Practicing plant rotation can help you grow a better organic garden by improving your soil and reducing pests and diseases. Here are some handy plant rotation tips for planning this year’s garden…
Plant rotation is a foundational principle of organic gardening. A proper rotation scheme helps to balance your soil, prevent disease, and limit pests, as well as optimizing plant growth.
A simple explanation of plant rotation is that the same type of crop should not be planted in the same spot two years in a row.
However, it’s not enough to just rotate your specific crops from year to year – you should also rotate crop types. This makes it trickier, but certainly not impossible. A good crop rotation plan will help to keep things organized.
Why Practice Plant Rotation?
Plants use the nutrients in the soil as they grow, but not all plants use the same nutrients. If you keep growing the same crop in the same spot year after year, the soil will become depleted of the specific nutrients that plant needs to grow well. Planting the same thing in the same spot weakens the soil over time, which in turn leads to weaker plants and invites disease. As you may know, more than half the battle with organic gardening is preventing disease in the first place!
Some plants also create a better environment for the plants that follow them. For example, deep-rooted plants like eggplant and tomatoes can pull up minerals that can feed shallower rooted plants the next season. Legumes such as beans and peas help to fix nitrogen in the soil, which benefits nitrogen-loving crops like crucifers which you can plant after the beans and peas are done for a fall crop.
Rotating crops to a different spot every year may also fool those little pests who go looking for their favorite meal where it was the year before.
Setting Up a Crop Rotation Plan
When designing your plant rotation schedule, keep these crop families in mind (if you are drawing your crop rotation plan on paper, you may wish to highlight each family in a different color, so that you can easily tell which families are planted where):
Allium – onion, chives, leek, shallot.
Legume – pea, bean, peanut.
Cruciferous – broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, turnip, brussels sprouts. Also include salad greens, spinach.
Solanaceous – potato, tomato, pepper, eggplant. Also include squash, cucumber, melon.
Umbelliferae – parsley, parsnip, carrot, celery, dill, beet.
Before you lay out your garden, take graph paper, date it, and pencil in what you want to plant where. (You can also utilize an online garden planner if you prefer.) Take into account the space needed for the plant to grow properly, the amount of sunshine it will need/get, water requirements, and the height the plant will grow to. Do the same for the upcoming years, rotating the plant types from year to year.
If you plant in beds, simply rotate the whole bed the next year. For example, move what’s in bed #1 one year to bed #2 the next year and so on.
Also consider planting a cover crop either over the winter, or in place of any crops you are not growing during a specific garden season. This cover crop will protect the soil between plantings and will make an excellent addition to your compost pile or tilled into the soil where it grew.
While it takes a bit of pre-planning, you really just need to plan out your garden once every year, and make sure you write everything down so you will have this information when you plant again next year. Then just rotate your crops according to type each year so that your soil can rebound. You will end up with healthier plants that are better able to stave off diseases and pests.