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!