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
- 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.
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
- Brussels Sprouts
Group 2: Plants grown for Fruits, such as:
Group 3: Plants grown for Roots, such as:
Group 4: Legumes that Feed the Soil, such as:
- Cover crops (such as alfalfa or clover)
Sample Crop Rotation Plan
Tips for Successful Crop Rotation
- 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
- Crop Rotation (downsizer.net)
- Crop Rotation in the Vegetable Garden (University of Illinois)
- Planning the Vegetable Garden (PDF 240kb) (University of Tennessee)