For many of you who live further north, the summer growing season is just hitting its prime.  But down here in central Texas, our gardens are winding down; my tomato plants have shriveled up in the heat and the cucumber plant is  long gone.  It’s time to plant for the fall!   When you’re pulling out summer crops to make room for winter produce, you might be wondering how to set up your fall garden. Does it matter what you plant where?

In fact, it makes a big difference!  Crop rotation is a key element to successful gardening.  If you plant the same families of veggies in the same places, the soil will already be depleted of important nutrients and your plants won’t be able to flourish.  Rotate your crop families, and your veggies will thrive.

The Nine Major Plant Families

When you’re planning your crop rotation, you need to decide what it is you really want to grow, and then figure out to which families those plants belong.  These crops are grouped together in families because they require similar nutrients and/or are susceptible to similar diseases.  Here are the most common veggies, fruits, and flowers that you might be growing in your backyard:

1.  Onion Family:

Onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks

Photo by Nancy McClure

2.  Sunflower Family:

Lettuce, sunflowers, and some leafy greens

3.  Spinach Family:

Spinach, beets, and chard

4.  Cucumber Family:

Cucumber, melons, squash, and gourds

5.  Pea Family:

Peas and beans

6.  Tomato Family:

Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and potatoes

Photo by Ajith  Kumar

7.  Cabbage Family:

Cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rutabagas, kohlrabi, kale and many other leafy greens

8.  Grass family:

Corn, wheat, oats, and rye

9.  Carrot Family:

Carrots, celery, parsley, and parsnips

Setting Up Your Rotations

Ideally, you want to set up your garden on a three-year rotation plan.  For example, if you plant tomatoes in the north-east corner of your garden bed, you would want to wait three years before planting tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, or potatoes in that same north-east corner, because all those veggies are in the same family.

This isn’t always possible, of course, due to space limitations and the fact that different veggies require different amounts of space to grow.  But that’s the ideal.  It may be helpful to get out some plain white paper or graph paper and plan out your garden for the fall, keeping in mind the nine crop families, as well as the principles of companion planting.

Photo by Logan Ingalls

What to Plant

If you’re wondering what you can plant in your fall garden, Mother Earth News has a great online tool called What to Plant Now.  You can choose your geographic region and then choose the month of the year, and it will tell you what you can plant now – indoors as seeds, outdoors as transplants, and outdoors as seeds.

Use this tool together with crop rotation and companion planting and your garden will have a much better chance of success.

Have you started a fall garden?  What are you planning to grow?  I have acorn and butternut squash on the brain…