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Save Time in Your Vegetable Garden When You Use Square Foot Spacing
If you’re new to vegetable gardening, have a limited amount of space, or want to spend less time this summer pulling weeds in the hot sun as the mosquitos dine on your neck, square foot gardening is for you.
Square foot gardening is a simple method of creating small, highly productive vegetable gardens.
You can grow a lot of produce in a small area and spend less time on gardening chores like watering and weeding.
But one of the biggest concerns for gardeners new to square foot gardening is proper plant spacing.
If you’ve ever struggled to get your square foot garden spacing right or don’t know how to space certain plants, keep reading to learn everything you need to know about plant spacing in your square foot garden.
But first, could you use a FREE square foot spacing guide that’s easy to use even if you’re new to square foot gardening? It’s the best way to eliminate spacing confusion.
Square foot spacing guide:
This post may contain affiliate links. So, I may get a small commission if you buy something after clicking through. I only link to products I would recommend to my best friend.
What is square foot gardening?
Before we get into the details of square foot garden spacing, let’s talk about what square foot gardening is.
The basic concept is that you divide your vegetable garden into wide rows that are sub-divided into square feet.
Within each square foot, you space your plants closely to maximize your yields, shade out weeds, and keep your soil from drying out.
Planting a square foot garden means you’ll spend less time on maintenance chores like weeding, watering, and thinning seedlings.
This idea was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in the book, All New Square Foot Gardening.
Prices last updated on 2023-03-18 at 11:29
If you follow the instructions in the book to the letter, you’d create raised beds in your garden, and then sub-divide the raised beds into one-foot squares and place a permanent grid ontop.
But do you really need to build raised beds?
No, you don’t have to build raised beds to have a successful square foot garden. I’ve grown a productive in-ground square foot garden for years.
But there are some circumstances where raised beds make sense.
If you have:
- Very poorly draining soil.
- Very rocky soil (more rocks than soil).
- A bad back or other mobility issues and you want to raise the height of your garden.
- Contaminated soil. (You’ll need to put a barrier under the bed to make sure your plant roots can’t get to the soil underneath).
Then it makes sense to garden in raised beds.
The good news is you can create wide beds in any garden without the expense and hassle of building raised beds.
Related: The Best Vegetable Gardening Books
How to create a square foot garden layout
To create your square foot garden layout all you need to do is decide where you’ll walk, and where you won’t.
In my garden, I laid out 3′ wide walkways (wide enough for a wheelbarrow) and 4′ wide beds.
And I don’t use raised beds.
Quick Tip: For the best possible results, download my free printable Square Foot Gardening Chart so you can quickly find the right spacing for over 20 vegetables.
Why 4′ wide beds in square foot gardens?
Four feet is the width that’s most comfortable for most of us to reach into without toppling over into the bed or stepping on the soil. – Try to avoid stepping on your soil and compacting it as much as possible. Plant roots need air to grow well, and compacting your soil destroys those air spaces.
If you have shorter arms, make your beds as wide as is comfortable for you to reach into the middle of.
So, all you have to do is:
- Lay out 4-foot (or less) wide beds.
- Make them whatever length you want.
- And then create designated walking paths around the beds.
- And voilà! You’re a square foot gardener.
Related: Free garden printables
Square foot gardening pro-tip
Create square-foot beds that are no more than 4 feet wide so you can easily reach the middle. You can make them any length you like.
Square foot gardening example
Here’s how I’ve laid out the beds in my garden:
I have one long 3’ wide, 33’ long bed that runs along the back.
And I have five 4’ wide beds:
- 4 x 10’
- 4 x 12‘
- 4 x 8’
- 4 x 8.5’
- 4 x 5’
Do you need a square foot gardening grid?
If you pick up a copy of All New Square Foot Gardening, you’ll see advice for laying out a grid on top of your square foot garden beds using string or lathe.
This is totally unnecessary and in my opinion, makes working in the garden more difficult than it should be. No matter what you make the grid out of, it won’t last forever. So, you’ll need to replace it.
And a square foot garden grid makes it harder to harvest, weed, and spread compost or other amendments.
All you need to lay out your beds is a ruler and a measuring tape.
So, make things easier on yourself and skip the grid.
Square foot garden spacing
Once you have your beds laid out, and it’s time to plant, you’ll need to properly space your plants or seeds in each square foot.
I use a ruler and tape measure while I’m planting to help me space everything correctly.
How many plants you can fit in a square foot depends on the size of the plant. The smaller the plant is, the more you can fit in one square foot.
Wish you didn’t have to spend one more minute looking up square foot spacing? Download a helpful square foot gardening chart that’s easy to use even if you’re new to square foot gardening.
Here are the general square foot garden plant spacing guidelines
16 plants per square foot
8 plants per square foot (on a trellis)
- Pole Beans
9 plants per square foot
- Bush beans
- Lettuce, leaf
4 plants per square foot
- Kale, baby
- Lettuce, leaf
- Swiss chard
Find the right spacing for your vegetables in 2 minutes. Get your FREE Square Foot Garden Spacing Chart now.
1 plant per square foot
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cucumbers (on a trellis)
- Kale, full-size
- Lettuce, head (romaine, butterhead, etc.)
- Most herbs
- Sweet Potatoes
1 plant per 2 square feet
- Squash (small, vining)
1 plant per 4 square feet
- Squash (large vining)
1 plant per 9 square feet
- Squash, bush
Ready to spend less time thinning seedlings, weeding, and watering? Download your FREE Square Foot Garden Spacing Chart and start saving time in your garden.
Square foot garden guide: 7 tips for success
- Skip the grid to mark out the squares. As discussed above, it’s unnecessary and more work than it’s worth. You can easily keep your square foot garden organized with a ruler and tape measure.
- Spend some time considering whether or not you need to invest in raised beds for your square foot garden. Most gardeners don’t need to go to the trouble and expense.
- Harvest and prune regularly. Pruning is especially important for tomatoes! Make sure you know how to properly prune your tomatoes so you’re prepared before your plants get out of control.
- Strategically plant crops so they put shade where you want it. With square foot gardening, you can have a lot of variety in a small space, so it’s important to understand how the plants will grow and potentially compete with each other for sun.
Unless you live in an area with very warm summers or have intense sunlight and need to shade certain plants, plant taller crops and those that require a trellis in such a way that they don’t shade out other plants.
- Use trellises or other supports like bean teepees. Using trellises in your square foot garden will maximize your garden even more. Add trellises for vining or climbing crops like melons, cucumbers, winter squashes, peas, and pole beans.
- Plant crops with like water needs together. For example, some crops, like cabbage and broccoli have heavy water needs, so you’ll want to plant them near each other. This is an important factor whether or not you grow in a square foot garden.
- Mulch your square foot garden. Mulching your garden is my biggest tip for any gardener, and it’s especially important in a square foot garden. Mulch retains moisture, breaks down to provide nutrients, and protects the health of your soil. In square foot gardening, maintaining soil health and nutrition is critical, since you’re growing a lot of plants in a small space.
How much space should be between square foot garden beds?
Make your paths as wide as possible, so it’s comfortable to move around. If you plan to grow in framed, raised beds, the taller your beds, the wider your paths need to be. Think about what tools you need to bring into your garden, and how many people will be working in the garden together. If you plan to use a wheelbarrow in between your beds, make your paths at least 3 feet wide.
How many plants should I plant per square foot in square foot gardening?
The square foot garden spacing formula is simple. In one square, you can plant one extra-large plant, four large plants, nine medium plants, or sixteen small plants. Not sure you can remember all that? Download a free, printable spacing chart that gives you all the spacing guidelines for more than 25 vegetables.
Do you need to rotate crops in square foot gardening?
Crop rotation comes from large-scale agriculture. But farming and gardening are very different, and crop rotation is unlikely to provide much of a benefit in most home gardens. And while you can implement it in your vegetable garden if you want to, most home gardeners can get by just fine without it. In fact, for a lot of us with smaller gardens, true crop rotation isn’t practical.
Download your free square foot garden chart
It’s easy to always use the right spacing for your vegetables. Just download the Square Foot Garden Chart and:
- Print it.
- Put it in a handy spot.
- Pull it out when you’re ready to plant seeds or transplants.
It really is that easy!
Here’s a sneak peek of your chart:
Your Turn: Have you tried square foot garden spacing?
Do you love square foot gardening, or are you ready to try it? Either way, share your experiences in a comment below!
Hi, I’m Cheryl Spencer, a Certified Gardener.
Born with a plant addiction that has no known cure, I became a Certified Gardener to help ease the symptoms. Now I write articles and create gardening products that help you save time and money in your garden. I believe you can grow your dream garden and still have time to enjoy it. The good news? Anyone can do it. Start here »
11 thoughts on “The Best Way To Save Time In Your Vegetable Garden: Square Foot Spacing”
I started using square foot gardening years ago and loved it. I especially loved the trellises for my tomatoes. They were so much easier to find the ripe tomatoes than when using the traditional tomato cage. I also grew melons and cucumbers on the trellises. Saved my back when time to harvest!!! After converting my old garden bed into square foot gardens, I had so much extra room, I even planted flowers among the vegetables just to add some extra interest. I have since moved from that house and I am in the process of making new square foot gardens. I would never go back to the traditional way of gardening.
That’s awesome SueAnn! I’m so glad to hear you love square foot gardening as much as I do!
Thank you for the practical time-saving advice! I am considering starting a square foot garden without raised beds. Do I need to replace the soil with Mel’s Mix to support such dense planting.
I’ve been gardening in that area for years so there’s layers of mulch and leaves that I’ve added over the years, but no vermiculite or peat moss. I’m thinking of trying the square foot spacing without replacing the soil and just seeing what happens.
Hi Alexandra, I’m happy you found the article useful! I’ve never used Mel’s Mix and always done just fine. What I suggest is getting a soil test, and amending your soil per the test instructions and make sure your organic matter is at 5%. That should be sufficient. You may need to side-dress your garden with nitrogen a few times during the season, as this is the nutrient most gardens lack.
Thank you for the quick response. Very helpful.
Can I place a complimentary herb like basil in the same squares as my tomato squares? I have a 2X6 raised planter box.
I don’t recommend doing that. Planting other plants in the same space as your tomatoes would crowd them.
Cheryl, creator of Small Space, Big Harvest
Hello! I want to start a garden using the square foot method right in the ground. Should I still till the ground like my grandparents used to? Should I create some type of border for the garden? I saw the comment above the soil, but what about the actual layout? All advice is appreciated! Our house is a corner lot, so our backyard is actually a front yard, so I want to keep our garden area looking aesthetically pleasing without putting in a lot of money.
You don’t need to till your soil to get it ready. Tilling destroys soil structure and brings up weed seeds. I recommend getting your soil tested to properly amend it. And use an organic mulch to keep down the weeds and improve your soil. You don’t need to use a border, but it can make your beds look more “finished.” I hope that helps!
Cheryl, the creator of Small Space, Big Harvest
I want to try a raised bed next year, all I have ever done is containers for each veggie that i wanted on my deck. The problem I’m running into trying to plan for a raised bed garden next year is I don’t know what plants can go next to each other and what ones can’t. I know what I want to plant….. just not where to plant what so it all thrives.
Most companion planting advice is unsubstantiated folklore about whether specific plants are “good” or “bad” neighbors.
But almost none of it’s supported by research…
And it makes garden planning complicated and a bit nerve-wracking.
So, what should you do instead?
Here’s what I teach students in my course Small Space, Big Harvest…
Plant things near each other that have similar needs.
Before deciding where plants should go, look at these needs:
And then, place your plants where the neighboring plants will most closely
match their needs.