Planning a Square-Foot Garden: Grow More Crops in Less Space (2024)

Learn the basics of planning a square-foot garden(SFG). Grow more in less spaceby densely planting in squares. Find out the pros and cons, whether square-foot gardeningreally works, the ideal size and depth that a square-foot garden should be, and more tips. Plus, find sixSFG garden plans toreference.

What Is Square-FootGardening?

Square-foot gardening (SFG) is a type of raised-bed gardening—basically, a raised box divided into squares.With the square-foot gardening method, you plant in 4x4-foot blocks instead of traditional rows.Different crops are planted in different blocks according to their size; for example, 16 radishes in one square foot, or just one cabbage per square foot.A lattice is laid across the top to clearly separate each square foot.

This planting method was developed by American author and TV presenter Mel Bartholomew in the 1970s. It’s a simple way to create easy-to-manage gardens with raised beds that need a minimum of time spent maintaining them. SFG advocates claim it produces more, uses less soil and water, and takes much less time to maintain than a traditional garden.


Mel Bartholomew had just retired as an engineer and decided to take up gardening as a hobby. It was only natural that he would apply his analytical skills to the problems he encountered. In particular, he found the average gardener was spending hours weeding the big gaps between long rows of plants, creating unnecessary work for themselves. It soon became clear that getting rid of rows and using intensive deep beds could dramatically cut the amount of maintenance the garden required. Add a one-foot square grid on top, making it easy to space and rotatecrops.

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What Size Is a Square-Foot GardenBed?

  • Typically, SFG beds are at least 4 feet by 4 feet, with a square foot lattice placed on top to visually separate the crops. That said, the beds can be 2x2 feet or 4x12 feet, but the most common is 4x4 feet. This allows plants to be situated more closelytogether.
  • To keep the planting simple, there are no plant spacings to remember. Instead, each square has either 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants in it, depending on the size of the plant—easy to position in each square by making a smaller grid in the soil with your fingers. As an exception to this, there are a few larger plants that span two squares. Climbing peas and beans are planted in two mini-rows of 4 persquare.

How Deep Isa Square-Foot GardenBed?

  • Beds should be deep—between 6 and 12 inches in depth in order to give plants plenty of rich nutrients, while still maintaining gooddrainage.

Other Square-Foot GardeningRules

  • A specific soil mix, which is water-retentive and nutrient-rich, is used to fill the beds. This provides a weed-free start as well as being water retentive and full of nutrients. The rich soil enables plants to be grown much more closely than normal, which in turn crowds outweeds.
  • Thin with Scissors: Instead of pulling up excess plants (which can disturb the root systems of the plants you want to grow), snip them off withscissors.
  • Never walk on the soil in the bed, as this will only compact the soil. Back in the 1970s, this was a revolutionaryidea!

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Pros to Square-FootGardening

The “pros” for SFG are primarily ease and simplicity. SFG is a great method for new gardeners, people who have little time, the elderly or disabled (SFG gardens can be built at a raised height to make them more accessible), and children. Many schools have embraced the SFG method because it’s easy to install and maintain without becoming an additional burden for theteacher.

Cons to Square-FootGardening

  • Although many vegetables can be grown in SFG gardens, it struggles to accommodate larger plants (squash, melons, main-crop potatoes etc), perennials (globe artichokes, rhubarb), and fruit bushes/trees. Once new gardeners experience the success of SFG gardens, they often want to expand the range of crops they grow beyond the standard SFGcrops.
  • Originally, a soil mixture of peat moss, vermiculite, and compost (“Mel’s Mix”) was recommended in SFG.While this makes an excellent soil for vegetables, two of the three ingredients come from non-renewable sources. Peat takes thousands of years to develop and is a valuable natural sink for greenhouse gases. Vermiculite is mined and is therefore also a non-renewable resource with a significant carbon footprint. In common with many gardeners, we have moved toward using coconut coir instead of peat orvermiculite.
  • The specific soil mix and raised beds can be more expensive to set up than alternative methods, even though SFG is easier tomaintain.

None of these reasons prevent SFG from being a useful part of a garden, though!You can use 100% recycled compost in the beds instead of Mel’s Mix, gradually build up the number of SFG beds and combine it with areas of your garden which are set aside for fruit trees and larger crops. Many of the SFG techniques that were revolutionary in the 1980s are now commonly used for vegetable gardening:deep raised beds, not compacting soil, removable covers and plant supports,etc.

Does Square-Foot GardeningWork?

Yes, square-foot gardening works for those who have limited space because it allows plants to be situated more closely together. Also, we have definitely found that there is less weeding. If you don’t have a lot of time available to weed, water, and maintain your vegetable garden, then square-foot gardening could be the answer.Finally, SFG has the benefits of all raised beds in that the soil warms more quickly for earlier planting andharvest.

However, there are limitations in what you can grow.As said above, plants that need more space such as corn, potatoes, watermelon, and pumpkins do not fare as well inboxes.

Square-foot gardening was revolutionary when it was first invented and it’s still a great system for people who are starting out, have limited space, or want a highly organized method to follow. However, you don’t need to follow SFG to benefit from gardening with raised beds and good organization. There’s a great quote: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as anail.”

SFG works really well for many situations, but it doesn’t fit everything. The success it brings can often lead people on to discovering the delights of fruit trees, using barrels to grow huge crops of potatoes, or managing a greenhouse full of high-value crops. It’s a great stepping-stone to the world of growing your own food and that’s whyit’s still going strong 35 yearslater!

Video: See How to Set Up Your Square-FootGarden

In this video, we introduce the thinking behind Square-Foot Gardening and explain everything you need to know to setup your own SFG garden beds including the best soil mix, plant spacing, positioning, companion planting and supporting structures touse.

Square-Foot GardenPlans

All of the SFG garden plans below were shared by Almanacreaders!

1. Square-Foot Garden for anApartment

“I live in a small apartment in the city but have a nice sized patio and wanted to take advantage of my space. This application helped me do it! My patio is outlined because it’s a little bit funny-shaped but everything with in the brown lines fits! The small red area is my back door and the larger red area is a shrub that I can’t do muchwith.”

Garden Size: 18’ 7” x 15’ 11”
Garden Location: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Sun or Shade: Partial Shade
Garden Soil Type: PoorSoil

See full plant list!

2. Square-Foot Garden for a HomeGarden

“This ismy ‘chef’s garden’with lots of different veggies and fruit that we like toeat.”

Garden Size: 19’ 11” x 19’ 11”
Garden Location: Denver, Colorado
Sun or Shade: Partial Shade
Garden Soil Type: GoodSoil

See full plant list!

3. Large-Scale SFGGarden

“Raised bed gardens with an emphasis on companion planting with the new tool. Soil is so-so but manure and compost and lime helped and will add more this year. Wondering about the problem of rotating crops next year but I hope the benefit of attracting beneficials will override that. I’ve got a three sisters garden (corn, beans and squash) and onions planted everywhere to help ward off pests. There are all the flowers that attract beneficials that I could fit in. I think it will take a lot of time to plant - but I am looking forward to it! Using the plant list now to organize my seed starts - Onions and leeks and shallots are up and waving! I have notes on seed starting on my plant list page. NOTE: Since I wrote this I have made changes due to the groundhog, primarily putting all the onion family and many herbs/flowers where he came in lastyear.”

Garden Size: 27’ 11” x 33’ 11”
Garden Location: Georgetown, MA 30x30Town Garden Plot
Sun or Shade: Sunny
Garden Soil Type:So-SoSoil

See full plant list!

4. Square-Foot Garden Plan for HomeGarden

“Organic garden planted in raised beds made using 4’ fence wire (bent w/1’ sides and 2’ bottom), lined with landscape cloth, then filled with soil made up of Black Gold (a special mix from a Nashville Nursery), worm compost, peat moss, coir, several different composts, mushroom compost and rockdust.”

Garden Size: 29’ 11” x 39’ 11”
Garden Location: Jamestown, TN
Sun or Shade: Partial Shade
Garden Soil Type: Goodsoil

See plant list!

5. Square-Foot Garden for a FrontYard

“Our front focal point garden will have a ring of strawberries and is planned to grow in a “cone” shape to tall sunflowers at thecenter.”

Garden Size: 19’ 11” x 19’ 11”
Garden Location: Indianapolis, IN
Sun or Shade: Partial Shade
Garden Soil Type: Goodsoil

See plant list!

6. Square-Foot Garden for a FrontYard

“Organic Vegetable Garden - Some traditional left but moving toward all square foot garden. Heavy clay soil amended for 3 years with horse manure, leaf humus, household compost, sand, wood chips, fish and organic fertilizer (includes chicken manure and minerals). Soil in square foot gardens according to Mel’smix.”

Garden Size: 30’ 11” x 34’ 9”
Garden Location: Cleveland, Ohio near Lake Erie
Sun or Shade: Sunny
Garden Soil Type: Good soil,organic

See full plant list and more details about this garden here.

Planning a Square-Foot Garden: Grow More Crops in Less Space (11)

Looking for more garden plans? See layouts for other types of gardens.

Square-Foot GardenPlanner

Our online garden planner tool offers an SFGmode that makes it easy to add one-foot squares of plants as well as using all the other powerful features of the software such as crop rotation, tracking varieties etc. Best of all is that the SFG plants can be part of a larger garden plan that includes more traditional planting layouts and large plants, so there’s the flexibility to combine different methods in a plan of a single gardenarea.

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try ourVegetable Garden Planner. We’re offering a free 7-day trial—ample time to play around and plan your first garden! We hope this software works foryou.

Planning a Square-Foot Garden: Grow More Crops in Less Space (2024)


Planning a Square-Foot Garden: Grow More Crops in Less Space? ›

With the square-foot gardening method, you plant in 4x4-foot blocks instead of traditional rows. Different crops are planted in different blocks according to their size; for example, 16 radishes in one square foot, or just one cabbage per square foot. A lattice is laid across the top to separate each square foot.

How do you grow a lot of vegetables in a small space? ›

You can grow two or more vegetables in one area by planting slower-maturing and faster-maturing crops together. The quick-to-mature vegetables will be ready for harvest before the two crops begin to crowd each other. Once the fast crop is picked, the slower crop will have more room to grow to maturity.

What is one of the biggest disadvantages to square-foot gardening? ›

Some of these detriments, according to Bartholomew, are the amount of space single-row production requires, the large amount of soil amendments needed, and the amount of seed used to plant the rows.

What is one strategy for getting more produce out of a small garden? ›

Another way to support higher yields in small garden spaces is to avoid planting the same family of vegetables in the same spot every year. Research shows that rotating crops so that one plant family occupies a given location only every three or four years has positive effects on yields.

Which planting method usually allows more plants to be grown per square foot? ›

Many people's introduction to gardening itself comes by way of a technique called “square foot gardening.” It's an intensive planting technique that promises to allow a huge amount of food in a very small space.

How to plant a garden with limited space? ›

Plant Companions, Not Competitors

Pairing shallow-rooted vegetables, such as bush beans, with deeply rooted beets makes good use of space without creating root competition. Similarly, planting heavy feeders such as cabbage or cucumbers with light-feeding carrots or beans reduces the competition for soil nutrients.

How do you layout a small vegetable garden? ›

As a general rule, put tall veggies toward the back of the bed, mid-sized ones in the middle, and smaller plants in the front or as a border. Consider adding pollinator plants to attract beneficial insects that can not only help you get a better harvest, but will also prey on garden pests.

What is the most efficient garden layout? ›

Square foot gardening is an efficient and space-saving technique that involves dividing your garden into small, manageable squares. Each square is typically one foot by one foot and is planted with a specific number of plants depending on their size.

How many tomatoes to plant in a square foot garden? ›

Garden tidiness.

SFG recommends planting one indeterminate tomato per square in the grid. We're assuming you're attaching your trellis to the north end of your raised bed and that the tomato is planted in those adjacent squares.

How many tomato plants are in a 4x4 raised bed? ›

A 4ft. x 4ft. raised garden bed gives you 16 square feet of growing space (more if you add some trellises for vertical space). That means you can grow around 10 to 11 indeterminate, or vining, tomato plants in one raised bed—if you really love cherry tomatoes, that is.

What vegetables take up little space? ›

If you select the right vegetables, you can garden successfully even in the smallest of spaces.
  • Sweetheart of the Patio Tomato. ...
  • BushSteak Tomato. ...
  • Sweet Golden Baby Belle Peppers. ...
  • Spacemaster Cucumber. ...
  • Carrots. ...
  • Tom Thumb Dwarf Peas. ...
  • Tom Thumb Lettuce. ...
  • Radishes.

How can I make my garden produce more? ›

10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden
  1. Feed Your Soil. ...
  2. Feed Your Plants. ...
  3. Grow in Dedicated Beds. ...
  4. Grow What Thrives. ...
  5. Make the Most of the Shade. ...
  6. Collect Rainwater. ...
  7. Extend the Growing Season. ...
  8. Space Plants Correctly.
Jan 18, 2024

What are the downsides of square foot gardening? ›

Cons to Square Foot Gardening

While certain learning styles and aesthetics gravitate towards the tidy boxes of SFG, others may find the gridded raised beds creatively constraining or unsightly. Particularly for artistic gardeners who prefer to follow nature's forms, perfect squares may feel rigidly counterintuitive.

What is the best layout for a square foot garden? ›

To keep the planting simple, there are no plant spacings to remember. Instead, each square has either 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants in it, depending on the size of the plant—easy to position in each square by making a smaller grid in the soil with your fingers.

How many marigolds per square foot for gardening? ›

Marigold seeds are planted 1/2 inch deep, 4 per square foot, in the full sun. Take care to notice what plants are around the area as well, see the companion plant section below. Your seeds should sprout within 14-21 days.

Are there methods to grow more food in a small space? ›

Create spaces that allow you to extend planting and harvest dates earlier and later in the season. Stay organized with succession planting to grow multiple crops in each space throughout the year. Harvest and store crops smartly. Know the appropriate time of day and stage of growth to harvest your crops.

How to grow an abundance of vegetables? ›

7 Secrets To Have A Continuously Productive Vegetable Garden
  1. Plant Seedlings on Time. ...
  2. Grow Continual Producers. ...
  3. Companion Planting is Good. ...
  4. Plant Perennials. ...
  5. Build a Cold Frame or Greenhouse. ...
  6. Try New Crops.
Aug 10, 2023


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