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How to Square Foot Garden

Updated on May 28, 2013

Why Square Foot Garden?

There is a good reason to lay out your vegetable garden space in a precise manner and that is to maximize yields, save water, and make gardening easier than you have ever imagined. The term square foot garden is used to describe a manner of gardening where plants are grown in terms of square feet and planted in fields rather than in long rows.

The benefits of square foot gardening make this method easy to adopt and so beneficial that you will want to keep it up year after year.

I have used a ton of gardening methods over the years, and I enjoy them all, but there is something really fun about square foot gardening that makes it one of my favorites. Read on to see if this method is right for you.

The Quick-Start Square Foot Garden

To get started quickly with a square foot garden follow these simple steps.

1. Use a raised bed garden that is no more than 4 feet wide on one side so you can reach the middle from either side.

2. Divide your raised bed into sections that are one square foot in size.

3. Decide what vegetables you want to grow in your garden.

4. Determine how many of each vegetable you can grow in one square foot.

5. Plant your vegetables in your square foot garden.

6. Enjoy your bountiful harvest!

Where to Square Foot Garden

Before you begin using the square foot garden method to grow your prized vegetables, you need to have a garden. It is fairly simple to employ the square foot gardening techniques into any garden space, but the single best garden style for the most productive garden is a raised bed garden.

The primary reason that a raised bed is superior to any other format is that you can build raised beds in the optimal size for square foot gardening. Every raised bed should be no wider than 4 feet across. This is to insure that you can reach the center of every bed without setting foot in the garden soil. That means your soil remains soft and your garden plants' roots can spread quickly. This is beneficial for root crops as well, as well as or absorption of water since a compressed soil will lead to more water runoff.

Keep the raised bed small to make each square foot easy to identify. A 4x4 or 4x8 bed is perfect. If you need more space than this, just add additional raised beds.

The location of your garden is important too. For most crops you will want full sun. That means 8 hours of sun per day or more if you can get it. Consider garden beds in different locations to suit different plants. For example, lettuce may appreciate shade from the hot afternoon sun where peppers really won't care. Tomatoes like sun early in the day to dry off the dew. Think outside of the box. With raised beds, you can build them in a group or have a few here and a few there.

Square Foot Garden Resources

The book about Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew is what started the craze is is a great place to start if you want a book for curl up on the couch with. There are many others that have come since that contain a wealth of information as well.

Square Foot Garden Spacing

Here is the typical spacing for vegetables in a square foot garden, or how many of each vegetable you can plant in a single square foot. Think of each square foot as a separate space. If a vegetable is listed as supporting 9 plants in a square foot, that means you can plant the square in a 3x3 pattern to fill the space.

1 Per Square Foot










4 Per Square Foot



Swiss Chard

9 Per Square Foot








16 Per Square Foot




Gardens Ready to Install

You can build a square foot garden by using untreated wood and a few carriage bolts by finding a DIY square foot garden plan online or just figuring it out yourself. If you'd rather have a finished set that's ready to install, here are some options.

The Dirt on Square Foot Garden Dirt

One of the most important things you can do for your square foot garden plants it to give them the proper soil to grow in, and the best soil may not be soil at all. In fact, the best starting mix for planting a raised bed garden is a mix of vermiculite, peat, and compost in about equal portions.

This mix will give you a light soil that will not compact, yet it will hold water well so roots won't dry out too quickly. Be sure to mix it up with the compost, mixing in 2 or 3 different kinds like leaf compost and mushroom compost. You can find these at a garden center.

Every year, be sure to amend the soil to make it better, adding another helping of compost to the mix and turning the soil. Your vegetables will benefit from this effort next year.

Must Have Tool for a Square Foot Garden

When it comes to which tools you must have to work a square foot garden, there is some very good news. You can most likely forget about the need to have a whole bunch of full-sized tools in the shed or garage. Since the soil of a raised bed garden is so light and workable, all you will need are some nice hand tools and perhaps a spade or pitchfork to turn the soil.

I find that my most used tool in the garden now is the hand shovel or trowel. I very rarely bring out a real shovel. When working the soil or adding new compost it is usually easy enough to use a 3-prong garden rake as this can easily be worked several inches into the light soil. If you don't have a quality hand trowel, pick one up now. It will be the tool of choice in a square foot garden.

Why Cool Season Crops are Cool in a Square Foot Garden

There are a number of things that you can plant in a square foot garden that will mature by early summer, allowing you to plant warm season crops next. Likewise, these cool season crops can be planted in mid or later summer after your warm season crops are all done. That's what makes cool season crops so cool, especially in a square foot garden.

An example is radishes. You can easily plant radishes and harvest them before you even need to plant green beans. This means that in the same square foot you can get your radishes first, then plant the beans and enjoy them in late summer. Better yet, you can return to radishes on that same spot once the beans are through. This is the best use of your space for mixing cool and warm season crops.

Other cool season crops to consider like radishes are peas, lettuce, broccoli, carrots, spinach, cauliflower, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, or chard. Try planting some of these beauties early and using the space for something else later, or try planting some of these in vacant space once your warm season crops. You will start getting more food from your garden right away.

Why Do You Garden?

What is the primary reason that you raise a garden?

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Your Comments or Square Foot Garden Tips

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    • GardenIdeasHub LM profile image

      GardenIdeasHub LM 

      6 years ago

      I really enjoyed your lens about square foot garden and I did pick up some good tips.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      6 years ago from New Zealand

      Interesting lens, have not looked at it this way. But worth trying. Thanks for sharing.


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