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Square Foot Gardening

Make the most out of your garden space by implementing square foot gardening into your garden plans. Since its development in the 1970s by civil engineer, Mel Bartholomew, the square foot gardening method has rapidly become a strong gardening trend.

Square foot gardening provides the opportunity for gardeners to grow robust, bountiful gardens while requiring less space, time, and effort than traditional backyard garden rows. Find out more about this simple way of creating easy to manage raised beds and determine if this method is right for you.

A raised bed garden divided into square foot sections with garden twine. Shallow depth of field with only a bit of the radish buds in focus in the closest square.

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square foot gardening maximizes space by planting in garden beds with a gridwork composed of 1-foot square sections. This proven method of gardening takes some planning when it comes to plant-selection and space requirements, but it is a quintessential way of getting the most out of your garden. This method relies on a structured approach to building small, yet concentrated garden beds that produce robust yields.

Benefits of Square Foot Gardening

There are several benefits of using square foot gardening that make it a favorable option for both beginners and seasoned gardeners.

High Yielding and Space Saving Harvest

Planting a small dense garden bed will result in a highly fruitful garden from a small section of your yard’s real estate.  This makes square foot gardening an optimal choice for gardeners with limited growing space.

Low Maintenance

With an intensely planted space-efficient garden, there is a lot less work involved in caring for your garden bed.  Densely packed plants act as a natural mulch that shields out weeds from taking over in the garden bed, which minimizes the need for constant weeding. Watering and harvesting are more focused on one easy to access space, which saves time. Also, when you co-plant your square foot garden grid with great companion plants, your plants will do a lot of the work of feeding, pest repelling, and necessary shading.

Quick Setup

Square foot gardens can be constructed and planted with quick turnaround time. Since you can place a raised bed in just about any location in your yard without arduous soil prep work, it is great for beginning gardeners who are eager to get started.

Ease of Vertical Gardening

A square foot garden can easily accommodate vertical climbing structures and trellises which can be installed right into the sides of the garden boxes. You can utilize space efficiently by growing plants like pole beans and cucumbers vertically without having to dig into the ground to try to secure such climbing structures.

A raised bed garden with PVC pipe watering system dividing the bed into one foot square sections. Onions and carrots are growing in the garden.

Drawbacks of Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening does not come without its drawbacks. Here are some things to consider when planning this type of intensely planted garden space.

Start-Up Costs

There are some expenses involved in constructing and filling a raised bed with the proper soil and a plethora of plants. However, this structure will last for many seasons and is an excellent investment in your future gardens and the large amount of densely packed plants will produce a large yield that will pay for itself in fruit.

Challenges with Soil Depth

Traditionally, the square foot garden method requires a garden bed that is only a depth of 6 inches. This shallow garden bed can pose a challenge for many vegetables, which need to stretch their root systems and plunge deep into the soil to seek essential nutrients. We recommend extending those parameters to closer to 12inch depth of your square foot garden bed.

Spacing and Airflow

Square foot garden beds can sometimes work against plants that need a lot of room to grow or are prone to fungus on their leaves. A successful crop requires a reasonable exchange of air through its leaves, which can be inhibited by plants that are planted too closely. You may want to utilize square foot gardening for more compact vegetable varieties and designate another space for larger vegetables like corn and other vigorous viners.

Irrigation Needs

While there are less overall maintenance and more precise watering involved in square foot gardening, there are a lot of plant roots in a small space that is competing for moisture. The soil in square foot gardens can be depleted of moisture must faster than when plants are more spread out. In the heat of summer, daily watering or the use of soaker hoses is recommended.

Kellogg Garden Organics

All Natural Raised Bed & Potting Mix

**Product not available in AZ, CA, HI, NV, UT. For a comparable product in these states click here.

How to Create a Square Foot Garden Bed

You can get started with square foot gardening with a few easy steps.

Build a Garden Box

For square foot gardening, you will need to build a raised garden bed or reallocate one that you already have. Typically, for best ease of use and accessibility to the garden bed, it is recommended to start with raised beds that measure approximately 4 ft x 4 ft with depths of 6-12 inches.

You can choose from a variety of materials to build your garden boxes, such as brick, cement blocks, or metal. If using wood, just make sure that you are using untreated lumber, such as cedar, fir, or pine, to eliminate the concern of plant and soil contamination.

Fill Your Garden Box with Soil

For successful gardening, fill your raised garden bed with fertile, organic, well-draining soil. All Natural Raised Bed and Potting Mix is specially formulated for filling your raised beds with the right combination of soil for a garden box. Well-decomposed compost also works well when filling raised garden beds with soil.

Add a Grid to the Garden Box

You can create a grid out of thin wooden slats or string that is crisscrossed to form 12-inch x 12-inch squares and secured into the sides of the raised garden box with screws.

Vegetable Planter with Trellis.

Helpful Guidelines for Planting in Square Foot Garden Beds

There are some general rules to follow when it comes to planting certain varieties of plants within your garden grid. Plants grow in all shapes and sizes and have different space and light requirements to thrive. Individual plants need more space to grow than others, and some can be planted more densely. Here are some valuable tips for ensuring successful square foot gardening crops.

1 Plant per Square

The following plants require the entire square in a square foot garden bed.  When planting, one centralized hole should be dug inside the square and plant the seedling or seed in the hole.

Celery Cabbage Oregano
Corn Pepper Parsley
Eggplant Tomato Peppers
Kale Eggplant Potatoes
Lettuce Melon (supported) Rosemary
Okra Winter squash (supported) Sweet potatoes
Tomatoes (supported) Broccoli

2 Plants per Square with Support Structures

Utilize vertical gardening in your square foot gardening plan by planting two plants or seeds with a climbing structure inside each of the square foot sections in your raised bed.

Cantaloupe    Watermelons
Cucumbers    Winter and Summer Squash
Pumpkins    Cucumbers

4 Plants per Square

You can plant this selection of vegetables in your square foot sections with one plant in each corner of the square.

Swiss chard Leeks
Marigolds Lettuce
Strawberries Onions
Bulb onions Radishes
Basil Rutabaga
Garlic Swiss chard

9 Plants per Square

The following list of plants can be planted in a grid-like pattern within one square of the square foot garden, ensuring that they are evenly spaced in 9 sections.

Beans (with support for pole varieties) Onions
Beets Peas
Cilantro Spinach
Garlic Turnips
Leeks Radishes

Implement Companion Plants in Your Garden Plan

Companion planting is an optimal way to improve your square foot garden’s health and fruitfulness. When you plant compatible plants near each other, they can mutually benefit from each other’s attributes. Planting different kinds of plants close to each other within your garden grids can boost growth, repel pests, and sometimes even improve the flavor of your harvest. Discerning what works well together well and which plants can adversely affect each other can significantly improve the productivity of your garden.

Start Small and Build Upon Your Successes

Give square foot gardening a try, and as you gain success and confidence, add more boxes, and even make them larger.  Starting with one grid full of square feet sections at a time, you’ll find that growing nutritious, delicious, and plentiful crops have never been easier.


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2 Comments

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    • Hi Kendal! Yes, root veggies do well in partial shade. Leafy greens, scallions, garlic, and some peas and beans can do well. You can also try broccoli and cauliflower.

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