronger before they go into the veggie garden.
Do transplanting in the cooler times of day and water thoroughly afterward to limit stress. And, if you’re container-sowing and growing, remember to increase light exposure gradually before going from shade to full sun. They’re in containers anyway, so moving them from one environment to the next isn’t as much work as it may sound.
If you’re doing bare root transplants, your babies will want a little light shading and lots of water while they settle. It’s easy enough to prepare a basic support (such as hoops) for a covering of light shade cloth.
Don’t Transition too Late
Some winter crops benefit from warm summer temperatures during germination. This could overlap late sowing dates for some of your summer crops. So, for example, if you’re planning on growing coles (Cabbage, kale, etc) for cool season harvesting, you may want to start them before the absolute last sowing date for tomatoes. Just how you do it will depend on your personal preferences – but you’ll get the right recipe for succession planting through trial and error.
How Frequently Should You Sow for Succession Planting?
This is a tough question to answer since a lot depends on what you’re sowing and the unique growing conditions in your garden as well as what you prefer. However, we can give you a few tips to get you started:
- Succession sowing is not as important for perennial crops. Personally, I wouldn’t bother. Most of them have quite a long harvest season and it’s just a matter of sowing at the right time – no need to stagger it.
- Fast-growing, fast-yielding crops need succession sowing times that are closer together. I’d say two weeks is an absolute minimum, but the ideal for you could mean a longer gap.
- For slower growing crops, four to six or even eight weeks is usually a good interval between sowings. Again, you need to play with this guideline to see what suits you. Remember that the cropping times we give on our seed packets are an average rather than an absolute but they can be used as a starting point. Your ideal is a new crop starting to deliver just as the last one starts getting less productive.
Play, Enjoy, and Stay in Touch With Your Local Veggie Gardening Community
Being in a community that shares your veggie gardening interests isn’t just a matter of being social and sharing knowledge, it can also help you to compensate for succession planting mishaps that result in feasts and famines. If you produce a surplus and wish you had substituted the space for something else, there’s the possibility of gifting or bartering. Your neighbour may have too many aubergines. You have too many tomatoes. It’s time to trade! There’s a gap in your butter lettuce production, but you have tons of green beans – once again, your gardening buddies can help even out the balance.
Don’t forget that Seeds of Plenty is part of your gardening community. Our small yet dedicated team consists of real enthusiasts, so while you’re sharing gardening knowhow, successes and failures, remember to include us! There’s always something new to learn in the world of plants and gardening. On that subject, can you add to our summer succession planting tips? Let us know!