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Garden Planning 101: Mapping Out Your Gardens for Maximum Production

Updated on March 17, 2016

When I first got into square foot, intensive gardening, I realized that while the potential for much larger produce yields in my small space were indeed possible, it would take a lot more planning than simply tossing some seeds willy-nilly on the ground.

I needed to make sure I was making the bet use out of my space. To do that, I needed to figure out how many plants I wanted to grow, and decide where to plant them based on which plants would grow well next to each other, how much space they needed and how long they took to become harvestable.

I found that with a little advanced planning, I could dramatically increase what I produced. Garden planning helped me have less wasted space in my gardens because I can plant small, fast maturing plants with larger, slower growing ones; and have harvestable plants throughout the entire growing season (well, almost) by starting plants indoors well before they could be planted outside and succession planting.

Getting Started

You'll need to be able to accurately visualize how much space you have available. You can purchase gardening software, make a grid on Excel or even use plan old grafting paper. The nice thing about making your plans on a computer is that you can save and reuse the plans (or at least the garden plots) year after year.

Making a Garden Plan in Excel

To make your garden plan on Excel, re-set the cell size to .15" squares. Each cell will represent one 3"X3" space in your garden. Use the draw borders feature to creature your garden beds using a double line or bold line. Then, change the border to a dotted gray line and mark each square foot in the garden bed. (See my garden plan example). That's it. Now, you could print this page and add the plants by hand or use the Insert shape feature to add plants, whichever is easiest for you.

Don't worry about making the garden plan fit on one page. When you are ready to print, just go to scale page and select Scale worksheet to fit on page. Easy.

Making a Garden Plan on Graphing Paper

You can also graph out your gardens on Graphing paper. Mark the outline of the bed and each square feet in permanent ink. If you are able, scan and save a copy once you get this step done so you don't have to redo it every year. Then use pencil to note plants.

Plant Spacing

One of the most important bits of information you'll need to note is how closely you can plant each type of plant. Too far away and you are wasting valuable space; too close together and your planted will be stunted. Use the following as a guide when planning your garden. If you are new to square foot gardening, the spacing may seem too close, but square foot gardening is a tried and true technique that implements companion, vertical and intensive gardening techniques.

  • 1 plant per square: tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes, cabbage, bush beans, most herbs (if harvested only occasionally, head lettuce, winter squash and melon (grown vertically), celery

  • 2 plant per square: asparagus, most herbs (if harvested frequently)

  • 4 plants per square: Corn, thyme, strawberries, cilantro

  • 6 plants per square: Beans, peas, cucumbers

  • 9 plants per square: Garlic, Onion, leaf lettuce, chives, beets

  • 16 plants per square: green onions, carrots, radishes

  • 1 plant per 4 squares: summer squash, pumpkin, rhubarb, melon and winter squash (grown on ground)

Cool Weather and Warm Weather Crops

Many new gardens may not realize that vegetables have particular weather needs to grow best. For example, lettuce grown in the summer bolts quickly and becomes bitter and peppers and tomatoes need very hot weather to produce well.

Noting when in the season plants fair best will help you make the most out of your gardens. Cool weather crops can be planted in early spring and again late summer, while warm weather crops grow best in the middle of summer.

By rotating cool weather and warm weather crops throughout the growing season, you can use the same bed space to grow 2-3 different crops.

Some plants, although they should be planted in the spring or early summer, require the entire season to reach maturity, like pumpkin, for instance. I've also included a list of Perennials you should note, and crops that can be "over wintered" with a little protection. Cool weather crops that can be overwintered can planted in the fall and left over the winter for spring harvest. Give perennials their own bed. Plant them once and let them go crazy (within reason).

Cool Weather
Warm Weather
Can Over Winter (please check your specific zone guidelines)
Parsley (Biannual, self seeding)
Dill (self seeding)
Berries (Strawberries, blackberry, raspberry
Swiss Chard
Romaine Lettuce
Leaf lettuce, Spinach
Bulb onions
Green Onions
Summer squash and Zuccini
Basil, cilantro
Sea Kale
Beans, peas: 20/ person
Basil: 2/ person
Strawberry: 3/ person
Potatoes, Carrots: 15/ person
Cilantro: 3/ person
Melon: 2/ person
Beets: 10/ person
Chives: 4/ person
Berries: 2/ person
Radish: 7/ person
Fennel: 4/ person
Corn, scallion: 6/ person
Dill: 3/ person
Garlic: 5/ person
Mint: 2/ person
Tomato, Turnip, Spinach: 4/ person
Oegano, parsley: 1/ person
Sweet pepper, lettuce: 4/ person
Rosemary, sage: 1/ person
Broccoli, cauliflower: 3/ person
Tarragon, thyme: 2/ person
Cabbage: 3/ person
Hot pepper, rhubarb: 2/ person
Eggplant, cucumber: 2/ person
Summer squash: 1/ family of 4
Winter squash: 1/ person

How Much to Plant

Deciding how much to plant can be difficult because each family's needs are family specific, and plant yield is dependent on numerous variables. It may take you a few years to figure out just how many of each plant you really need to plan for. The following table should be used merely as a guideline, remembering that if you want to preserve vegetables for year-round use, you will of course need to plant much more than the recommendations I have given you.

Books I have Found to be Most Helpful!

All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space
All New Square Foot Gardening II: The Revolutionary Way to Grow More in Less Space

The original square foot gardening guide, this book contains pretty much everything you need to know to get started.



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    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      5 years ago from Vermont

      This is a terrific way to plan a garden on paper. I never thought about using Excel, although I have used graph paper in the past. Thanks for the tutorial and the helpful statistics on production, spacing and yield.


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