Garden Rotation Rules of Thumb

May 18, 2024

Vegetable gardening is both an art and a science, and an important technique for success is crop rotation.

By rotating crops, you can improve soil health, reduce pests, and increase yields. Continuous planting of the same kind of plant in the same place every year is a recipe for creating problems. 

Here are 8 rules to follow for effective vegetable garden rotations.

Rule 1: Have Light Feeders Follow Heavy Feeders

Heavy feeders, such as tomatoes and corn, consume large amounts of nutrients from the soil. Following them with light feeders, like carrots or lettuce takes advatage of this difference.

Rule 2: Include Some Soil Improvement Crops

Soil improvement crops, such as legumes, enrich the soil by fixing nitrogen. Planting crops like peas and beans can naturally enhance soil fertility, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.

Rule 3: Rotate Plants with the Change of Seasons

Different plants thrive in different seasons. Rotating crops with the seasons ensures that your garden is always productive and that soil nutrients are used efficiently throughout the year.

Rule 4: Rotate by Plant Families

Plants within the same family often share pests and diseases. Rotating by plant families (e.g., moving from nightshades to brassicas) can break pest and disease cycles, promoting healthier plants.

Rule 5: Use Rotation to Reduce Pest Populations

Pests can quickly become a problem if the same crop is grown in the same spot year after year. Rotating crops disrupts pest life cycles, reducing their populations and minimizing damage to your garden.

Rule 6: Rotate to Deprive Weeds of Light and Space

Different crops have varying growth habits and can outcompete weeds differently. By rotating crops, you can deprive weeds of the consistent conditions they need to thrive, thereby reducing weed pressure.

Rule 7: Winter is a Good Time to Use Cover Crops

Cover crops planted in the winter protect soil from erosion and add organic matter when they are turned into the soil. They also help to suppress winter weeds and can fix nitrogen, preparing your garden for spring planting.

Rule 8: Don't Be Afraid to Change Your Rotation Plan

Flexibility is crucial in gardening. If something isn't working, don't hesitate to adjust your rotation plan. Pay attention to your garden's needs and be willing to experiment to find the best solutions for your specific conditions.

For more information

There are many resources online that cover garden rotations. There aren't too many bad ones, in fact. Perhaps my favorite is a book called Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual by Mohler & Johnson. You can buy the print version, but it's also available as a free PDF file. It's nerdy and information dense. Probably overkill for the casual gardener, but if you get serious about gardening or Organic production, it's excellent. 

For a simpler introduction, see this article from the Royal Horticultural Society.

By Dustin W Blakey
Author - County Director / Farm Advisor