Vegetable gardening crop rotation

Crop rotation including bush beans which add nutrients to the soil

Crop rotation means moving vegetables around the garden to maintain soil fertility. By rotating crops from one spot to another each season—or even in the same season, you can preserve and even boost nutrients in the soil. Differing crops use different amounts of soil nutrients and a few crops add nutrients to the soil.

Some crops are heavy feeders; heavy feeders include tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant, beets, lettuce, and other leafy crops.

Some crops are light feeders: light feeders include garlic, onions, peppers, potatoes, radishes, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and turnips.

Some crops are soil builders: soil builders include peas, beans, and cover crops such as clover.

Rotating these three groups of crops makes the best used of nutrients in the soil.

A simple crop rotation would plant heavy feeders in a dedicated planting bed the first year, followed by light feeders in the same bed the second year, followed by soil builders the third year. This rotation presumes there are separate planting areas big enough for all of the crops you want to plant in each of the three rotation groups.

If you have more than three planting beds and grow a large number of vegetables you can dedicate more than one bed to each group each year and still maintain the rotation.

Small Garden Crop Rotation

Crop rotation in small gardens can be difficult; let’s say you only have one or two planting beds. In that case you can still rotate crops simply to differing spots. You can follow a tomato with a bean one year after the other. Or you can replace a heavy feeding crop such as broccoli grown in the spring or fall with peas in the spring or beans the next summer. You can also replace a heavy feeder with a green manure cover crop that feeds the soil; cover crops that feed the soil include dwarf white clover or hairy vetch.

Adding plenty of aged compost to planting beds before the season starts, after harvest, and as a side dressing during the growing season is another way to boost or replace nutrients in the soil, but that is not crop rotation.

Crop Rotation by Harvest Groups

Crop rotation by harvest groups is a simple rotation strategy: rotate leafy crops, root crops, and fruiting crops. Harvest group rotation is not a precise crop rotation method (for example, peppers are light feeders and tomatoes are heavy feeders, but both are fruiting crops—but it is an easy way to group plants and to remember the rotation from one year to the next. A simple three-year crop rotation divides crops into their harvest groups:

  1. Leafy crops—including members of the cabbage family such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  2. Root crops
  3. Fruiting crops (flowering crops)

Into this mix you can add cover crops to follow fruiting crops. Because fruiting crops are almost all summer crops—tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, eggplants, they finish harvest in early autumn and their planting area can be replanted with a winter cover crop such as winter rye or fava beans. In spring, the cover crop is turned under and leafy crops can be planted to continue the rotation. This rotation would look like this:

  1. Fruiting crop
  2. Cover crop
  3. Leafy crop
  4. Root crop

Crop Rotation by Plant Family

Crop rotation by plant family is perhaps the most traditional way to rotate crops though it can be difficult in a small garden of just one or two beds. In the plant family rotation, crops from the same family are not planted in the same spot any more often than every three years.

Crop rotation by family not only maintains soil fertility but also is the best way to avoid attacks by pests and diseases; specific pests and diseases tend to attack plants from the same family. By rotating plant families, pests are not easily able to find the plants they want to attack.

The notable vegetable plant families are:

  • Squash family: cucumber, zucchini, winter squash, melons (heavy feeders)
  • Cabbage family: arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kale (heavy feeders)
  • Tomato family: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants (mostly heavy feeders)
  • Bean family: beans and peas (soil enrichers)
  • Lettuce family (heavy feeders)
  • Carrot family (mostly light feeders)
  • Onion family: onions, shallots, leeks (light feeders)
  • Spinach family: beets, spinach, Swiss chard (light to medium feeders)

Rotation by plant family will take some planning; you can match up light feeders to rotate with heavy feeders and separate the two with the soil builders.

Crop rotation by family is discussed more thoroughly in this article Crop Rotation Planning.

See also Cover Crops and Green Manure for the Vegetable Garden.

By Jenny Peterson

Tomato plants are heavy feeders, meaning they remove a lot of nutrients from the soil. That’s just one reason you don’t want to plant them in the same place two years running.

A few years back, I remember thinking, “Hmm, I had a bumper crop of tomatoes last year, but this year, not so much.” My overall harvest seemed lower, and the plants didn’t look as healthy as they had the year before. Well, it turns out there was a logical reason behind the change, one that had nothing to do with whether or not I had a green thumb—and everything to do with the fact that I wasn’t rotating my crops.

Put simply, crop rotation is a systematic method of deciding what to plant where in your vegetable garden from one year to the next, based on plant groups. Moving plants to new locations each year—something I wasn’t doing—improves your garden in two major ways. First, it helps keep your soil healthy and fertile. Planting the same thing in the same place year after year drains the nutrients from the soil that the plant needs in order to thrive and produce big harvests.

Second, rotating plant families helps manage soil-borne diseases like verticillium wilt, and soil-dwelling insects like corn rootworms. These types of diseases and pests prefer certain kinds of plants, and the longer the plants stay in the same soil, the better the chance that these enemies will show up and cause trouble.

Beans and peas add lots of nitrogen, which encourages leafy growth, back into the soil.

One approach to crop rotation is to divide your plants into these four basic groups: legumes, root crops, fruit crops, and leaf crops. Imagine your garden separated into four areas, as shown in the chart at the top of the page. Each successive year, you would move each group one spot clockwise. So, for example, you would plant your legumes in Area 1 one year, then the next year you’d move them to Area 2 while the leaf crops from Area 4 moved into now-vacant Area 1—and so on. (Read about another way to rotate your crops.)

Of course, you can adjust this method to best fit what you like to grow. In our garden, for example, we don’t plant a lot of legumes, so that bed remains fallow. A “fallow” bed is one that’s either left empty for a season in order to allow the soil rest and refuel, or (if you really want to kick things into high gear) planted with a cover crop—like alfalfa, rye, or white Dutch clover—to add fertility and improve drainage.

If you have a smaller garden, no worries—simply separate however many beds you have into growing areas for the different plant groups, rather than providing each with its own bed. Just know that it may be a bit more difficult to prevent diseases from spreading from one section to another, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on your plants and soil.

I’ll admit it: Crop rotation isn’t a new and sexy gardening trend. It is, however, a method that has been used successfully for centuries, and it’s made a real difference in the health and production of my garden. And really, isn’t it a relief to have at least one aspect of your gardening already figured out for you?

Jenny Peterson is a landscape and garden designer living in Austin, Texas. At her website,, you’ll find lots more design tips and DIY projects. Jenny is also an urban farmer and vegetable gardener, and is co-author of Indoor Plant Décor: The Design Stylebook for Houseplants.

Rotating garden crops is one of the most basic techniques gardeners, homesteaders, and farmers can use to assure plant

crop success. Everyone should consider rotating their crops, because it helps maximize productivity while minimizing pests and disease. The practice of rotating crops can be simple or complex – I like this system because it’s simple and easy to follow year after year.

What Is It

Farmers have been rotating crops since farming began, and there are many different strategies. In effect, you’re just making sure that when the bugs and diseases that like tomatoes wake up in the bed you grew tomatoes in last year, there aren’t tomatoes there for them to conveniently feast on this year. Instead, perhaps they’ll find carrots which they don’t happen to like, and die trying to find their way back to those tasty tomatoes.

How It Works (Legume <- Leaf <- Fruit <- Root)

I like this system that breaks the various garden plants into four groups based on their nutritional needs: leaf (nitrogen), fruit (phosphorus), root (potassium), and legume (fixes nitrogen). In this system, the leaf plants go where legumes were last year, because legumes fix nitrogen in the soil, and leaf plants need large amounts of nitrogen. The fruits follow the leaf plants because they need phosphorus, and too much nitrogen causes them not to have fruits. The roots follow the fruits because they need potassium and need nitrogen less than the fruits. Finally, the legumes follow the roots to put nitrogen back into the soil. Because this is a simple sequence, and it makes sense to me, I can remember how it goes each year. There’s a downloadable version of the graphic below here, if you’d like to keep it for your garden file.

The Leaf Group

The leaf group contains all the big nitrogen dependent crops like lettuce, greens, herbs, spinach, and the brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and kale). They need lots of nitrogen to grow strong leaves and stems but nitrogen is the hardest nutrient to keep in the soil. That’s why they follow the nitrogen fixing legumes in the rotation.

The Fruit Group

The fruits include tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggplant, and squash. These plants need phosphorus to set blossoms and develop fruit, but shouldn’t get lots of nitrogen or they’ll make all leaves and no fruit. Technically, corn is a fruiting crop but I grow it as an exception in the leaf group because it does need lots of nitrogen.

The Root Group

Onions, garlic, turnips, carrots, beets, and radishes are all root crops that need potassium but don’t need much nitrogen. So, the roots follow the fruits since there’s little nitrogen left at this point in the rotation. Potatoes are root crops but I plant them with the legumes. That’s because they’re members of the nightshade family and suffer from the same pests as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, so I don’t want them to follow the fruits. They seem to suffer a lot more pest damage when they do.

The Legume Group

Beans and peas are said to be nitrogen-fixing because they pull nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots. So they follow the roots and insure there’ll be lots of nitrogen available for the next leaf rotation.

That’s all there is to this simple crop rotation system, now I just need to get last year’s garden plan out and decide where everything will go this year. Wherever the peas and beans were last year, that’s where this year’s leafy vegetables will go, wherever the leafy crops were, that’s where the tomatoes will go, and so on. It actually makes planning the vegetable garden pretty simple.

Rotating Vegetables: Home Garden Crop Rotation

Last year, you lost half your tomato plants and a quarter of your pepper plants. Your zucchini plants have stopped producing and the peas are looking a bit peaked. You’ve been planting your garden the same way for years, and up till now, you’ve not had a problem. Maybe it’s time to consider home garden crop rotation. Let’s look at why is crop rotation important and how to do vegetable garden crop rotation.

Why is Crop Rotation Important?

Different vegetables belong to different families, and different botanical families have different nutritional needs and have different issues they are susceptible to.

When you grow plants from the same family in the same place year after year, they slowly leach away the specific nutrients that they need. Eventually, without rotating vegetables, the area will be depleted of the nutrients that family needs.

On a related note, vegetables in the same botanical family will also be susceptible to the same pests and diseases. Plant the same families in the same spot year after year and you may as well post a sign for an all-you-can-eat buffet for these pests and diseases.

Rotation of your vegetable garden plants will stop these issues from affecting your garden.

Home Garden Crop Rotation

Rotating vegetables at home is simple: make sure plants from the same family aren’t planted in the same spot for more than three years in a row.

If a spot has a pest or disease problem, don’t plant the affected botanical families there for at least two years.

Rotation of vegetable garden isn’t difficult; it just requires planning. Every year, before you plant your garden, think on where plants were planted last year and how they performed the year before. If they performed poorly the year before, consider how vegetable garden crop rotation could improve their performance.

Now that you know rotating vegetables and why crop rotation is important, you can incorporate this into the planning of your garden. Home garden crop rotation can greatly increase the yield of your garden.

Using Crop Rotation in Home Vegetable Garden

Use of crop rotation can lead to a healthier, more productive garden

Doug Higgins and Kristin Krokowski, UW-Extension Waukesha County
Revised: 4/9/2012
Item number: XHT1210

What is crop rotation? Crop rotation is one of agriculture’s oldest cultural practices. In a home vegetable garden, crop rotation involves changing the planting location of vegetables within the garden each season. Crop rotation is used to reduce damage from insect pests, to limit the development of vegetable diseases, and to manage soil fertility.

Why is crop rotation important? Each vegetable can be classified into a particular plant family. Plants belonging to the same family oftentimes are susceptible to similar insect pests and diseases, and have similar nutrient requirements. When vegetables classi¬fied in the same plant family are grown year after year in the same area of a garden, they provide insect pests with a reliable food source and disease-causing organisms (i.e., pathogens) with a continual source of host plants that they can infect. Over time, insect pest and pathogen numbers build in the area and damage to vegetable crops increases. Using crop rotation helps keep insect pest and pathogen numbers at low levels. In addition, the type of vegetable grown in a particular area in a garden has a direct effect on the fertility of the soil in that area. Each vegetable is unique in the type and amount of nutrients it extracts from the soil. Crop rotation can even out the loss of different soil nutrients and allow time for nutrients to replenish.

How do I plan a crop rotation for my home garden? Plan the crop rotation for your vegetable garden based on the types of vegetables that you grow. Vegetable crops in the same plant family should NOT be planted in the same area of a garden year after year. For example, if tomatoes are planted in a bed or area of a garden one year, vegetable crops such as peppers, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes should not be planted in the same bed or area the following year because all of these plants belong to the nightshade family (Solanacaeae). Table 1 provides a guide to common garden vegetables and their plant families.

Crop rotations vary in complexity. They can be as simple as changing vegetable locations annually, or can be extremely involved, using cover crops/green manures, and/or leaving parts of a garden fallow (i.e., planting nothing in an area) each year. Cover crops/green manures are planted before, after or in place of a vegetable crop to improve soil fertility and drainage, prevent erosion, and hold nutrients. See University of Wisconsin Garden Facts XHT1209, “Using Cover Crops and Green Manures in the Home Vegetable Garden” for details. Leaving an area fallow is often less desirable than planting a cover crop/green manure because an area without a planted crop tends to be more prone to erosion and can end up with a soil that does not drain properly. Alternatively, the area may become filled with weeds that will cause problems for future vegetable production.

For crop rotation to be most effective, DO NOT plant an area with vegetables or cover crops/green manures from the same plant family more than once every three to four years. This length of crop rotation can be difficult to achieve in small gardens, but even changing plant families grown in an area of a garden from year to year is helpful in managing insect pests and diseases. To help in planning crop rotations, keep a garden log or map as a reminder of where vegetables are planted each year.

Table 1. Common vegetables and their plant family classifications.


Carrot Family (Apiaceae)

carrot, celery, parsley, parsnip
Goosefoot Family (Chenopodiaceae) beet, spinach, Swiss chard
Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae) cucumber, muskmelon, pumpkin, summer squash, watermelon, winter squash
Grass Family (Poaceae) ornamental carn, popcorn, sweet corn
Mallow Family (Malvaceae) okra
Mustard Family (Brassicaceae) broccoli, Burssels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, collard, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip
Nightshade Family (Solanaceae) eggplant, pepper, potato, tomato
Onion Family (Alliaceae) chives, garlic, leek, onion
Pea Family (Fabaceae) bush bean, kidney bean, lima bean, pea, pole bean, soybean
Sunflower Family (Asteraceae) endive, lettuce, sunflower


Tags: disease Categories: Vegetable Care, Vegetables

166 Wilson Road,
Middle Swan

Crop rotation is a simple procedure that involves not planting the same crop in the same soil for a period of years. Depending on space available, the minimum recommended time is two years, while some gardeners prefer a rotation of up to six years.

The purpose is to prevent a build up of pathogens in the soil which can infect and re-infect particular families of plants. Another purpose is that plants absorb different quantities of soil nutrients, and repeated plantings will quickly deplete the soil. Crop rotation therefore allows for a more balanced soil fertility and microbial balance.

Firstly, you need to know how plants are related, ie. What family they belong to. Below is a list of some of the more common vegetables, sorted into family groupings. The basic principle of crop rotation is to not grow members of the same family, in the same soil, in consecutive seasons.

Kale, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kohl Rabi, Radish, Swede, Turnip, Mustard

Potatoes, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Capsicum, Chillies, Tobacco

Chives, Garlic, Leek, Onion, Spring Onion, Shallots

Beetroot, Silverbeet, Spinach


Globe Artichoke, Jerusalem Artichoke, Lettuce, Endive

Peas, Beans, Broad Beans, Snow Peas

Carrots, Celery, Celeriac, Coriander, Dill, Parsley, Parnsip

Cucumber, Choko, Marrow, Melons, Pumpkin, Squash, Zucchini, Gourds

What to grow, Where?

  • Make a list of the vegetables you would like to grow for the season, then group these together in family groups.
  • Think about your garden area, and divide it up according to the number of family groups you have selected. This can be as simple as allocating a number of rows in a traditional vegetable plot, or you can use completely separate beds in opposite corners of your garden!
  • Decide on an annual ordering sequence for placement of the family groups (see example following) and record this in a garden diary or notebook which you can keep handy. Record your successes and failures so you can alter plans if required, based on your experience.
  • A common vegetable to start the sequence are legumes. These plants have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen and store it in the soil in a form that is accessible to plants. It is particularly beneficial to allow these plants to break down into the soil once their productive life is over. This helps to add nitrogen rich organic matter to the bed.
  • With all of this ‘extra’ nitrogen available, it makes sense to follow this crop with a nitrogen hungry one to reap the benefits. Good examples are corn or leafy green vegetables.
  • Another general rule is to grow root crop vegetables after particularly hungry crops, as vegetables in the carrot or onion family tend to be good nutrient scavengers and can be grown in comparatively poorer soil than other crops.
  • Don’t forget to improve your soil along the way! You still need to feed your plants with all the goodies like compost, manure, worm castings and the odd liquid feed to get the best from your garden.
  • If you have the space, growing a green manure crop somewhere in the cycle can be an advantage. This helps to replenish nitrogen stores and is an excellent way to build up the organic matter in the soil. (Green Manure is sold by us in a pack of mixed seeds, seasonally available.)
  • The more crops you intend to grow, the more complex the overall plan becomes, but don’t despair! There are no hard and fast rules, so just have fun with your garden! If it all seems too hard, scale it right down to making sure you don’t follow with the same crop in the same spot year after year.
  • In small gardens, you can try growing certain crops in pots to give you more room, which also serves to rest the soil.

The following example is quite a complex one, done purely as an example. In this scenario, Winter and Summer crops are listed over a five year rotation, for four garden beds. (It would be much simpler if it were over five garden beds, but as you can see from the example there are a few things you can do to cheat the system and double up, still giving considerable periods of time between repeated plantings.)

The vegetables I have chosen for this example are:

Winter Cropping/Autumn Planting
Peas, etc. Potatoes, Broccoli/Cabbage/Cauliflower, Spinach/Beetroot, and a green manure crop.

Summer Cropping/Spring Planting
Corn, Cucumbers/Melons/Pumpkins, etc. Carrots, Tomatoes, Lettuce, Strawberries.


Bed 1

Bed 2

Bed 3

Bed 4

Winter 1




Green Manure

Summer 1





Winter 2



Green Manure/


Summer 2





Winter 3


Green Manure



Summer 3





Winter 4

Green Manure




Summer 4





Winter 5


Peas/Green Manure



Summer 5





Please note:
(Information provided is intended as a guide only – many variable factors such as garden bed location, sunlight, water needs, etc. may need to be considered, and are unique to your own backyard. Above all, have fun! Record your successes and failures as you go along and enjoy the journey!)

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