Crop rotation is an important and beneficial factor when planning a vegetable garden. Problems with diseases, insect pests, and soil fertility can increase when the same crop is planted in the same area in successive years. With careful planning and consideration, crop rotation can reduce issues with diseases and pests and balance the soil's nutrients.
Rotate Vegetables by Plant Family
Vegetable crops in the same botanical family are often susceptible to the same diseases and insects. For crop rotation to be most effective, gardeners should not plant vegetables belonging to the same plant family in the same location for 3 to 4 years (or 5+ years, if possible). A list of vegetables by plant family is provided below.
Create Multiple Beds or Zones to Make Rotation Easier
The best way to achieve crop rotation is to have multiple separate garden beds or plots. For example, establishing four raised beds allows you to rotate plant families around to each bed and only plant the same botanical family in the same raised bed once every four years.
It is possible to have a single garden space divided into multiple zones and rotate the crops among them. The disadvantage to this approach is that the plot is often cultivated all at once, resulting in soil mixing between the zones. Moving the soil around like this lowers the benefit you can receive from crop rotation as it spreads disease and pests overwintering in the soil to other zones.
Even when the garden set-up is not ideal, rotating crops as best you can is still helpful.
Weeds & Cover Crops Can Serve as Alternate Hosts
Various weeds common in and around vegetable gardens belong to some of the same plant families as the vegetables in your garden. This means they can serve as alternate hosts for diseases or insect pests. This is one reason why good weed control is important.
Cover crops have many advantages, but they add a layer of complexity regarding crop rotation. It will be important to know the plant family of the cover crop you may use and consider that in your crop rotation plan.
Plan and Document Your Crop Rotation Each Season
When planning crop rotations, keep a garden log, draw a map, create a diagram, or take a photo to help you remember where vegetables are planted each year and your plans for upcoming years.
Reduce Disease and Insect Pests
Vegetable crops in the same botanical family are often susceptible to the same diseases and insects. Many disease organisms are soil-borne and may persist in the soil for several years. Disease problems often increase when the same crop is planted in the same area in successive years. By rotating your vegetables annually, you disrupt the disease or pest's life cycle by removing the host plant needed to complete its lifecycle.
Manage Soil Fertility
Vegetable crops in the same botanical family tend to use the same type and amounts of nutrients from the soil. For example, members of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) tend to utilize a lot of nitrogen from the soil and members of the onion family (Amaryllidaceae) tend to utilize a greater percentage of potassium than other plants. Alternatively, members of the bean family (Fabaceae) can help add nitrogen to the soil. By rotating the crops planted in the area, you can even out the loss of different nutrients and give time for nutrients to replenish.
Many home gardens don't have adequate space to effectively rotate or space apart different vegetable crops to get the full benefit from crop rotation. While crop rotation in a small garden may be difficult, home gardeners should still rotate their vegetable crops as best they can, as it is still helpful in managing pests, disease, and soil fertility.
Below are a few tips to help rotate crops in home gardens with limited space.
Create Raised Beds
Building three or four raised beds can make the process of rotation very straightforward. By dividing your vegetable garden into smaller plots using raised beds, you can create a physical barrier between each garden area even when each bed is located close to one another.
Utilizing containers for especially disease-prone vegetables, such as heirloom tomatoes, is a great way to rotate a crop out of your main garden plot. Learn more about growing vegetables in containers in this publication: Container Vegetable Gardening.
Create Pocket Vegetable Gardens in the Landscape
If garden space is limited, small vegetable garden plots can be set up in different areas of your landscape taking advantage of the fun sun locations scattered around your yard and allowing you to easily rotate vegetables to different locations each year. While some garden tasks, like harvest and watering, are easier to do when all vegetables are in the same location, it is still possible to have vegetable garden plots wherever the conditions are good for growing vegetables, even if those spaces are relatively small and scattered around.
Coordinate with Neighbors and Friends
Work with family, friends, and neighbors to grow different vegetable crops in their respective gardens and share or trade the harvest. By having each neighbor or friend focus on growing one or two plant families in their garden and then switching the plant family next year, you both can allow for good crop rotation.
Additionally, you have the opportunity to grow more varieties and types of vegetables when the garden is divided among friends or neighbors. You may only have enough room to grow two different types of peppers and tomatoes in one-quarter of your garden, but if your neighbor can grow the squash and beans this year, then you have space to devote half your garden to growing 4 or 5 varieties of tomatoes and peppers. Your neighbor can do the same and now, between the two of you, there is much more variety of the different vegetables that you both can enjoy.
When rotating crops in the vegetable garden, your goal is to not plant the same plant family in the same garden location for at least 3 or 4 years.
Some families have several popular and frequently planted vegetables (such as Solanaceae, Cucurbitaceae, and Brassicaceae). Other families have only one or two commonly grown vegetables (such as Poaceae, Convolvulaceae, and Malvaceae). Vegetables from smaller plant families can be grouped together or used to fill in empty spots with other larger families.
Use the table below to determine which vegetables are in the same families and use this information to plan your rotations.
Plant Families of Vegetables Often Grown in Iowa
Nightshade Family (Solanaceae)
eggplant, pepper, potato, tomato, tomatillo, ground cherry, husk cherry
Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae)
cucumber, muskmelon, pumpkin, summer squash, watermelon, winter squash, canteloupe, melon
Pea Family (Fabaceae)
bush bean, green bean, wax bean, snap bean, kidney bean, lima bean, pea, pole bean, edamame
Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae)
chives, garlic, leek, onion, shallot, green onion, scallion
Mustard Family (Brassicaceae)
broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, Bok choy, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radish, rutabaga, turnip
Amaranth Family (Amaranthaceae)
beet, spinach, Swiss chard
Carrot Family (Apiaceae)
carrot, celery, parsley, parsnip, celeriac
Grass Family (Poaceae)
ornamental corn, popcorn, sweet corn
Sunflower Family (Asteraceae)
endive, lettuce, sunflower, salsify
Morning Glory Family (Convolvulaceae)
Mallow Family (Malvaceae)
Any system can be used for crop rotation provided the same plant family is not in the same location for at least three or four years. When creating a crop rotation system for your garden, remember that multiple plant families can be planted and rotated together in the same bed.
Below are some examples of crop rotation systems you can potentially use. No system will fit all your needs perfectly. They may include vegetable species you don't grow, or they may not give enough space for plant families you grow extensively. Some may utilize a four-year rotation and you may only have room for a three-year rotation.
Use these systems as a guide to create the best crop rotation system for your garden.
Example Crop Rotations
- Planting a Home Vegetable Garden
- Where to Put Your Vegetable Garden
- Small Plot Vegetable Gardening
- Container Vegetable Gardening
- Planting and Harvesting Times for Garden Vegetables
- Harvesting and Storing Vegetables
- Vegetable Harvest Guide
- Starting Garden Transplants at Home
- Weed Management in the Home Garden
- Integrated Pest Management for Home Gardens and Landscapes
- Growing Organic Vegetables in Iowa
- Top 13 Vegetables to Donate to Food Pantries
- Suggested Vegetable Varieties for the Home Garden