Vegetable Garden: Crop Rotation Made Easy

By: Julie Day

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



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

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  • mmm Says:
    April 16th, 2016 at 6:51 am

    How does crop rotating help to reduce insect infestations??? You dont just say it does, you have to provide how.

  • Mandakini Says:
    August 31st, 2015 at 11:19 am

    When and how is the best way to grow stevia? I live in south Lousianna.

  • Susan Says:
    August 2nd, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    I just pulled up my garlic. What can I plant now? It is Aug 1.

  • jim Says:
    March 5th, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for this. I’ve grown tomatoes and corn in relatively the same spots for several years. This year I will begin rotating I haven really grown beans / peas but I’m adding them this year. My tomatoes have been in raised beds, the corn in rows. I’m a bit concerned about putting the corn in the raised beds and getting good germination as typically I plant 4/5 rows of corn close together to get good germination. I plant winter cover crops and amend the soils with compost and composted manure, I do not use any insecticides. Can the corn and tomatoes follow each other till next year when the tomatoes can follow the beans / peas?

  • jim Says:
    March 5th, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for this. I’ve grown tomatoes and corn in relatively the same spots for several years. This year I will begin rotating I haven really grown beans / peas but I’m adding them this year. My tomatoes have been in raised beds, the corn in rows. I’m a bit concerned about putting the corn in the raised beds and getting good germination as typically I plant 4/5 rows of corn close together to get good germination. I plant winter cover crops and amend the soils with compost and composted manure, I do not use any insecticides. Can the corn and tomatoes follow each other till next year when the tomatoes can follow the beans / peas?

  • Alice FitzSimmons Says:
    February 6th, 2015 at 10:23 am

    My area is small. I want to grow a few crops and have enough to can. Since I do not want to grow the crops needed to rotate, I like to get advice on how to rotate crops such as bush beans,beets, tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes. We would like peas but space is an issue. I could do ground covers in some areas. We compost and till in leaves. We also mulch with paper and leaves.
    Thanks, Alice

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    January 29th, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Hi Kauko,
    Glad our article was of help to you in Namibia. Let us know how your harvest turns out!

  • Kauko Says:
    January 29th, 2015 at 5:11 am

    Would just like to thank you for posting this simple and easy to follow process, Im all the way from Namibia and I recently harvested my vegatables, had some issues with the cabbage as there was a some pests that utterly destroyed them, but now I know what one needs to do be done in terms of rotating crops to prevent pest damage and to restore the soil nutrients….will keep you posted when I eventually harvest natures finest gift to man. thanks Kauko

  • Bob Says:
    January 21st, 2015 at 2:06 am

    My tomatoes, by necessity, are planted in the same bed every year. I do a cover crop – winter peas this year – and amend with compost prior to planting each spring. It’s the only area that gets full sun. If I were to skip tomatoes one year, what would you recommend for the tomato plot for that year to try and rebuild the soil – at least for a one year rotation?

  • Deb Gardner Says:
    September 11th, 2014 at 1:58 am

    Should I also be rotating between seasons? I live in 9a/b zone (coastal Southern California) and can plant (almost) year-round. My friend and I inherited an established garden plot to share and didn’t really know what to do with it when we got it. Then we ran out of time and just threw seeds down (we’re both full-time students with families) and let God take over.

    We JUST amended most of our beds with compost and planted more seeds: spinach, carrot, lettuce, bush bean, and snap peas. We also planted spaghetti squash and zucchini hoping for at least a single harvest before the cold sets (we’ve had an unusually hot summer) and plan on starting cabbage, broccoli, and artichoke when things cool off a bit.

    When we get ready to plant for the next warm season, should we follow the guide or start rotations from scratch? (We didn’t have much growth this summer to be honest.)

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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!

    March 29th, 2014 at 10:48 am




  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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!

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