Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

Vegetable Garden: Crop Rotation Made Easy

By:


Divide your garden into sections to make crop rotation easier.

You don’t have to be a farmer to use the age-old practice of rotating crop families – in fact, for the home gardener, the process is vitally important to the health and productivity of your garden. From disease prevention to nutrient balancing, the benefits of crop rotation make it worth the extra planning required to put the system in place. Here’s an easy way to plan a four-step crop rotation in a home garden regardless of the size.

Reasons to Rotate Crops

  • Disease Prevention: The main reason to rotate crops is to prevent the spread of plant disease. Disease organisms can build up over time, resulting in eventual crop failure. Rotating crops keeps these organisms in check.
  • Insect Control: Crop rotation also helps reduce insect infestations.
  • Nutrient Balance: Different families of plants require different nutrients. By rotating your crops, you keep the soil from being depleted and can target soil amendments to keep your garden balanced.
  • Nutrient Enhancement: Some plants actually enhance the soil, so rotating them through the garden can produce free organic soil conditioning.


Crop rotation helps prevent diseases, especially for tomatoes.

Principles of Crop Rotation

Simply put, crop rotation involves dividing the garden into sections, and planting a different plant family in each section every year. A systematic rotating schedule ensures that every section eventually receives each plant family. Most crop rotation systems have at least four sections, with four rotating plant groups.

Gardening Tip

You can develop your own rotation system based on the veggies you like to grow – for instance, if you love onions, you might dedicate a whole section of your crop rotation just to onion varieties. Or if you grow just tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots, you can rotate those three. The main idea is that you keep things moving around.

The Four-Step System

To get started in the home garden, you can use a simple four-step system that requires little more than a basic understanding of what part of the plant you’re planning to eat. Divide your garden into four simple groups:

Group 1: Plants grown for Leaves or Flowers, such as:

  • Salad greens
  • Lettuce
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Spinach
  • Brussels Sprouts

Group 2: Plants grown for Fruits, such as:

  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Eggplant
  • Squash
  • Corn
  • Cucumber
  • Potatoes

Group 3: Plants grown for Roots, such as:

  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Onions
  • Beets
  • Radish

Group 4: Legumes that Feed the Soil, such as:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Peanuts
  • Cover crops (such as alfalfa or clover)

Gardening Tip

Legumes are called “nitrogen fixing” plants. They have nodules along their roots, with specialized bacteria called rhizobia, that allow them to absorb nitrogen from the air, then release it into the soil.

Sample Crop Rotation Plan

Tips for Successful Crop Rotation

  • Even small gardens can be rotated—the four areas can simply be sections of planting beds. Although with smaller gardens, it’s harder to keep diseases from spreading from one section to another.
  • Potatoes and tomatoes are actually related, and they’re susceptible to the same diseases – that’s why they’re grouped together. If you have problems with early blight, you may need to separate them and not follow one with the other.
  • Since legumes add nitrogen to the soil, they’re followed by nitrogen-loving leafy crops, which reduce the need for fertilizer.
  • Root crops break up the soil, so they’re followed by legumes that like the loose soil texture.
  • Some veggies—such as lettuce, cucumbers, melons, and squash—aren’t as susceptible to diseases and can go pretty much anywhere you have the space, but it’s often easier to plan your garden by including and rotating everything.


You can practice crop rotation in a garden of any size.

Getting More Advanced

There are almost as many crop rotation systems as there are gardeners! If you’ve mastered the basics and would like to get more advanced with your crop rotation, the next step is to group plants according to their botanical family, which gives you more specific groups, and more sections of crop rotation. Here are some of the common plant families in vegetable gardening:

  • Chenopodiaceae: beets, Swiss chard, spinach
  • Compositae: artichoke, endive, lettuce
  • Convolvulaceae: sweet potatoes
  • Cruciferae: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnips, arugula, and rutabaga
  • Cucurbitaceae: cucumbers, squash, pumpkin, melons
  • Gramineae: corn
  • Leguminosae: beans, peas
  • Liliaceae: onions, leeks, shallots
  • Malvaceae: okra
  • Solanaceae: (Nightshades) tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers
  • Umbelliferae: carrots, celery, fennel

Gardening Tip

Try to dedicate at least one section each year to a “green manure” cover crop—such as alfalfa or clover—that you can till into the soil, or mix in plenty of organic matter and allow the soil to rest.

Further Information



Please Leave a Comment

15 Comments on “Vegetable Garden: Crop Rotation Made Easy”

You can follow comments to this article by subscribing to the RSS news feed with your favorite feed reader.

  1. Jane Schreiber Says:
    March 12th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you!! A wonderful site which gives a simple explanation of crop rotation for my kitchen garden. Can’t wait for the snow to melt so we can get started!

  2. Imelda Byrne Says:
    April 5th, 2011 at 7:36 am

    Thank you so much for such an easily understood explaination of crop rotation, having waded through loads of gardenin books, I never thought I would be able to get it right. Now I can look forward to a properly planted veggie garden. Thank you again.

  3. Jan Carley Says:
    July 28th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing this method of crop rotation. I am eager to try this because my husband just built 4 raised vegetable beds in our backyard. I do have a question… Which area should okra be grown?

  4. BayouFilter Says:
    November 17th, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I would advise one of the following okra strategies:
    A. Plant okra where you had cabbage, as the cabbages / broccolis peter out with the warm weather coming in. Plant from seed after all chance of frost.
    B. Put small okras alongside spring tomatoes, as the tomatoes poop out in the heat the okra will come on strong. Then the next rotation has Legumes and feeds the soil nicely.

    Or just put okra with other flowers in a separate bed – they are good-looking enough to show off!

    Did you know the okra leaves are edible and make a yummy summer salad leaf or a wrapping (like grape leaves)?

    Rick in Houston TX
    http://www.multipleorganism.com

  5. Adrienne Says:
    February 5th, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    If you use pots to plant tomatoes, should you empty all the soil and start again? What is the best process, I prefer not buying new pots…

    Thank you

  6. Martesia Says:
    May 31st, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    @Adrienne; you can definately use the same pots over again but i would recommend only using the same dirt 2 years in a row only if the crop from the previous year is healthy and be sure to use a fertilizer with extra calcium to help with blossom end rot the second time around

  7. Archana Says:
    July 3rd, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Wonderful and easy to understand site. I planted garlic this past fall and have just harvested it. What can I plant in that bed now? Can I plant beans in that bed now?
    Thank you.

  8. LS Bingham Says:
    September 17th, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Everything I have read tells you to keep tomatoes and potatoes separated and not to plant in the same area, but you suggest that they be planted in the same area. I know they are in the same family but they conflict and have some of the same disease which makes it bad to plant together.

  9. Fran Fox Says:
    October 23rd, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    Thank you for this information! I am a beginner gardener trying to figure out the best way to rotate my crops and you have made this really easy!

  10. Frank Says:
    November 17th, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    Roots cultivate the soil and use up a lot of potassium making it easier for fruits to follow. Seeds offer nutients if they are leguminous leaving opportunity for leaf crops. By taking up excess nitrogen it helps to ensure that root crops will not be too leafy as the next crop.

  11. SandyLHCA Says:
    June 25th, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    I’m just now becoming interested in the concept of Crop Rotation, seeing the benefits. I wonder if the same pattern relates to the human body which is made of soil. If we eat according to seasonal foods, it makes sense to me to eat in rotation just as the garden soil does. Do you see the relation here? I ‘think’ diseases in humans can be eliminated if the same pattern is followed. I think a study should be done on this. Any thoughts?

  12. JEFFREY RUSECKY Says:
    March 29th, 2014 at 10:48 am

    IT’S BEEN A YEAR SINCE I HAVE RESEARCHED THIS INFORMATION ON CROP ROTATION BUT THIS HAS BEEN THE BEST I HAVE SEEN FOR A SIMPLE GARDENER. I WILL ACTUALLY BE PLANTING A ONE ACRE GARDEN ON MY 7 ACRE FARM AND YOUR ROTATION PLANS ARE CONCISE AND CLEAR. APPRECIATE THE INFORMATION AS YOU HAVE INCLUDED CORN WHICH I NEED FOR HOGS. WHAT A RELIEF YOU HAVE BEEN. I WILL BE STARTING MY FIRST FARMING ADVENTURE IN 12 MONTHS. HOMESTEADING OR SUBSTANANCE FARMING IS MY GOAL.

    THANKS FOR YOUR INFORMATION,

    JEFFREY AND HENRYKA

  13. Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    March 29th, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Jeffrey and Henryka,
    Glad to hear our article was of help. Good luck with your farming adventure and let us know how it works out!

  14. David metcalfe Says:
    June 27th, 2014 at 11:43 am

    When I dig out my potatoes can I plant something else straight away. If yes, what crop is good to follow on. I have just acquired an allotment.
    Regards David

  15. Laura Says:
    July 16th, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Yes! Finally an easy-to-understand rotation plan! THANK YOU!
    @LS Bingham: It sounds to me like the rotation is saying to include them both under the tomatoes so you wouldn’t plant tomatoes and potatoes in the same area.

We want to hear from you! In addition to posting comments on articles and videos, you can also send your comments and questions to us on our contact page or at (800) 946-4420. While we can't answer them all, we may use your question on our Today's Homeowner radio or TV show, or online at todayshomeowner.com.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.