Crop rotation

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Crop Rotationcroprotation

Rotating your annual crops—even in a small-scale home garden—can help thwart potential gardening woes. If you plant the same crop in the same spot every year, overwintered pests, disease spores and nematodes can build up in that bed’s soil. A lack of rotation also means that the main nutrients a crop pulls from the soil will become depleted in that spot over time.

The first step to establishing successful rotation practices is to get to know the crop families. Plants should be rotated based on family, because crops in the same family generally have similar nutrient requirements, and they also attract many of the same pests and diseases. Find a table for plant families here:

Family Name Aliases Members
Crops Ornamentals Weeds
Solanaceae solanaceous crops; potato, tomato or nightshade family peppers (bell and chile), tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, tobacco, tomatillo petunia, million bells nightshade, jimsonweed, henbane, groundcherry, buffalobur, horsenettle
Brassicaceae Cruciferae; brassicas; cole crops; cruciferous crops; mustard family horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, Brussels sprouts, turnips, Chinese cabbage, radish, rapeseed, mustard, collards, watercress, pak choi, bok choi, rutabaga stock, alyssum, candytuft shepherd’s-purse, field pennycress, yellow rocket
Cucurbitaceae cucurbits; cucumber family; squash family cucumber, melons, watermelon, summer squash, pumpkin, gourds, winter squash
Rosaceae rose family, rosaceous plants apples, peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, pears, cherries multiflora rose
Fabaceae Leguminosae; leguminous crops; legumes; bean, pea or legume family beans, peas, lentils, peanut, soybean, edamame, garbanzo bean, fava beans, hairy vetch, vetches, alfalfa, clovers, cowpea, birdsfoot trefoil, black medic various vetches, clovers, black medic
Poaceae Gramineae; grass family corn, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, rice, millet, rye, ryegrass, sorghum-sudangrass, fescue, timothy ornamental grasses brome, wild oats, crabgrass, orchardgrass, barnyardgrass, quackgrass, fall panicum, foxtail, Johnsongrass
Polygonaceae Knotweed family buckwheat, rhubarb knotweed, smartweed
Liliaceae lily family; alliums (for members of the Allium genera) asparagus, onions, leeks, chives, garlic, shallot tulips, daffodils, hosta, hyacinth, daylily wild garlic and onions
Lamiaceae Labiatae; mint family lavender, basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, mints, catnip salvia, Molucella (bells-of-Ireland) mints, catnip, henbit
Ericaceae heather or blueberry family blueberries, cranberries rhododendrons, azalea, heather
Chenopodiaceae goosefoot family spinach, beets, chard, sugar beets kochia, lambsquarters
Apiaceae Umbelliferae; carrot family carrots, parsnips, celery, dill, chervil, cilantro, parsley, caraway, fennel Trachymeme, Buplerum poison-hemlock, wild carrot
Asteraceae sunflower family; aster family, Compositae sunflowers, lettuce, endive, escarole, radicchio, dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, artichoke, safflower, chicory, tarragon, chamomile, echinacea, sunflowers marigold, mums, zinnia, aster, Calendula, cosmos, Rudbeckia, Tithonia, Centaurea, Helichrysum, yarrow, Leucanthemum, echinacea, sunflowers dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, echinacea, thistles, knapweeds, cocklebur, yarrow, ragweeds, goldenrod, groundsel, galinsoga, sunflowers

A good rule of thumb is to avoid planting crops that are in the same family in the same spot in your garden more often than once every three to four years. If this is tricky because of limited space or the diversity of the crops you grow, don’t stress; it’s merely a good ideal to shoot for. Even a two-year rotation is better than nothing.

To start keeping simple crop-rotation records, draw out your garden beds on graph paper or in a gardening notebook or journal, and fill in what you’re planting where that season. You can use colored pencils to shade in planting areas based on which crop family is planted where — such as shading all tomato-family crops in red and all cabbage-family crops in green. Then, before you put any seeds or transplants in the ground the following season, sketch out a new planting arrangement for the year. Reference the previous year’s arrangement, and don’t put any related crops in the same location.

Another record-keeping option is to plan your garden with MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ Vegetable Garden Planner, which can track your crop rotation for you.