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What is Succession Planting? An Australian Garden Guide

One of the “problems” with taking up gardening is the sheer volume of terms one encounters. For those in the know, a few convenient words sum up entire concepts. But, if you’re new to the game, arcane terms like “succession planting” can make simple things seem deeply mysterious and very complicated.

As always, Seeds of Plenty is here to help with unfogging the mysteries of gardening. Good news! They turn out to be a matter of simple commonsense.

Today, we’ll be tackling succession planting, a practice that can help you to extend your growing season. It helps to limit surpluses, and ensures a steady supply of fresh, seasonal veg. Let’s begin!

So What is Succession Planting and How Can it Help You?

It’s simple. Succession planting simply means splitting up your seed sowing times so that you have fresh veg or flowers all season long.

Planting all your seeds at once means that all your plants will be bearing at once, and that can mean a massive surplus followed by a “famine.” The solution is fairly simple. Sow at different times to ensure that you have a succession of plants bearing one after the other.

Batch After Batch

There are various approaches to succession planting. The simplest is to plant again after harvesting the last batch, but this means a wait between harvest and next bearing. In theory, you have allowed one crop to succeed another. However, this approach doesn’t offer the benefits of other kinds of succession planting. 

Sow Every Few Weeks

Our favourite form of succession planting is to make separate plantings of the same crop spaced apart. This ensures continuous, or near-continuous supply throughout the possible growing season for any given crop or variety.

For example, you’ll have one batch of tomatoes ready for harvest. The next batch is in flower. And you have a batch of younger seedlings, and some newly-sown seeds. 

Choose Varieties of the Same Crop That Mature at Different Times

As a final option, one can sow similar crops with different maturity dates. For example, an early bearer, a mid-season bearer, and a slow maturer. Most of the black tomatoes take longer to ripen than their relatives, for instance. But you can plant faster-maturing varieties to start off the season while you wait for your dusky beauties to reach maturity.

Here's another example of this type of succession planting. Sow cherry tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, and beefsteaks all at the same time. The cherries should bear first, then the sauce tomatoes, and last of all, your beefsteaks. 

However, staggered successive plantings have potential to be the most productive. So, in the rest of this article, we’ll discuss this method. 

How Far Apart Should Successive Plantings be Spaced?

Succession Planting Fast-Growing Crops

It’s lovely when one can give hard-and-fast answers to seemingly simple questions. But when it comes to plants, plenty of the answers begin with “it depends”. This is no exception.

If we’re talking about radishes, for example, you’re probably looking at one or two weeks between sowings because they mature fast. Your radishes should be good to eat within four to five weeks of planting. 

Using radishes as an example, I’ll usually sow a row, wait two weeks, sow another row and so on. That’s because radishes don’t keep well when left in the soil for too long.

However, they rarely all mature at once, so a row isn’t too much for my family. Within two to three weeks after the first ones were ready, most of the row is exhausted. Meanwhile, the next row is ready for harvesting.  

Succession Planting Slower Growing Crops

When it comes to crops that take more than a few weeks to mature, things get more complex. How much will you eat? For how long will the plant keep yielding fruit before its harvest time is over? Trial and error are possibly the best ways to figure out what’s best for you. 

In my experience, I’d say that most veg sowings are best spaced about four weeks apart, but that’s a generalisation. It might not work for all the crops you plan. Nonetheless, it could make a good starting point.

Same Bed or Different Bed?

The next thing to decide is whether you want to plant successively into the same bed. That means empty spaces waiting to be filled. Another option is to plant a mixture of food plants to fill each bed before starting on the next one.

Once again, that’s up to you. However, it’s worth remembering that you do need a bit of rotation between crops to prevent exhaustion of the soil and a possible breeding ground for plant diseases that target one of the crops you’d like to keep in the mix.

Having said that, I like to fill up as I go. I sow a mixture, and then, a couple of weeks later, I move on to the next bed. To combat the problem of soil exhaustion, I’ll allocate legumes to each bed in succession. If I start picking up plant disease issues, I’m happy to leave a bed fallow (empty) for a season. 

Beyond the basic principles, there aren’t any real rights or wrongs here. Just look at maturity dates. Then, space your crops for what you think will mean continuous harvesting throughout the growing season, and see what works for you. 

Catch the End of the Growing Season

A further advantage of applying succession planting is that you get to benefit from the tail end of the growing season. As soon as the frosts are over, most people stock up their veggie beds with summer crops, but many plants, tomatoes for example, will bear and finish before the full growing season is over. 

That leaves a shortage of fresh veggies for eating and processing as the winter approaches. A summer sowing that still allows the plants time to reach maturity before the autumn cold sets in solves the problem.

Remember to Keep a Diary

When you apply succession planting, you’ll make some calculations in an attempt to space your plantings according to your needs. To perfect your planning, it helps to know how it worked out for you, and a garden diary with a few basic records will help you to see how successful your planning was.

When you analyse results, you may come across some unexpected facts. For example, maturation times may vary from the estimated times seen on seed packets. That’s because a lot of factors are at play here.

For example, a particularly hot summer can lead to earlier maturation of plants. If the weather is cool and overcast, crops can mature more slowly.

Apart from this, individual gardens and parts of the garden may experience different microclimates, and this will also have its effect.

When working with plants, it’s hard to set hard and fast rules. Use your gardening diary to help you to see what usually works well and where you want to make changes. For instance, you might have preferred a succession crop to have been ready a little earlier or later than it actually was.

Succession Planting Rewards You Again and Again

Every successful veggie crop to come from your own garden is a little reward. Stack them up with succession planting and enjoy that feel-good moment again and again all season long. No wonder veggie gardening is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world today! Add succession planting to the equation this summer and keep going throughout the changing seasons.

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