Plan now for crop rotation in your vegetable garden

Crop rotation involves not planting the same vegetables or family in the same place each year and helps decrease the chance of insect and disease problems, as well as manage soil fertility.

Photo credit: Dave Gunn, Flickr.com

Photo credit: Dave Gunn, Flickr.com

While you’re waiting for winter’s snow to give way to spring planting, plan this year’s vegetable garden. When planning your garden, there are many things for you to consider. You can learn more about vegetable garden planning by checking out Gardening in Michigan’s webpage on Vegetable Gardening – Getting Started. While planning, Michigan State University Extension recommends incorporating a Smart Gardening practice of crop rotation. Using crop rotation may reduce your need for pesticides and can help in managing soil fertility.

Crop rotation in a vegetable garden means not planting the same plant or member of a plant family in the same location every year. If you have enough space, not planting in the same place for three to four years is even more effective. The practice of rotating your crops helps reduce the damage caused by pests, limit the development of diseases and manage soil fertility.

Many insect pests and diseases will overwinter in the soil. If you remove their immediate food source by placing vegetable plants in a different place than last year, they have less chance of survival; therefore, their numbers will decrease. Different plants use different amounts of available nutrients within the soil. Some plants, like peas and beans, give back nutrients to the soil and will increase nitrogen levels in the soil. Rotating deeply rooted crops, like carrots or beets, where shallow rooted crops, such as greens, were planted will help improve the soil structure in an area.

If you rotate the types of vegetables located within a certain area over one or more years, you can build back the nutrients that may have been depleted from one type of crop as well as continue to improve the water holding and air capacity of the soil. Consider using organic forms of mulch, such as lawn clippings and leaves to also help add nutrients to your soil and reduce moisture loss. Check out more smart soil principles at Gardening in Michigan.

Determine what vegetables you would like to grow. Find out what family they belong to; use Virginia Cooperative Extension’s plant family chart. This chart also includes cover crops, ornamental flowers and weeds that belong to each family. Again, you want to stay away from planting plants from the same family in the same place each year, so plan your crop rotation accordingly. Typically, root crops are followed by legumes, which precede leafy crops, which precede fruiting crops.              

If you have a planting map from last year, you can adjust this year’s planting locations from that. If you didn’t draw out your garden last year, then plan to do so each year. This way, you can refer back to the yearly maps to incorporate crop rotation. Another suggestion is to take photos of your garden. You can also note annual observations related to any pests, diseases and nutrient issues you may have.

For more information on a wide variety of Smart Gardening topics, visit the Gardening in Michigan website at www.migarden.msu.edu or contact MSU’s toll-free garden hotline at 1-888-678-3464.

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