Tips on Crop Rotation for Beginning Gardeners

My Garden Life
April 19, 2021
Table of Contents
If you have been gardening for more than a few years, you may have already realized that planting the same crop year after year realizes diminishing returns. You might have already heard of crop rotation and tried to vary your planting, but don’t quite know what you should plant in the stead of your preferred crop to prepare the soil to grow that favored fruit or vegetable again.
Here are tips that will help you maximize the potential of your garden with crop rotation.

1. Divide Your Vegetable Garden into Sections

vegetable garden with narrow boards dividing it into separate spaces

The first step in crop rotation is to divide your garden into at least four sections. While you can choose to create more sections, four is good for a start. Make sure each section is of an equal size to accommodate different crops.

2. Pick Which Crops You’ll Plant

Most gardeners who are starting out with simple crop rotations recognize four distinct groups:

1) Leafy Vegetables

Stalk of brussels sprouts growing in a garden Head of broccoli growing in a garden Leaf lettuce growing in a garden Leafy spinach growing in a garden.
Brussels Sprouts Broccoli Lettuce Spinach

2) Root Crops

A bunch of carrots freshly harvested and laying on the garden soil Two fresh turnips on a wooden table Freshly harvested radishes lying on the garden soil A bunch of freshly harvested beets
Carrots Turnips Radishes Beets

3) Fruits

three ripe tomatoes hanging on a garden vine freshly harvested cucumbers in a basket in the garden beautiful ripe eggplant hanging on plant in the vegetable garden two pumpkins ready for harvest in a pumpkin patch
Tomatoes Cucumbers Eggplant Pumpkins

 

4) Legumes

Freshly picked green beans in a basket in the garden Freshly picked pea pods with one pod split open to show the individual peas Basket of freshly picked yellow wax beans in the vegetable garden small pile of freshly picked lima beans with some pods split open to reveal individual lima beans
Green Beans Peas Yellow Wax Beans Lima Beans
While each category has more examples of crops that fit the bill, each category has a vital role to play in keeping the soil healthy.

3. Make a 4-year Vegetable Garden Plan

girl sitting outdoors making notes in a notebook

Once you have designated the four crops to start with, make a chart of this first four plantings followed by three rows of four empty boxes. Next year, move each planting one step to the right and place the one on the far right at the far-left position. Repeat this one-step-to-the-left movement for the next four years and form a template for your upcoming planting schedule.

4. You Can Rotate Crops & Plant Categories

man holding a bowl of freshly harvested garden vegetables

Keep in mind that you don’t need to plant the same crop in each category every year. Variety within a category is as good for the soil as rotating categories. Even if you have loved planting tomatoes in the past, give squash a try one year. Not only will this lead to a more productive garden, but you can also try some new recipes for your homegrown produce.

5. Plant Cover Crops to Improve Soil Health

buckwheat plants in flower growing along a wooden fence

Planting cover crops instead of a legume planting, or once you have gone through one full rotation, is a great way to give the soil a chance to recuperate and produce a truly wonderful crop in the coming year. These may include grains that can be used in recipes, like rye, or plants that can be harvested as a garnish, like clover.
Proper crop rotation not only helps to develop and maintain healthy soil but also opens many possibilities to broaden your horizons by raising unfamiliar plants. You may find that these tasty new sensations will become a favorite of both yourself and your family, bringing both pleasurable gardening and healthy meals to your home for years to come.
raised garden bed containing a variety of vegetable and herb plants
If you’re new to gardening, you’ll want to check out our great tips for starting a small vegetable garden.

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