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:
|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.