Square foot gardening is most often used for growing veggies, herbs and greens in a small space. It’s a simple concept that cuts down on gardening chores, saves money, water and seed, and grows healthier plants that are easily harvested when you want. Basically, square foot gardening is the theory that instead of planting in rows, you build a gardening grid of one foot squares, fill with lightweight soil, and manage crop rotation by simply replanting an empty square whenever you harvest. Here is all about what square foot gardening is, and how to use it to get the best crop ever!
Square Foot Gardening
Why Use Square Foot Gardening?
Benefits of gardening this way?
- You can grow a lot more in a much smaller space with this intensive planting method.
- Instead of sowing seeds thickly though out a row, you only need 2-3 seeds per square to grow one plant that doesn’t need the thinning that rows require.
- Watering is more direct, therefore you waste less.
- Weeds are easy to control in square foot gardening, as they are in a controlled space, with lightweight soil and are easily accessible.
- Fertilizing becomes easier, and less is used, again because of the controlled space.
- It looks more attractive, and less chaotic than the typical veggie garden.
- The plants are healthier due to crop rotation that happens though the natural progression of the squares, and better air circulation.
- Having the plants close together allows you to spot and treat pest infestations easily.
- You can build and grow a square foot garden right on top of even hard clay soil.
Convinced? Here are the easy steps to square foot gardening success!
How to Build a Grid Garden Planter
Build a bottomless box, 4×4 feet square.
Place the box onto any surface. Since this will be a raised garden technique and the plants grow quickly in a short season, you won’t need more than one foot square of soil per plant. Basically, that means it does not matter what kind of soil is below the box. If you choose to amend the soil below the box, it will allow your roots to grow deeper into healthy soil and be more drought resistant, however.
Square Foot Gardening Soil Mix
Fill the box with a lightweight planting mix. Hardcore square foot gardeners will suggest that a blend of 1/3 compost, 1/3 vermiculite and 1/3 peat is the best mix. However, I have had luck with any good quality planting mix. Do NOT use soil from your yard. It will compact, and not provide a healthy base for your plants. Remember, if you decide to amend the soil beneath the box, use the same soil mix as you do to fill the garden planter.
How to Make a Square Foot Gardening Grid
Mark out a one foot square grid system. You can do this with stakes and string, wood slats, or simply decorative stones to mark the “lines”. It is simply a guide for you to know where to plant.
We love this take on square foot gardening below from ‘Art and Appetite‘. The terraced planters are space savers too!
Here is a view of how ‘Our Daily Legacy‘ marked out their grid garden. Great square foot garden tips there as well!
In case you don’t have the time to build your own planter box, we have found a good selection of raised garden beds at Wayfair. The “Edgardo Cedar Raised Garden” is a great choice (along with a bunch of others there). It comes in several different sizes, it’s cedar, so it will last and it’s perfect for a square foot garden. It’s an easy to assemble raised garden bed kit and it’s free shipping!
We love this “4ft x 4ft Corten Steel Raised Garden”. Modern and sleek, the Veradek corten steel garden bed planter is the perfect addition to any garden or backyard. Shipped in it’s raw steel state, but will gradually develop a gorgeous rich rust patina finish over time! Reviews are excellent and shipping is free.
Square Foot Gardening Planting Plans
Plant 2-3 seeds or one transplant into each grid space for larger plants, up to 6 plants or more each grid space for smaller plants, like leaf lettuce. Remember to plant the taller plants on the north or east side of the box so they won’t shade all the shorter plants. Here is a square foot gardening chart from ‘Atlantis Hydroponics‘ that shows an idea of how many can fit into each grid space, based on what you are planting.
Square Foot Garden Plants
Water gently, and fertilize as you would any vegetables or herbs, according to their needs. When plants are ready for harvest, replant into that grid space. However, always replant a different type of plant than what was there before. This creates a natural “crop rotation” and helps prevent disease. For instance, if you planted tomatoes in grid box 1,2, and 3 this year, next year plant onions or some other vegetable there. ‘It’s on the Tip of My Tongue‘ created this 4′ x 10’ box with a planting diagram of what they planted where.
Other Ideas for Square Foot Gardening
Enjoy fresh vegetables and herbs! A couple of things to note…
- You can make a larger box than 4×4 feet, but make sure it is in one foot increments, and no deeper than 4 feet to make care of the plants easier. You need to be able to reach across the planter to weed, plant and harvest without having to walk in it. Walking in the box would compress the soil mix and defeat the purpose of this gardening method! 4×8 and 4×12 are common sizes if you are looking for larger garden planter..
- Use a material to build the box that is safe to grow edibles in. There is a lot of controversy about using pressure treated wood or railroad ties, and our opinion is just don’t. Anything that could leach chemicals into the soil is never a good choice to grow food you are going to feed your family.
- Do not walk in your square foot garden, as this will compact the soil, preventing air and water from freely getting to the roots. This is one of the keys of square foot gardening success!
- You can plant pretty things in here too! Especially blooming companion plants, like marigolds. But really, sky is the limit, even cutting flowers can be grown in a square foot garden!
This garden is from ‘Jungle Taming‘, and shows decorative plants mixed with herbs and veggies in a 4×4 box. Note, there is not much room between plants here. This is what intensive garden methods are all about. There is also no room for weeds to grow or water to get wasted.
If you want to know more about square foot gardening, the definitive book by the creator of the theory is at ‘Amazon’, “All New Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew. This is the fully updated edition.
That’s all there is to it! Have you tried square foot gardening? Share your experience in comments! Then jump over to our posts on DIY Raised Beds, 8 Healing Herbs you can Grow and DIY Sprinklers, Soakers and Drip Systems!
Great article. I feel excited to read everything about square foot gardening in detail. I am a big fan of this technique. We can grow in less space in an organized way. I planted tomatoes and mint this year and am planning to go with the squash this year. Can you suggest to me how many boxes it would take to grow well?
Hopefully, you will guide me more about this. Keep on writing more and more. I love to hear from you.
Your garden pictures are beautiful. Makes me excited to get mine planted. What are the water bottles in the one picture for?
That blogger used them as drip irrigation, with small holes in the bottom to seep out over time.
What are the plastic bottles that are in the pictures? I tried them the opposite way and they didn’t work at all. Does turning them as the picture show work?
If you follow the blogger link with that photo, they explain it as an irrigation drip system, with small holes in the bottom of the bottles to slowly release water.
Drip irrigation has emitters or is pre emitted. There are emitters that drp 1/4 gallon to 1 gallon an hour. It works great but squirrels to chew it up.
I’ve used this method for about 7 years now. Squash take at least 2 boxes and that’s if you train them o grow into upside down tomatoe cages. Tomatoes I grow in big pots not in my sfg because they get just huge. But the rest usually works
Not to be Debbie downer but the corn needs a bigger block to pollinate the most u can plant is 2 per square foot so that’s only 4 plants
I usually plant 2-3 seeds together and have found that four such plantings by four the other way (16) does pretty well. I have had my corn work in a 4′ box this way.
Clarification: I use the whole 4′ square box for corn. I do not think it would work to have just one square foot of corn unless you painstakingly pollinated it yourself.
Our garden is being downsized from 40’x15′ to raised beds. My question is how can you plant a summer squash (and similar plants) in a square when the tend to grow to 3 wide? Won’t it shade/kill out near by plants?
We would suggest picking varieties that are compact, one good choice would be http://www.burpee.com/vegetables/squash/squash-summer-cosmos-hybrid-prod003166.html… if it would work for containers (most online catalogs will tell you) it should have no problem in a square foot garden. The other option is to make sure to plant taller plants on the north side of the bed so they don’t shade the smaller plants…
Just an idea – I have been growing in a raised bed (in lines, which I plan to change this year), but I grow my squash outside of the raised bed in tires. Luckily my husband is a mechanic so we have access to however many free tires we want, but this way the squash is still in a “raised bed” but can be placed away from the rest of the plants to allow room to grow. I had great success with this method last year. Personally, I probably would not attempt growing squash in the same bed as my other veggies because my other veggies would get bullied out or overshadowed.
Tires work for potatoes, too. Keep adding a new tire on top as the plant grows and you will get a stack of potatoes from one plant.
I would like to know what the light bulb looking things are in your garden beds
Yes, Susie, it will. I won’t plant squash in mine again!
Place your squashes, melons, beans, etc on the outside squares or share a square ( I have 4×8 beds) then bend a 16ft cattle panel ($25-30) into an arch between the beds, over the walkway. Train them up and over so they don’t take up space and get plenty of airflow- less mildew. Your fruits hang down and are easy to find, don’t lay on the ground. You might need to make pantyhose supports for the big stuff.
Your points about the benefits of a square foot garden are very helpful and make me want to start one of my own! My neighbors have square foot gardens and another thing they said it helps with is to keep critters out. Their wooden slats are a little taller than the ones in the pictures, so that might be what helps them so much with this problem.
Dont u think that the wood will rot, have u waterproofed it?
Cedar doesn’t rot with moisture.
LOL yes, we “hardcore” SFGers recommend the Mel’s Mix growing medium formula since it never has to be replaced like bagged soils and doesn’t need additional fertilizer – just add a trowel of compost EVERY TIME you harvest a square.
Just wanted to let you know that the spacing chart is WAY off in my of its suggestions. Just a few mistakes – leaf lettuce 4, head lettuce 1, pole beans 8. Even grown vertically, pumpkins need more than 1 sq ft.
Kim ~ Certified SFG Instructor
Thanks for the great article and for encouraging everyone to grow their own food!
Where do you get Mel’s mix
Most people just make their own, but apparently Home Depot carries it… http://www.melbartholomew.com/want-to-have-mels-mix/
I have been running square foot gardens in the Bay Of Plenty NZ for about 5 years now. I agree that the plants per square is way off. I put 1 lettuce per square and 1 celery etc. Even then they often crowd and take over neighboring squares. Tomatoes use about three squares each. I put a mix pack of 2 cherry, 2 Roma and 2 Beefsteak style tomatoes and all my neighbour’s have tomatoes too. I put paracord above the ground as square dividers and cable tie (zip tie?) 1/2″ poly pipe with a dropper per square for irrigation. This works brilliantly with very little water waste.