Southwest Idaho’s growing season has three sub-stages:
- Cool moist (about March to the beginning of May)
- Warm dry (mid-May through August or September)
- Cool dry (roughly Sept and October)
Anyone who has lived here for very long knows that those dates are approximations. There can be definite warm spells in April, rain in June, and moderate temperatures through November some years. Still, there is enough of a pattern that even with yearly variations it can help with both general garden planning and succession planting.
Succession planting just means planting again in an area that was already used. There are several reasons to do this.
- More efficient use of space
- Less area to weed
- Fewer long term bare spots in the garden
- Avoiding overwhelming abundance of harvest
If you are not familiar with this idea, you might be wondering how you can plant again in an area that was already planted in. There are a few ways this might happen.
- Crops that prefer a different season might be done producing. They can be removed and another crop planted. Sometimes the next crop can be planted before the older one is removed. Green peas are a good example of this in my garden.
- Crops that are fast maturing might have already been harvested. Lettuce or radishes are fun crops that come up fast and easy, but then are eaten pretty quickly, too. Depending on the weather, it might work to direct plant another rotation of the same crop. Sometimes it can help to have another tray of seedlings ready from the greenhouse to plant out.
- Crops might not have germinated or grown as planned, leaving space available. In such a situation, there may have been uncooperative weather or irrigation trouble, so replanting is a reasonable choice. Possibly it is time to buy new seed or a different variety that works better in this climate. I had this trouble with carrots this year. For still unclear reasons, they did not germinate with nearly the vitality of previous years. leaving me with odd patches of carrots growing. Some carrots mature fast enough that I may just fill in the spots with another variety.
- Crops have been destroyed by insects. Some pests fatally damage crops as seedlings, but there is still time to try again. I have had this happen with my cabbage and broccoli but have been able to plant again with better success.
- Crops may volunteer and it can be accommodated with the schedule and growth of what is already growing. I have had dill, lettuce, beans, and even potatoes volunteer in places that I decided I could work with. This is a kind of naturalized succession planting.
There are things to keep in mind when planning for succession plantings.
- Will the younger seedlings get enough light and water as the new comers in the garden? While this may be obvious to see at the moment of planting, if you are planning on succession planting, it might be hard to visualize. In the middle of winter, it can be hard to remember just how large or sprawling some plants grow.
- Will the previous crop harbor pests harmful to the new crop? It might be a case of shared pests that require extra diligence to counteract. Or the older crop might be providing habitat for hungry critters. I planted zucchini three times next to my dying pea plants this year like I have done many times in the past; but this year, something was living in the foliage of the peas that came out at night and ate each new zucchini sprout before it got true leaves. I finally tried in a different location.
- Will direct seeding be hard because of weather or mid-season watering for other crops? Germination usually requires very regular watering, even for warm weather crops, whereas more mature plants can suffer from overwatering in the same conditions. This may mean blocking out sections in ways to deal with this or specifically sprinkling just the seeds more frequently. Again, starting seeds in more controlled indoor conditions is also an option, but they will need to be hardened off and will still need some extra care when developing roots in the garden bed.
- Will the weather affect the taste and productivity of a crop? Some crops may grow in a sub-season, but it will be unlikely to be worth the effort. A lot will depend on how faithfully they can be watered, or can be sheltered from weather extremes, but day length and overall temperature can be hard to overcome. In those cases, it may be best to skip a sub-season and plant again another time. Peppers and tomatoes will probably remain stunted in cool temperatures, or things like spinach and lettuce may be bitter and bolt too quickly in warm weather.
- Vegetables are not the only thing to succession plant. It might be quite satisfying to plant some warm season flowers where you just harvested all your lettuce, helping to keep weeds down until you can effectively plant more lettuce for a fall crop. And there is nothing wrong with pulling up something before it dies when you are in the mood to plant something else there. If you experimented with a new vegetable and it doesn’t suit your palate, there is no need to force feed it when there are plenty of other healthy things that are yummy.
Succession planting can put you more in control of your garden by reducing the area that needs to be tended, resulting in more manageable harvest amounts, and providing you with fresher eating and more variety throughout the growing season. It can seem like a more constant tending, but it can be used to keep you involved in your garden in ways that end up reducing the overall work load while increasing the enjoyment.