Why You Should Try Square-Foot Gardening for a Higher Yield (2024)

Popularized by retired engineer-efficiency expert Mel Bartholomew, square-foot gardening allows you to get a high yield from a small area—a win-win situation for beginning and experienced gardeners. It's especially beneficial to gardeners who don't have much time or yard space. Square-foot gardening typically starts with a 4x4-foot raised garden bed filled with amended soil, then subdivided into 1-foot squares with markers like lattice strips. You then plant the appropriate number of plants in each square. (You determine this by plant size.) This method optimizes your space and reduces the effort needed to go from planting to harvest.

Follow the steps below to start your square-foot garden.

1. Pick the Correct Location for Square-Foot Gardening

As with most vegetable gardens, a square-foot garden must be where the ground is relatively flat and gets at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun daily. Avoid low areas that may turn into puddles after a hard rain. You may want to choose a spot near your house to make watering, weeding, harvesting, and other garden chores more convenient and harder to overlook.

Why You Should Try Square-Foot Gardening for a Higher Yield (1)

2. Build a Raised Garden Bed

The most common configuration for square-foot raised garden beds is 4x4 feet. At this size, most gardeners can reach the middle from any side. Plus, this size divides easily into a grid of sixteen 1x1-foot squares. Make your sides at least 6 inches deep. Growing root vegetables such as carrots call for sides that are 12 inches deep.

To make a 6-inch-tall raised bed for square-foot gardening in a flash, buy four planter wall blocks (which have 2-inch slots on four sides) and four 4-foot-long 2x6s at your local home center. Set the blocks approximately 4 feet apart on level ground to form a square. Connect two blocks by sliding a 2x6 board into the respective 2-inch slots. Repeat with the remaining boards and blocks to create a 4x4-foot frame in about 15 minutes. Use a more durable material such as pressure-treated lumber or cedar for a long-lasting frame.

Avoid using pressure-treated lumber from 2004 or earlier; it may have been treated with arsenic that will leach into the soil.

3. Fill the Raised Garden Bed

You've built the frame for a raised garden bed; now you need to fill it with soil. You may be wondering if you need special soil for square-foot gardening. You can use what you have as long as you amend it (which is a good idea for any garden). First, loosen and aerate the ground soil. Then mix in enough compost (and extra topsoil if needed) to fill the frame.

Work compost into the soil at the rate of one-third by volume (such as a 2-inch layer of compost into 6 inches of soil).

If you want to be more scientific about it, you should test your soil to determine its composition. Once you have that information, add the right amendments in the correct proportions to achieve the best-growing medium for a vegetable garden.

Another option: Prepare the soilless mix advocated by Mel Bartholomew rather than amending your ground soil. Follow this formula: one-third compost, one-third peat moss, and one-third vermiculite. You'll need 8 cubic feet of it to fill a bed with 6-inch sides and 16 cubic feet to fill a bed with 12-inch sides. This mix is pricey, but it creates a weed-free bed that's high in nutrients and retains moisture.

Blend the ingredients well whether you amend the existing soil or create a new soilless mix. Some gardeners use a portable concrete mixer plugged into a household outlet to get a uniform texture and distribution of particle sizes. No mixer? No problem. Blend all the ingredients on top of a tarp, then shovel the mixture into the frame. To get a speedier start on planting, skip the mixing and fill the frame with high-quality bagged garden soil from a nursery or gardening center.

Once the bed is filled and you've raked the soil or soilless mix smooth, create a square-foot garden grid using lattice strips, PVC pipes, or even string. (Use nails or screws to attach the grid to the sides of the frame.) Being able to see each square-foot section clearly simplifies planting. If you like, cover the prepared garden with a thin layer of fine mulch to conserve soil moisture and slow down the growth of weeds.

4. Plant Your Favorite Veggies

If you're building more than one raised square-foot garden bed, leave enough space between them to roll a wheelbarrow. The formula for planting is simple: one extra-large plant per 1x1-foot square; four large plants per square; nine medium plants per square; and 16 small plants per square.

Here's an idea of what you can fit in each square: one vine tomato, pepper plant, or eggplant; four bush tomatoes, heads of cabbage, or heads of lettuce; nine onions or beets; or 16 radishes. Zucchini needs nine of the 16 squares for just one specimen, but you can plant other vegetables in the remaining seven squares. Vegetables or fruits that spread (such as watermelons) require a separate bed.

Planting Seeds

If planting seeds, plant one seed per hole spaced appropriately for the mature plant. (Look on the back of the packet for instructions.) Poke a finger through the mulch into the soil, drop in a small amount of vermiculite, then the seed, and cover it with more vermiculite (a material that will help keep the seeds moist while it's sprouting). Mist the newly planted seeds daily, so the soil doesn't dry out. Once plants are established, water them approximately once a week.

Transplanting Vegetables

If you're transplanting vegetables from a nursery or gardening center, use the same spacing method mentioned earlier. Place plants in the dirt, leaving a shallow depression around each one to help hold water. You may want to shade newly planted vegetables to protect them from wilting. Water daily for a few days, then remove the shade and water weekly.

Why You Should Try Square-Foot Gardening for a Higher Yield (3)

5. Maintain Your Garden

Yes, square-foot gardening may take a little less work than traditional gardening, but you still have to pay attention to your produce.

Watering Schedule

You need to water when the soil feels dry, but you won't waste water on any exposed soil between traditional rows. Don't water from overhead. Instead, use a small container to water each plant individually—pouring the water into the depressions you made when you planted them. Don't panic; it will still take less than 10 minutes to water a 4x4-foot garden this way. If your schedule permits, water in the morning.

You'll need to water more often on days that are hot or windy because the soil will dry out faster.

Weeding Your Garden

Plan on weeding every week, but either pull weeds when they're small or use scissors to cut weeds off at the base instead of pulling them up by the roots or using a hoe. (You don't want to disturb the roots of vegetables growing nearby.) Make it easy on yourself by weeding every time you walk by the bed or only one square at a time. Because weeds won't compete with your vegetables for nutrients, you probably won't need to fertilize.

Pest Control

Inspect your garden daily to spot insect trouble early. Either hand-pick and destroy insects or spray the soft-bodied ones with insecticidal soap. Knock aphids off of plants by spraying them with a hose.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I grow tomatoes in my square-foot garden?

    If you want to grow tomatoes in your square-foot garden, compare the different varieties. Bush tomatoes (determinate) produce fruit all at once. Each plant requires four squares but won't need staking. Vining tomatoes (aka indeterminate) such as 'Early Girl' and most heirlooms take up to nine squares if unsupported. Or you can stake this type of tomato and only use one square if you prune the plant regularly.

  • Is harvesting any different with a square-foot garden than a regular garden bed?

    The only difference between harvesting veggies from a square-foot garden instead of a traditional garden is that there is less territory to cover. You'll still harvest vegetables when young, tender, and at their flavor peak.

Why You Should Try Square-Foot Gardening for a Higher Yield (2024)

FAQs

Why You Should Try Square-Foot Gardening for a Higher Yield? ›

You will find that fewer weeds will germinate in the more densely planted square-foot garden, and weeds, which do germinate will be easier to remove in the lighter-amended soil in the bed. You will also find harvesting simpler in a square-foot bed, as long as the bed is not larger than 4-feet wide.

Why is square-foot gardening good? ›

The Square Foot Gardening Method™ saves gardeners time, effort, tools, space and water. The Square Foot Gardening Method is estimated to cost 50% less, uses 20% less space, 10% of the water, and only 2% of the work compared to single row gardening.

What is square-foot gardening summary? ›

Square foot gardening is the practice of dividing the growing area into small square sections. The aim is to assist the planning and creating of a small but intensively planted vegetable garden. It results in a simple and orderly gardening system, from which it draws much of its appeal.

How much does a garden yield per square foot? ›

With good soil and close planting, you might estimate a conservative yield of about 1 pound per square foot. So in a 400-square-foot garden — just 20 by 20 feet — you can grow enough veggies for yourself.

What is the square-foot gardening idea? ›

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.

Is square foot gardening the best? ›

The Bottom Line

Square foot gardening is a solid gardening method for any home gardener, especially beginners and people who are short on space. The drawbacks (while real) all have fairly simple solutions. Of course, it's all about your individual needs and preferences, but if it interests you, we say give it a whirl!

Does square foot gardening actually work? ›

Popularized by retired engineer-efficiency expert Mel Bartholomew, square-foot gardening allows you to get a high yield from a small area—a win-win situation for beginning and experienced gardeners. It's especially beneficial to gardeners who don't have much time or yard space.

How does square feet work? ›

Measure the length and width, in feet, of each room. Then, multiply the length by the width to calculate that room's square footage. For example: If a bedroom is 12 feet by 20 feet, it is 240 square feet (12 x 20 = 240). For each room, write the total square footage in the corresponding space on your sketch.

What does the square foot represent? ›

Square footage is a measurement of area, and area is the measurement of any two-dimensional space contained within a set of lines. Think of it in the sense of a dance floor. Take a moment to imagine a dance floor that is 20 feet by 20 feet (6.09 meters by 6.09 meters).

How can I increase my garden yield? ›

10 Ways to Boost Yields in Your Vegetable Garden
  1. Comfrey is a powerful fertilizer.
  2. Choose plants and varieties suited to your location for best results.
  3. Rainwater is best for plants.
  4. Using the Garden Planner can help you make the most of your space.
  5. Mixing up flowers with vegetables can help reduce problems with pests.
Jan 11, 2019

What does yield mean in gardening? ›

In agriculture, the yield is a measurement of the amount of a crop grown, or product such as wool, meat or milk produced, per unit area of land. The seed ratio is another way of calculating yields.

How many square feet is a good size garden? ›

As a rule of thumb, you should start small then add if needed. A good starting size for a garden would be between 75 and 100 square feet.

What are the downsides of square foot gardening? ›

Drawbacks of Square Foot Gardening

Some crops, like large, indeterminate tomatoes, need more space than a single square foot—otherwise they'll start stealing nutrients and water from other plants. Plus, plants can deplete moisture and nutrients quickly in a square foot garden due to the intensive planting technique.

Can you do square foot gardening in ground? ›

Developed by Mel Bartholomew, Square Foot Gardening maximizes food yields in small gardens by using successive planting techniques and intensive spacing. While originally developed strictly for use with raised beds, we've found these techniques work well when gardening directly in the ground, too.

What is square foot gardening and companion planting? ›

Each square foot of the grid will contain a specified number of seeds of one kind, based on how that plant grows. The squares will then be arranged so that companion plants, plants that grow well together, border one another.

What is the most efficient garden layout? ›

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.

Is square foot gardening the same as intensive gardening? ›

Intensive gardening is a generic term used to describe methods of maximizing the garden space you use to grow your plants. Square foot gardening, an intensive gardening technique, was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book Square Foot Gardening.

Why is market gardening good? ›

A market garden is a business that provides a wide range and steady supply of fresh produce through the local growing season. Unlike large, industrial farms, which practice monoculture and mechanization, many different crops and varieties are grown and more manual labour and gardening techniques are used.

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