What Is A Good Crop To Rotate With Tomatoes? (5 Options)


Crop rotation helps you to get a better harvest from the plants in your garden, including tomatoes.  However, for crop rotation to work, you need to make a plan and stick to it.

So, what is a good crop to rotate with tomatoes?  Any legume is a good crop to rotate with tomatoes.  Legumes include peas, beans, peanuts, clover, and alfalfa.  These crops will help to restore nitrogen to the soil when planted after tomatoes. You can also plan for a 3, 4, or 5 year crop rotation schedule to further reduce the risk of disease.

Of course, legumes aren’t the only crop you can rotate with tomatoes! There are lots of other crops that you can choose for your crop rotation plan. 

In this article, we’ll look at some sample crop rotation schedules. We’ll also answer some common questions about crop rotation for tomatoes.

Let’s begin.

What Is A Good Crop To Rotate With Tomatoes?

If you want a crop to rotate with tomatoes, any legume is a good choice.

alfalfa
Alfalfa is a legume that restores nitrogen to soil and can also be used to feed animals.

Legumes include plants such as:

  • Alfalfa – a legume that is also known as Lucerne.  It has a deep root system, which makes it drought resistant.  Alfalfa’s deep roots also help it to pull up nutrients from deep in the soil. This allows it to access soil resources that shallow-rooted plants cannot.
  • Beans – a legume that grows in pods, similar to peas.  Green beans are one type of beans, and they come in both pole and bush varieties.  Pole beans grow tall, climbing up a pole or trellis, and they produce beans for a longer period of time than bush beans.  Bush beans grow along the ground, spreading out and covering more area than pole beans.  Pole beans are the better option if you want to save space and make harvesting easier on yourself.
  • Clover – a legume with distinctive 3-section leaves, which is often used as feed for livestock.
  • Peas – a legume that grows in edible pods (although some pods are tougher than others!)  Pea pods grow on tall climbing vines, so using a trellis for support is a good idea when growing peas.
  • Peanuts – a legume whose leaves grow above ground and whose pods (containing the seeds, or peanuts we eat) grow underground.
peas
Peas are another legume that you can rotate with tomatoes.

According to Wikipedia, legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules.  This means that legumes will restore nitrogen to soil that has been depleted by other crops, such as tomatoes or broccoli.

Some legumes (such as peas, beans, and peanuts) are grown for human consumption.  Other legumes (such as clover and alfalfa) are generally grown for livestock consumption.

Legumes may also be tilled into the soil after they grow. This helps to restore even more nutrients to the soil in a garden.

Crops such as clover and alfalfa are sometimes called cover crops, or green manure. These cover crops restore nutrients to the soil (just as ordinary manure does).

You can learn more about green manure crops (and their benefits) here.

clover
Clover is a cover crop, or green manure, that is a legume (it replaces nitrogen in the soil).

If you want to rotate tomatoes over a longer four-year or five-year period, you can plant in the following order:

  • Brassicas – crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Cucurbits – crops such as cucumbers, melons, and squash.
  • Legumes – crops such as peas, beans, peanuts, clover, and alfalfa. Clover and alfalfa would be a good choice if you have livestock you need to feed.
  • Root Crops – crops that grow in the ground, such as carrots, turnips, radishes, and beets.
  • Solanaceous – crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants. These are also known as nightshades.
jalapeno pepper plant
Peppers are a nightshade, falling into the same family as tomatoes (both are Solanaceous).

We’ll go into more detail about crop rotation plans and scheduling later.  Right now, let’s talk about why you should rotate tomato crops.

Why Rotate Tomato Crops?

There are some good reasons to rotate tomato crops with other plants in your garden on a regular schedule.  According to Wikipedia, growing the same plant in the same location over time will deplete nutrients in the soil.

Crop rotation helps to restore nutrients to the soil, improving the yields of tomatoes and other plants.  For example, legumes restore nitrogen to the soil, due to the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules.

According to the University of Maryland Extension, crop rotation also helps to prevent diseases in your garden.  For example, some diseases that affect tomatoes (such as early or late blight) will not affect legumes.

tomato early blight
Crop rotation can help to prevent the spread of diseases (such as late blight) in your garden.

Thus, crop rotation helps to slow the spread of these diseases, or eliminates them entirely.

The University of Minnesota also suggests a good alternative: using containers (pots, grow bags, etc.) to “quarantine” disease-prone plants. For example, heirloom tomatoes have not been bred to have the disease resistance that some hybrid varieties enjoy.

How Often Should You Rotate Tomatoes?

Tomatoes should be rotated with another crop at least every other year (that is, every 2 years). This leaves a year for tomato diseases in the soil to die off before you plant tomatoes in the same spot again.

However, it is even better to rotate tomatoes on a longer schedule (that is, if space allows). The Washington State University Extension suggests using a 3 or 4 year crop rotation schedule.

High Point Community Garden
Rotate tomatoes at least every 2 years, but ideally over 3, 4, or 5 years to reduce risk of disease.

Leaving more time between plantings of tomato crops gives the soil more time to recover nutrients used up by plants.  It also leaves more time for tomato diseases to die out if they are present in the soil.

Let’s look at some crop rotation plans for 2, 3, 4, and 5 year schedules.

 2 Year Crop Rotation Plan (for Tomatoes)

A 2 year crop rotation plan for tomatoes is useful if you do not have much space in your garden.  In a small space, it may not be practical to split the garden into 3 or more sections for crop rotation.

In that case, plant tomatoes in the first year, and a legume in the second year.  Rotate in this manner every other year.

The legumes will help to restore nitrogen to the soil in alternating years.  Here is what the 2 year crop rotation plan would look like:

Year 1
Tomatoes
Legumes
Year 2
Legumes
Tomatoes

3 Year Crop Rotation Plan (for Tomatoes)

A 3 year crop rotation plan is similar to the 2 year plan above, in that it includes one tomato section and one legume section.  However, you also add a third unplanted section to your plot.

Leaving a section of the garden unplanted allows the soil to “rest” for a year, since there are no crops taking up nutrients for growth.  You can then use compost or aged manure to restore nutrients and organic material to the soil in the unplanted section.

Just be sure to also mulch this unplanted section. Otherwise, you might get some unwelcome guests (weeds!) taking up residence in the space.

Here is what the 3 year crop rotation plan would look like:

Year 1
Tomatoes
Legumes
Unplanted
Year 2
Unplanted
Tomatoes
Legumes
Year 3
Legumes
Unplanted
Tomatoes

4 Year Crop Rotation Plan (for Tomatoes)

A 4 year crop rotation plan is a little bit different than the ones outlined above.  In this plan, you rotate between four different groups of plants in your garden:

  • In the first section, you grow tomatoes.
  • In the second section, you grow legumes (like beans and peas).
  • In the third section, you grow brassicas (like broccoli and cauliflower).
  • In the fourth section, you grow root crops (like carrots and turnips).

This leaves even more time between plantings of tomatoes.  As a result, diseases that affect tomatoes will have a lower chance of surviving in the soil until the next time tomatoes are planted.

The variety of crops planted will also help to balance out the nutrient demands on the soil from year to year.  Here is what the 4 year crop rotation plan would look like:

Year 1
Tomatoes
Legumes
Brassicas
Root Crops
Year 2
Root Crops
Tomatoes
Legumes
Brassicas
Year 3
Brassicas
Root Crops
Tomatoes
Legumes
Year 4
Legumes
Brassicas
Root Crops
Tomatoes

5 Year Crop Rotation Plan (for Tomatoes)

A 5 year crop rotation plan is similar to the 4 year plan above, except that it adds a fifth unplanted section to your plot.

Leaving a section of the garden unplanted allows the soil to “rest” for an extra year, and gives tomato diseases more time to die off.  Here is what the 5 year crop rotation plan would look like:

Year 1
Tomatoes
Legumes
Brassicas
Root Crops
Unplanted
Year 2
Unplanted
Tomatoes
Legumes
Brassicas
Root Crops
Year 3
Root Crops
Unplanted
Tomatoes
Legumes
Brassicas
Year 4
Brassicas
Root Crops
Unplanted
Tomatoes
Legumes
Year 5
Legumes
Brassicas
Root Crops
Unplanted
Tomatoes

It is helpful to keep track of your crop rotation plans with a journal.  That way, you won’t forget what was planted in previous years.  You will know exactly what to plant in each section of the garden and when to plant it.

Keep in mind that there are some cold-hardy plants that can survive the winter.  You might consider planting these in the “off-season” (or for a fall “succession planting”) to get an extra harvest.

For example, garlic survives over the winter (and needs 9 months to grow!)  Spinach is very cold hardy, to the point where it can survive frost and still produce for you in the following year.

What Not To Plant After Tomatoes

You should not plant any crop in the nightshade family directly after (or before) tomatoes.  There are several reasons for this (Note: nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants).

potatoes soil
Potatoes share many of the same diseases as tomatoes, including early blight and late blight. Peppers and eggplants can also be affected by these diseases.

First, all of the crops in the nightshade family have similar nutrient requirements.  Over time, they will deplete nutrients in the soil, unless you fertilize heavily.

Also, plants in the nightshade family share some diseases in common.  For example, early blight and late blight are two diseases that can both affect tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplants.

As a result, these plants can spread diseases between one another.

You can learn more about how tomato plants get blight (and how to prevent it) here.

Can I Plant Tomatoes In The Same Place As Last Year?

It is certainly possible to plant tomatoes in the same spot every year.  However, it is not a good idea.

As mentioned above, diseases such as early blight and late blight are more prone to spread through your garden when you plant tomatoes in the same spot every year. This is more likely in warm climates, which do not get cold enough to kill some of the diseases the live in the soil.

Using proper spacing for your tomato plants (18 to 24 inches apart) will help to avoid the spread of disease between adjacent plants.

tomato stakes
Leave 18 to 24 inches between tomato plants to reduce the chance of diseases spreading from plant to plant.

Also, nutrient deficiencies are more likely to occur when you plant the same crop in the same place every year.  Adding compost or fertilizer makes this less likely, but crop rotation helps to avoid the problem altogether.

Conclusion

Now you have some ideas for what crops you can use to rotate with tomatoes.  You also have the outline for crop rotation plans over 2, 3, 4, and 5 years.

I hope you found this article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who will find the information useful.  It’s time to get out your journal, map out your crop rotation, and prepare for a great tomato harvest this year!

If you are ready to get started with your tomato planting this year, you can learn all about tomato seed germination here.

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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