Square foot gardening is an alternative method to traditional gardening where seeds are planted in rows. You may have heard the term “square foot gardening,” but what is it, and how does it work?
Square foot gardening works by creating small, divided garden beds. The plants are separated spaces based on preference making them easier to handle. Generally foot-by-foot measurements are used to mark each bed, hence the name. It tends to be more manageable than traditional row planting.
In this article, I’ll elaborate on how square foot gardening works and the pros and cons. Keep reading to learn this simple yet effective method of gardening!
How To Make a Square Foot Garden
Making a square-foot garden is enjoyable, and it’s exciting seeing your plants grow in such a compact space! Square foot gardens are excellent for those with limited space, as this gardening method won’t take up your entire yard unless you want it to.
Here are the steps for constructing a square foot garden:
- Choose an appropriate location.
- Choose a frame material.
- Provide 1×1 square feet for each square.
- Fill the frame with soil and compost.
- Create the grid with a secure material.
- Plant your preferred seeds in the grids.
- Water the plants regularly or set up an irrigation system.
I’ll go further in-depth about the specifications required to make a fantastic square-foot garden that’ll save you tons of time and energy!
1. Choose an Appropriate Location
To ensure optimal plant growth, you want to choose the best location. But before deciding on a location, consider the plants you’ll be growing. As you may know, different plants require different levels of sunlight, so you don’t want certain plants to burn or others to not get enough light.
It’s likely that you’re using square foot gardening to grow vegetables. Many vegetables, like carrots, do best in full sun. However, other vegetables can grow in partial shade or with only a few hours of sunlight a day. Examples include:
Generally, it’s best to place the raised bed in an area that receives plenty of sunlight. But if some plants don’t need full sun, you’ll need some shade.
Having your square foot garden where you can see it regularly also allows you to note whether pests are threatening your plants and if you need to take necessary measures to protect your garden.
2. Choose a Frame Material
Once you’ve decided on a location for the garden, it’s time to choose a medium for the frame. One of the best materials for a raised bed is cedar wood because it’s durable and doesn’t rot as much as many other woods. Any material that doesn’t rot easily will be a good choice, particularly if it doesn’t have any harmful additives.
Although your plants could still grow with non-soil-friendly chemicals, consuming fruits or veggies with chemicals from treated wood can adversely affect your health.
Materials like untreated lumber or cedar are the best options for your box frame. When you decide on materials for the box frame, ensure they’re at least 6-12 inches (15-30cm) high for each piece.
3. Provide 1×1 Square Feet for Each Square
After acquiring a frame for the garden, you want to provide at least 1×1 square feet (0.093 square meter) for each grid. However, 1×1 square feet is simply a general guideline for a square foot garden.
You can choose how big or small you want your grids to be, but 1×1 square feet is the safest route if this is your first time. With time and experience, you’ll eventually learn enough to decide the best area for your square that balances population with plant requirements.
For now, the whole garden bed should be 4×4 square feet (0.37 square meter), so having 1×1 square feet for each grid is the perfect measurement for four beds.
The traditional size guide for a square foot garden ensures sufficient space for your plants to grow without being cramped and on top of each other. Space is essential for plant growth, so I recommend keeping the grids 1x1ft each!
4. Fill the Frame With Soil and Compost
After measuring the layout of your square foot garden, you can fill the box with fertile soil and compost. Fill the frame with the appropriate soil for what you plan to plant. However, well-draining soil tends to be the most preferred soil by gardeners.
Well-draining soil ensures your plant’s roots don’t get damaged and rot from excess moisture. Most gardeners who utilize the square foot method use organic matter, in particular:
- Coconut coir
- Leaves and food scraps (compost)
- Minerals (vermiculite in particular)
The goal is for the soil to be loamy–not too dense and not too sandy.
5. Create the Grid With a Secure Material
Next, you want to make a grid in your garden bed. When you make your layout, ensure each grid forms one-foot squares. Once you’ve finished gridding the box, you should have about 16 squares if your box frame is the traditional 4×4 square feet.
You’re probably wondering what the best material is for this, and you can choose different things. One example would be garden twine. You can use sticks or bamboo inside and around the edges of the garden bed (making sure they’re spaced evenly). Then, attach twine to the sticks on the edges, creating a grid.
Alternatively, you can use wood or any material that’s easy to work with and won’t rot easily. You can use rivets or screws to secure the grids into the box frame (unless using twine).
6. Plant Your Preferred Seeds in the Grids
The number of plants you grow will also depend on the spacing requirements per the seed’s packaging. So, always be sure to read the instructions before planting anything. The last thing you want is to overcrowd your seedlings because this can cause problems in the future. But you also want to avoid undercrowding because it will be a waste of space!
The bigger the plants, the less of them you’ll need to plant in each square foot.
7. Water the Plants Regularly or Set Up an Irrigation System
As you may know, watering is essential for the growth and development of all plants. Different plants might need different amounts of water, so make sure you know how much to give. According to the University of California, most vegetables do well with one inch of water every week.
However, if you notice your plants wilting and looking dehydrated even with the recommended water intake, feel free to give them some more water. Ensure you water at the base of the plants, as wet leaves can lead to plant diseases.
And if you notice the plants are too wet (and possibly waterlogged), be sure to reduce the amount of water you’re feeding them.
Types of Irrigation Systems
If you would rather set up an irrigation system instead of watering your garden manually, there are various irrigation systems that you could try. Many gardeners love having a watering system, as it saves a lot more time than manual watering!
Soaker hoses are irrigation systems that pump water directly into the soil at the plant’s base. Soaker hoses have a porous material, so the water flows through these pores slowly and steadily.
You don’t need fancy tools or equipment to use a soaker hose. Soaker hoses come in various lengths, and you can attach them to your outdoor spigot like a regular garden hose. Minimal pressure is needed for a soaker hose, so you don’t need to open the tap all the way. Soaker hoses are a great way to ensure your plants get all the water they need while saving some water!
Micro-irrigation systems are similar to soaker hoses, as they deliver water to the root zone of the plants at a slow and even rate. Micro-irrigation systems are less likely to overwater an area, reducing evaporation and preventing pooling.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, micro-irrigation systems use 20 to 50 percent less water than traditional sprinkler systems, ultimately reducing excessive and unnecessary water usage. These eco-friendly water systems are an excellent option for offering low-pressure water to your plants while reducing water usage!
Mirco-jet irrigation systems consist of spray nozzles on a stake that delivers water at a low volume. These irrigation systems have interchangeable nozzles that affect spray patterns, giving you the option to select nozzles that best suit the site you want to water.
Micro-jet irrigation systems are generally cost-effective and water-efficient. Provided that you can choose how the water is delivered, micro-jet irrigation systems make a fantastic choice for watering your square-foot garden!
Garden Hose Irrigation
If you’d instead use a traditional garden hose to water your garden, ensure you attach a water breaker to the hose. A water breaker helps provide the soil with water without splashing on the leaves and disturbing the soil.
Pros and Cons of Square Foot Gardening
Like most gardening techniques, square foot gardening has its pros and cons. Although this method of planting is efficient and can save you more time than row planting, it also has a few downsides.
Here are the pros of square foot gardening:
- Increased harvests. Square foot gardening is a form of intensive planting, meaning the crops grow close together and have no wasted space–this is excellent if you want plenty of harvest.
- You can do it anywhere. Even if you have a small garden, you can create a square foot gardening bed and make use out of the space.
- Fewer weeds. It’s easier to manage weeds in square foot garden beds because the space is more compact, so you can usually catch and remove them early. And since the plants are so close together, there’s less space for weeds to grow!
- Making a square-foot garden is time-effective. Compared to other gardening techniques, setting up a square foot garden takes less time and back-breaking effort. The set-up can take a couple of hours, but the struggle for maintenance is pretty minimal after that!
- You don’t have to walk on the soil. In regular gardens, you need to make space between rows so that you can walk through. But with square foot gardening, you can reach all the plants from the outside.
Square foot gardening is a great way to use the space you already have to create a beautiful set-up with various plants. Although this gardening method isn’t for everyone, it’s still a great introduction to gardening for beginners and a massive break for veteran gardeners with back pain!
In contrast to the points mentioned above, here are the cons of square foot gardening:
- Less root space. Square foot gardens generally aren’t ideal for vining plants like asparagus. You may find that smaller veggies like radishes and herbs are better for gardens with less soil depth. If you want to plant larger veggies with more extensive roots, plant at a soil depth below 6 inches (15 cm).
- It can be time-consuming to prepare a square foot garden. When you begin making a square foot garden, it can take time to prepare everything. You have to make the garden bed, grid, soil mix, and then plant the seeds–this can take many hours!
- It’s not appropriate for large plants. Since the space is small, you won’t be able to grow larger plants in a square foot garden bed.
Before putting the time and effort into making a square foot garden, be sure to examine the main cons first. Once you’ve compared the pros and cons, you can make an informed decision on what you want to do.
What To Plant in a Square Foot Garden
There are general guidelines regarding what to plant in a square foot garden. These guidelines ensure your plants grow well and eliminate competition for resources between the plants, like space and nutrition. I’ll mention a few plants that’ll do well in a square-foot garden if you follow the spacing requirements.
One Per Square Foot Plants
These are the plants that you can grow one of per square foot. You can only plant one of the specific plants for various reasons, including a bigger mature size and long vining. The smaller the plant is, the more you can grow per square foot.
Here are some of the plants you can grow one of per square foot:
- Brussel sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- A head of lettuce
The veggies listed above often grow to be quite large, so only having one per square foot is the best option. Growing multiple of the plants mentioned above per square foot can result in decreased yields and low-quality harvests, as they would’ve likely compete for resources. Ensure at least 12-inch (30cm) spacing for these plants.
Four Per Square Foot Plants
As mentioned earlier, the classic amount of plants you can have per square foot range from 1,4,9, or 16. The bigger plants require more space, whereas smaller ones can be planted alongside each other and won’t compete.
Here are some plants you can have 4 of per square foot:
- Baby kale
- Swiss chard
These plants don’t take up that much space, so there’ll be no problem planting more than one per square foot. Although you can produce multiple, the plants still need room to grow, so provide around 6 inches (15cm) of space between these plants.
Nine Per Square Foot Plants
Most plants you can grow nine of per square foot are often greens, as they don’t occupy a large amount of space. If you’re a fan of everything salads, you could describe the spot with nine plants as the salad patch, as most of the plants are what you would happily toss in a salad!
Here are the plants you can grow 9 of per square foot:
- Lettuce leaves
- Bush beans
These plants typically grow upward, so you won’t need to worry about cramping. To ensure sufficient room for growth, space these plants at least 4 inches (10cm) from each other.
Sixteen Per Square Foot Plants
Last but not least, we have the plants you can have a whopping 16 per square foot. However, there isn’t much variety regarding the plants you can have 16 of, as this many plants per square foot is a lot.
Feel free to plant 16 radishes or carrots per square foot, but ensure they’re at least 3 inches (7/8cm) apart for enough growth room.
Having a square-foot garden is even better when you know how they work and how to set up the layout. Although gardening can be intimidating for those just starting, a square-foot garden is an excellent place to start!
You don’t need a big garden because square foot gardening utilizes small spaces. So, whether you have a ton of space or a tiny amount, square foot gardening should work well for you.