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The Best Way To Save Time In Your Vegetable Garden
Inside: Square foot garden spacing how-to.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
4 plants per square foot
- Lettuce, leaf
- Swiss chard
2 plants per square foot
- Cucumbers (on a trellis)
- Sweet Potatoes
1 plant per square foot
- Brussels Sprouts
- Lettuce, head (romaine, butterhead, etc.)
- Most herbs
1 plant per 2 square feet
- Summer squash
- Winter Squash
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 don’t shade other plants out. 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.
This is especially important for plants like zucchini that can grow quite large. Always plant taller crops and those that require a trellis so 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.
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.
I believe you can grow your dream garden and still have time to enjoy it.
I’ll show you how easy it can be to have a garden that fits into your lifestyle, wows your neighbors, and makes your family say “more veggies, please!”