As a gardener, you’re probably already aware of the importance of crop rotation and may be curious if it also applies to flowers. Since you already have to replant your annuals every year, should you make a point to plant them somewhere new each time?
Flowers don’t need to be rotated from season to season, but they can benefit from the practice. Rotating your annual flowers can improve nutrient availability as the soil nutrients deplete over time. Plant rotation can also help break the life cycle of a pest infestation by removing the host plants.
If you’re interested in learning more about plant rotation, its benefits, caveats, and how you can implement it in your garden, keep reading until the end of this article.
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Benefits of flower rotation
Before diving into the benefits of plant rotation, I want to quickly explain what the practice entails for any newbies reading through this section.
Crop rotation refers to moving your garden crops to a new location every growing season to avoid pest, disease, or soil fertility issues. It’s common practice with vegetables, but it’s not widely discussed regarding flowers.
The process is simple, but it still requires some careful planning. Nonetheless, the benefits it can bring to your garden usually make it worth it. Let’s explore some of these advantages:
- Crop rotation prevents nutrient depletion. Like vegetable crop rotation, flower rotation can help ensure that no one soil macronutrient is depleted from season to season. For instance, since they are legumes, sweet peas create nitrogen in the soil. Plant a nitrogen-loving plant, such as sunflowers, in the same spot next year, and you will have a nutrient cycle built into your garden.
- It improves the quality of the soil. The soil structure improves when alternating between shallow and deep-rooted flowers each year. The longer tap root will drill deep into the ground, bringing nutrients closer to the surface for the next round of blooms. You might also notice better drainage, aeration, and water retention in your soil as you rotate crops.
- The practice also leads to better pest and disease control. Most pests and microbes prefer to invade a specific host. Moving your plants around your garden can prevent these problems from persisting.
- Though less related to soil and plant health, rotating crops allows you to try out new plant combinations and locations. If you don’t feel obligated to replant the same flower in the same spot each year, you might be more inclined to experiment with new garden layouts.
Here’s a great breakdown from Ben at Grow Veg:
Flower rotation tips
Rotating your flowers can sound intimidating, as it requires some planning and labor. In this section, I’ll share some tips to make the process less challenging:
- Plan ahead. It helps to be well-prepared when rotating your plants to ensure you get a burst of colors during the blooming season. Create a map containing the layout of the garden space and take note of the varieties you plan to grow, their requirements, and the growth sequence (spring blooming, summer blooming, etc.) that might work best.
- Choose the right flowers. Choose varieties with similar soil pH, temperature, and light preferences. It will help ensure that anything you plant at a particular spot every year will grow healthy and produce beautiful blooms.
- Conduct regular soil tests. Flower rotation in itself will improve soil health. However, it’s still a good idea to get your soil tested every two years to ensure everything is going according to plan, especially at the beginning of the rotation cycle. Later on, as the soil quality improves, you can cut back to once every three to five years unless you notice weak plant growth or other problems.
Alternatives to flower rotation
Whether you’re growing permanent perennials or you don’t want the hassle of rotating your annual flowers each year, you can maintain healthy soil and plants by amending the soil and practicing companion planting and succession planting.
Huw Richards mentions a few of these points in his video, explaining why he largely avoids crop rotation in his vegetable garden:
Soil testing and amending
Test your soil annually to know which amendments are necessary. To do so, collect soil samples from different parts of your garden and send them to a nearby lab to know your soil’s current pH and nutrient levels. The results will help you take appropriate steps in amending your soil.
A soil test can shed light on a deficiency or excess that might hinder your plants’ growth. Addressing these issues can ultimately make flower rotation unnecessary and save you a lot of work next season.
My favorite garden soil supplies
When you know what condition your soil is in, it’s much easier to add anything that’s missing before your plants start to suffer.
- Find out your soil’s pH and macronutrient levels with an easy soil test kit.
- Even without a soil test, worm castings are a safe bet to add to any garden, and your plants will love them. Wiggle Worm Soil Builder is a high-quality amendment that I add to all my garden beds that need a boost.
- I often reference Farmer Jesse of The Living Soil Handbook on this blog. He’s a professional farmer with tons of information about soil science and how to build a healthy garden.
Find the rest of my “use on the daily” garden gear on my resources page.
Companion and succession planting
Instead of swapping out entire beds of flowers at the end of the season, try building diversity during the growing season. If your spring sweet peas are done blooming by June, there’s plenty of time to follow them with a planting of zinnias or sunflowers.
Or, you can try companion planting two or more flowers at the same time, such as pest-resistant marigolds next to beetle-vulnerable dahlias.
Both scenarios introduce two plants into the same patch of soil to diversify the plants’ nutrient needs and potentially interrupt the pest’s travel from plant to plant, slowing down its spread.
Leave perennials in place
Flower rotation is not ideal for most perennials since they’re generally considered permanent plants. For instance, peonies can grow extensive root systems and grow best when left undisturbed. They can grow undisturbed in the same area for decades. Shrubs like hydrangeas don’t need to be rotated or divided.
If you grow mostly perennials, rest assured that once you plant your garden, you won’t need to worry about rotating or relocating any of them.
Recommended flowers for rotation
If you have trouble choosing flowers for rotation in your garden, you can choose from the list below. They also make excellent companion plants if you decide to go that route:
- Cosmos: Arguably the best annuals you can grow in your garden to replace other flowers during rotation, cosmos can tolerate a wide range of soils and thrive in water-restricted areas. They can also grow in partial shade or full sun.
- Marigolds: If you have pest problems in your garden, marigolds can help. These flowers are multipurpose plants that can help combat soil-dwelling pests like nematodes. They’re also low-maintenance and present many benefits to the other plants in your garden.
- Nasturtiums: Like zinnias, nasturtiums are multipurpose plants that draw pests away from your valuable crops and thrive in any soil. They can also invigorate dull areas in your garden, as they can grow in partial shade or full sun. Be sure to choose the bush variety to control its spread in your garden.
- Sunflowers: These cheerful flowers have a surprisingly long tap root, making them a perfect choice to plant in a new bed to break up the soil. They can pave the way for shallow-rooted flowers like alyssum and pansies or nitrogen-fixing plants like sweet peas.
Remember that you can rotate all your flowers yearly if you want to. This year, your garden bed may be planted with zinnias, sunflowers, and black-eyed Susan. Next year, you might rotate the bed to be a combination of sweet peas, cosmos, and scabiosa. The flowers mentioned above are valuable crops that can have specific benefits but don’t feel limited to only those.
While rotation isn’t always necessary for flowers, it can offer many benefits, such as interrupting pest lifecycles and diversifying soil biology. However, if you find the practice too tedious or impractical, you can still achieve some of its benefits simply by amending the soil to grow the healthiest (and bug-resistant) plants possible.
As a bonus, rotating your flowers gives you a chance to get creative and experiment with the appearance of your garden every year. If you sneak in a few more plants while you’re at it, I won’t tell!
Here are a few more articles to help you plan and maintain the healthiest garden: