If you’re just starting with gardening, or if you just think that your existing big garden is too much hard work, and takes too much time for maintaining, then this method of gardening is your best choice.
It requires very little space, it’s easy to understand and manage, and requires much less work and time than traditional gardens. All you need is a square foot garden planner.
Check out our step-by-step guide on how to get started building your very own square foot garden.
What Is Square Foot Gardening?
Square foot gardening, also referred to as SFG, is a planting method developed by Mel Bartholomew in the 1970s. It’s a very simple way of gardening, where you create an easily manageable garden with minimal time needed for maintenance.
It’s a method for creating a small, easy to manage, and highly productive garden. The practice involves creating small garden beds (4×4 feet in size) and then dividing the garden beds into small 1-foot square sections.
Square foot gardening is a simple and orderly way of planning your garden; you grow more vegetables in less space.
Pros and Cons of Having a Square Foot Garden
If you’re thinking about having your own square foot garden, it’s best if you first look into the pros and cons of this gardening method.
- Very fast set-up: It’s a quick way to start a new garden. You’ll need just a few hours to set up a square foot garden.
- Less maintenance and work: A square foot garden is so small and easily manageable. After you finish setting it up, you’ll need only a few minutes per day to do regular maintenance.
- Possibility of setting it up anywhere: Another great thing about square foot gardening is that you can place a raised bed garden anywhere you wan,; over grass or even on pavement/concrete.
- Less weeding: If you use a soilless soil mix as advised in Mel’s book, there will be fewer seeds in it, meaning you’ll not have as many weeds to pull out.
- Beginner-friendly: Because of its small size and minimal work needed, it’s a perfect choice for beginners or for those who have physical limitations.
- Takes up less space: If you’re someone who doesn’t really have much space around your property, growing your own food in a square foot vegetable garden is a clever idea.
- Depth issue: Recommendations based on Bartholomew’s new updated book regarding depth are having 6-inch deep raised square foot gardens. This is too shallow for various plants with larger roots.
- More watering: The soil mix in the raised beds dries out faster, and once dried out, it’s harder to wet again. So, to keep your plants growing well, you’ll have to water them more frequently, preferably every day, to avoid the soil mix drying out. You can install soaker hoses to prevent this problem.
- Less space between the plants: Because of the small size, the square foot gardening method isn’t really appropriate for plants that require more room to grow, such as asparagus, tomatoes, or corn. It’s best for planting herbs or small vegetables like carrots, spinach, radish, etc.
Step By Step Guide for Your Own Square Foot Garden
If you’ve read our disadvantages and benefits of having a square foot garden and decided this is the best option for you, follow our square foot gardening guide.
1. Find the Best Location
First, you’ll have to find the best location to build your square foot garden. Look for a place with flat ground, and avoid low areas in your backyard, so your square foot garden won’t turn into a square foot pool.
It’s also important that you find a place where your plant or vegetable garden will get at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per square per day and are close to your water source. Our garden plan is to find a spot that’s close to your house, making your garden chores more convenient.
2. Make a Raised Garden Bed
The most common size for raised beds is 4 x 4 feet. But you can make smaller or bigger ones if you wish so. The smallest raised beds are usually 3×3 feet and the largest up to 4 x 8 feet.
Let’s assume you’ll use the most common one being 4 x 4 feet for this garden plan. You can plant a lot of vegetables with this garden size and reach the middle of the garden from any side, so it’s the most convenient size to have.
The best wood to use for your SFG is cedar, as it resists rot the longest and is also known to repel insects.
You can always opt for less expensive wood such as pine if you’re on a budget. Pinewood will rot faster, but you can still get seven to eight seasons out of it. Other materials that you can use include concrete blocks, metal, or even rubber tires.
Avoid building your raised beds out of old pressure-treated wood, as it’s treated with chromate copper arsenate and can leach small amounts of arsenic into the surrounding soil of your SFG.
You should make the sides at least 6 inches deep, but it’s better to opt for 12 inches, which will be better for planting root crops, such as potatoes or carrots.
Buy four planter wall blocks with 2-inch slots on both sides and four 2×6 boards in your local store.
Set the blocks 4 feet apart on the ground to form a square. Slide the 2×6 boards into the 2-inch slots and continue until you create a 4×4 foot frame. Use 6-inch wood screws to attach the blocks together.
After you’re done constructing your square foot garden, feel free to paint it in your favorite color if you wish to make it more eye-pleasing.
3. Fill the Raised Garden Bed With Soil
After you finish building the raised bed, it’s time to fill it with soil. The first option that you can use is from the book of Mel Bartholomew. Fill the raised garden bed with a soilless mix. The formula for this soilless soil mix is one-third of peat moss, one-third of compost, and one-third of vermiculite.
Make sure that you mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. You can use a portable concrete mixer if you have one, and if you don’t, just mix them well by hand when filling the raised bed.
You’ll need approximately 8 cubic feet of the mix to fill up a bed that’s 6 inches deep and 16 cubic feet to fill up a 12-inch deep bed.
This soilless mix is a bit expensive but is very high in nutrients and retains moisture. Your square foot garden will be almost weed-free using this mixture.
If you don’t want to spend lots of money, you can still work with whatever soil you have. There’s no specific rule on what kind of soil to put into your square foot garden. As long as you mix enough compost into the soil, you’ll be good.
Put in a lot of compost; if you have 6 inches of soil per square, mix in 2 inches of compost per square. You can also add some mulch to your garden, helping conserve more soil moisture.
When you’re done filling your garden with a soilless soil mix, create a grid on top of the frame with some lattice strips or strings. This will help later when dividing the garden into small squares or sections, allowing you to clearly see each section of the garden and where to plant certain vegetables.
4. It’s Time To Plant
What do you want to grow? Plants, flowers, vegetables?
If your answer is vegetables, what kind of vegetable garden do you want? Ask yourself what you and your family like to eat the most and incorporate your favorite veggies into your garden plan for growing your own food.
Here are some tips on spacing for square foot gardening.
First, check the back of your seed package to see the seed spacing required for a specific plant.
You can grow one extra-large plant per square, four large plants per square, eight medium, or 16 small plants per square.
Here are some examples of how many vegetables you can plant into one square:
- Sixteen carrots or radishes.
- Six beans, peas, or any other vine plant.
- Eight to nine spinach, garlic, onions, or beets.
- One vine tomato, eggplant, corn, or cabbage.
- One watermelon or melon.
To have a more successful harvest, make sure that you plant the taller plants towards the north end of your raised beds, so they don’t cover the smaller plants with shade once they start to outgrow them.
Square foot gardens need water every day, so the soil stays moisturized and doesn’t dry out. After the plants start to grow, you can water them once per week, or more if they require it, or if you live in a humid and tropical climate.
If you’re transplanting vegetables that you bought in a gardening center or shop, use the same spacing as mentioned above. You have to allow enough spacing between seedlings or half-grown vegetables for when they’re fully grown.
5. Taking Care of Your Square Foot Garden
Even if square foot gardens need less work and maintenance than a traditional gardening method, you’ll still need to put some care and effort into your garden.
Water your plants regularly and check if the soil feels dry; when you’ve just planted seeds, you’ll have to water them daily. After that, you can do it once or twice per week, depending on the weather. On hot, summer days or windy days, you’ll have to water your square foot garden more often as the soil will dry faster.
It’s also best to use a small water container or watering can; this will allow you to water each plant one by one and avoid overwatering. Don’t worry; watering your square foot gardens should take you less than 10 minutes as it’s a small area to cover, and every square is within arm’s reach.
If you’ve used peat moss and vermiculite soilless soil mix, you probably won’t need to weed much. Check your garden for weeds regularly, and pull the weeds out when they’re still small.
You’ll also want to carry out regular pest and disease control to catch any pests or diseases early. If you see that your square foot garden has pests, such as aphids or any kind of other insects, just use insect control spray.
Planting herbs in between your vegetables can serve as a natural pest deterrent. Try planting basil, Lavender, Rosemary, or Sage. Their smell usually keeps away pests, such as whiteflies, carrot flies, or the asparagus beetle.
When your plants are fully grown, you can now harvest and enjoy your own home-grown veggies.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Layout a Square Foot Garden?
The square foot garden layout is planned according to Mel Bartholomew’s book called Square foot gardening. It’s usually made with a raised bed that’s 4×4 foot in size but can also be larger or smaller depending on your needs and wishes.
Divide the garden bed into squares of 12 inches x 12 inches, using lattice strips or string to create a grid. If your garden bed is 4×4 feet, you should have 16 sections at 1 square foot per square.
The beds are filled with a soilless mix called Mel’s mix.
How Much Food Can You Grow in a Square Foot Garden?
You can plant quite a lot with the square foot gardening method since you’re planting in boxes and not in rows as in traditional gardening. The SFG method is known for growing more in less space. You can get up to 16 plants per square foot garden bed, which is quite a lot for such a small garden, but this number can vary, depending on the size of the plants.
Square Foot Gardening: What to Plant Together?
With so many different plants growing close together, you have to make sure that they’re so-called companion plants. This means planting two plants together that don’t compete for resources. Some plants will enhance the flavor of another like, for example, basil planted with tomatoes.
There are many different combinations and options for companion planting. Here are some of our top companion plant combinations that you can plant in your square foot garden:
- Asparagus is best paired with parsley and tomatoes.
- Carrots are best paired with onions, radishes, lettuce, or peas.
- Lettuce can be paired with carrots, radishes, strawberries, and cucumbers.
- Garlic is best next to tomato, lettuce, potatoes, or cabbage.
- Corn can be planted next to cucumbers, peas, pumpkins, or beans.
- Basil can be paired with pretty much all plants in your garden, but it’s especially good with tomatoes or peppers as it’ll enhance their flavor.
What Can You Plant in a 4×8 Raised Bed?
It really depends on what kind of plants you want. Here are some plant layout ideas for a 4×8 raised bed garden:
- Two rows of onions.
- Two rows of peas.
- Three tomato plants (each in one square.)
- Three pepper plants (each in one square.)
- Two cucumber plants.
- One row of carrots.
The layout plan for planting is actually described in detail in Mel’s Book on square foot gardening, so you can check the charts for planting and the spacing plan there, too.
Is Square Foot Gardening Worth It?
Square foot gardening is a great method for those who don’t have time to manage a traditional garden, beginners or elderly people, and people with physical limitation problems. It allows you to grow more in less space, and you can reach into the center of the garden from any side, making it very easy to maintain and harvest.
It’s also perfect for those who don’t have much space around their home, as the garden can go anywhere, on grass or concrete/pavement.
The most time you’ll spend on it is when you craft the raised beds if you do it yourself. Other than that, you’ll put minimum time and work into it daily, so it’s definitely worth it.
Square foot gardening is a great, easy method. The gardens need less space and require less maintenance time compared to traditional gardening. The great thing about square foot gardening is that you can put the raised beds anywhere, as long as the ground is flat and not too low and the spot has enough sunlight.
If you have enough space in your backyard, you can even make several small square foot gardens instead of one big garden. It really depends on you. How many vegetables do you want to grow, and how much time do you have for daily maintenance?
It’s beginner-friendly, so if you don’t have much gardening experience, this is the perfect gardening method to get started with.