There are two types of crops that you can grow in your vegetable garden. One type are crops, such as peppers and many types of tomatoes, that produce flowers and fruit all summer, right up to frost. The other are “cool season” crops, such as lettuce and cabbages, that are grown mainly in spring and fall and are harvested by plucking the whole plant out of the ground. But these crops can be planted several times from mid-spring to late summer. The process of replanting them at intervals is called “succession planting.”
In addition to providing a nearly-continuous harvest season, succession planting is also a good way to avoid having leftover seed from year to year. For example, each envelope of lettuce or carrot seed contains several hundred seeds – many more than most people need at one time. Beans are also a popular crop for successive plantings because, although you pick the beans, the plants do tend to peter out after a month or so, making beans another crop that is best planted several times.
The key to successful succession planting is to know how long a plant takes to go from seed or seedling to mature harvest stage. Lettuce takes about two months for a head of lettuce to be ready for the table – a little less for leaf lettuce.
Succession Planting Schedule
Here’s what a schedule looks like for successive plantings of lettuce; starting in spring about four weeks before your last spring frost:
Week 1: Sow six head lettuce and six leaf lettuce (or however many your family eats in a week).
Week 2: The lettuce should have germinated.
Week 3: Start another set of head and leaf lettuce.
Week 4: Start hardening off the first set of lettuce.
Week 5: Transplant the first set of lettuce. Sow some lettuce seeds in the garden.
Week 6: Harden off the second set of lettuce.
Week 7: Transplant the second set of lettuce.
Notes About Succession Planting Lettuce
- The first set of lettuce matures about two months from the transplant date.
- Harvest the mature lettuce over a week or two before the plant tries to put up a stalk and flower. This is called ‘bolting’ and the leaves’ flavor tends to turn from sweet to bitter. By this stage though, the second set of lettuce is ready, so remove the first set.
- The lettuce sown directly in the garden matures alongside the leaf and head lettuce.
- By starting new seedlings every three weeks, you get a continuous harvest of lettuce.
Notes About Succession Planting Carrots, Cabbage, Celery & Kale
- Carrots are sown directly outside from just after your last frost and every three weeks to get a continuous harvest.
- Plant cabbage and celery seeds every four weeks. They take a little longer to mature.
- Kale is fast growing, so start seeds every three weeks.
Summer Planting Tips for Lettuce
In warmer areas, by May, you need to change to warm weather lettuce which tolerates hot summer days. A few popular leaf lettuce varieties for summer are ‘Buttercrunch’ bibb, ‘Black Seeded Simpson’, and ‘Red Oakleaf.’ Switch back to spring lettuce in early August as they will mature in September which is cooler in most areas. Hot summer weather also slows down some crops, so a continuous harvest may have a few breaks.
Continue succession planting until midsummer, which allows the cool weather crops to mature before the first fall frost. Areas where summers are long and hot do have the challenge to get crops to germinate in midsummer. For lettuce and other green vegetables, germinate the seedlings inside where the temperature is cooler than outside. Some truly cool weather plants such as Brussels sprouts are best planted just in spring or late summer where they can mature in cool weather.
Succession planting does take planning, but the benefit of having more than tomatoes in the summer garden is well worth the try!
Can’t decide if you’d rather start your vegetables from seed or wait a while and buy them already growing? In our article, Vegetable Garden Basics – Start Seeds or Buy Plants, we present some pros and cons to help you make your decision.