How to Start a Square Foot Garden Planting Guide

lettuces and chives in a raised garden bed How to Start a Square Foot Garden Planting Guide

A square foot garden is a great way to get your hands dirty and grow some of your own food in the backyard or on a small balcony. There are many benefits: saving money, reducing waste, boosting self-sufficiency, and getting closer to nature. This planting guide will show you how easy it can be!

A square foot garden is an excellent way for people who live in apartments or have limited outdoor space to start growing their own produce. A new gardener may want help deciding what should go where – this article will give you all the information you need. You’ll learn about everything from seeds selection and soil preparation to watering methods and pest control so that you’ll be ready for anything as soon as those first shoots break through the

picture of garden bed of lettuces and chives and text How to Start a Square Foot Garden Planting Guide

What is a square foot garden

A square foot garden is a gardening method that was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in the 1970s.

Instead of gardening in rows, you simply section your garden beds into square feet and maximize the amount of space you have. Instead of long rows, you can fit a lot more into a small space.

A square foot garden is something anyone can do! They are easy to start and perfect if you have limited space or you’re pressed for time because they are good for container gardens.

How to plant a square foot garden

1. Pick the perfect spot to start your square foot garden

Most garden plants will require full sun. That means you’ll need a spot that gets six or more hours of sunlight per day.

Also, be sure to choose a spot that is convenient to you and you’ll think looks nice. I love the experience of gardening and seeing my efforts pay off in beautiful plants. If your garden is in an out-of-the-way spot you don’t see often then you might lose interest or be less likely to enjoy the process.

Finally take a few practicalities into consideration, like how far from a water source your spot is. You’ll probably want to keep it near your hose or water source for easy watering. On the flipside, make sure you don’t pick a spot that is very soggy or likely to flood with a bit of rain. Plants like water, but not that much water.

2. Prepare your area for square foot gardening

First, you’ll have to prep your garden beds. If you are doing an in-ground garden check out the no-dig method I go into detail about here. If you are creating a raised bed or container garden you’ll simply have to assemble your beds and then fill them with your chosen soil to get them set up.

Next, you’ll want to measure our square feet in your bed. Most people will either use string or small pieces of wood to mark the square feet. To do this simply start at one end of your bed and measure one foot and secure your string or wood from one end of the bed to the other and continue until you reach the end of the bed. Then do the same across what you already measured so that the string or wood is in a criss-cross or lattice pattern. Kind of like tic-tac-toe.

I recently came across this genius little invention that can help make planting a square foot garden even easier! No measuring. Just place this square foot template in your garden and it will mark out square feet for you. It also has places marked for sowing seeds so you’ll space them correctly every time.

3. Plant your square foot garden

Choose plants that do well in small spaces

Most people who start their garden with the square foot gardening method are doing it because they don’t have a ton of space, but want to get the most out of the area they do have to plant. If that’s the case, it’s essential to choose plants that will do well in a small area.

I’ll give you some ideas, but what you will want to look out for is how much space it says they need on the seed packet or on the plant’s tag. It should give you spacing guidelines that let you know how far apart each plant needs to be for optimal growth. Choose crops that have a smaller footprint and need less spacing to get more into your small space.

A great group of veggies to include in a small square foot garden are root vegetables. Carrots, beets, radishes, and turnips all take up only a little space and you can pack a lot of them into just a square foot. For example, carrots only need to be planted a couple of inches apart. So in one square foot, you could plant 16 or even more carrots if you’re willing to take a chance and go with the least possible spacing.

Lettuces are a great option for small spaces too. I love sowing my lettuces in thick bands so they grow very close together, and instead of waiting to harvest a large head, I harvest them continually as baby greens. That way to can get a lot into a small space and you can start harvesting them very early.

But don’t be discouraged if you have your heart set on a plant that needs a large space, but you only have a small space to plant it. If you can figure out how to grow it up instead of out you’ll be able to grow it in a small area. So if you just can’t imagine not planting some pumpkins, but only have a little space then try trellising them! You can do this with cucumbers, beans, or other vining plants. When you trellis them they grow up and away from other plants so you really only need a square foot or two of space in the ground to grow them.

Tomatoes are great for small spaces, but just be sure of what variety you’re getting. There are lots of tiny tomatoes meant for pots or small spaces, but really you can grow any type of tomato in a smaller space as long as you are able to trellis it and prune it properly.

How many plants should I plant per square foot?

Like most things in life and gardening… it depends.

Check the back of your seed packet or the plant’s tag for spacing guidelines. You can also use trusty old Google to see how much space each plant needs.

So if you are planting a square foot of carrots you can plant around 16 in one square foot, but only one tomato in a square foot.

What can you plant next to each other in a square foot garden?

If you want to get deep into what to plant next to each other, check out a companion planting book like this one. But for the most part, you can plant whatever you want next to each other.

I would mostly worry about where you’ll be planting within the square foot garden as a whole over what it’s planted next to necessarily. So think about the general design and layout and how you’ll be able to access each plant. Generally you will want to plant shorter and smaller plants towards the front of the bed nearest the sunlight and then taller plants in the back. This way you won’t have to contend with big plants to harvest the smaller ones, and the taller bigger plants won’t block out the sunlight for the smaller ones.

4. Watering your garden

So how often do you need to water your garden?

When your plants are small and just getting established then you’ll need to water them fairly often. Perhaps daily if your weather is particularly hot with little rain, especially if in raised beds or containers.

To know if your garden needs water you’ll have to get to know it. Know what your plants look like when they’re happy, and what they look like when they are feeling thirsty. Are the leaves all spread out and looking healthy? Are they starting to curl up and look dry? Ideally, you won’t let them get to a point when they look super wilty and dry, but if they do then it’s time to water ASAP. You’ll also get used to what the ground feels like. Stick your finger a few inches into your soil. Is it moist? Then you’re good. Is it dry? Then it’s time to water.

Tips for watering your square foot garden

Water at the roots. If you can, water your plants directly at the ground level instead of watering the leaves. Some plants are susceptible to disease if their leaves are too moist for too long without proper air flow.

Don’t water in the heat of the day. Some people say that watering your plants in the hot afternoon sun will burn them, though that’s disputed among gardeners. One thing is for sure, the heat will evaporate your water more quickly leaving less for your plants. The best time to water is in the evening after the sun is down.

Garden design tips for small spaces

Vertical gardening is an awesome method for getting more out of a small space. You can easily make a small garden seem larger by growing up instead of out, maximizing each square foot you have.

Another foolproof way of making small gardens seem more spacious is to use large pots set on the ground out of general viewing range. Lining these up lengthwise rather than across the border of the garden breaks up the usual borders with sightlines which offer an instant sense of expansion, giving guests space and air even when tightly packed together. These pots also allow you do put down groundwork flowers like petunias which offer quick color without taking up too much space- perfectly

Square foot gardening tools and supplies you’ll need

3 Piece Heavy Duty Gardening Tools

You don’t need a lot of tools to start a square foot garden. Minimalism and simplicity are your friends when it comes to gardening in a small space with the square foot method. But investing in a solid set of hand tools will be super helpful when it comes to planting and weeding your garden space. You’ll find lots of cute and fun toolsets on Amazon, but I like this basic set to get started with. I rarely use any tools besides these.

Soil, Compost, and/or Fertilizer for your square foot garden

Whether you’re planning to create a container, raised bed, or in-ground garden for your square foot garden, you’ll probably need soil, compost, and/or fertilizer.

What you choose will totally depend on the soil where you live, your budget, and how you plan to grow your fruits and veggies. For example, if you are planning an inground garden and you have amazing soil there already then you might not have to do anything to amend the soil to make it more fertile. But in most cases, you’ll want to add at least some compost, topsoil, or fertilizer. With a raised bed or container garden you’ll definitely need to fill it with something!

For a small space, you can just order some online or pick up bags of it locally. But if you need larger quantities then check out getting it delivered in bulk from a local place, and some local townships or municipalities might have their own composting program where you can get it for free!

Containers or Raised Beds to Start a Square Foot Garden

Personally, I have in-ground gardens using a no-dig method. Mostly because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for the raised beds, but I also have a pretty large garden at this point. If you are looking at creating a smaller square foot garden then investing in a nice raised bed would be a great idea! They can help keep some pests at bay and are super aesthetic.

If you’re on a budget, also check out these fabric pots and beds.

Trellis for Vining Plants

This is totally optional, but if you plan to include vining plants or plants that need support like cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, or beans, then you’ll want some sort of trellis or support system. Not only does trellising help your plants grow upwards instead of outwards so they take up less space in your square foot garden, but it allows more air to flow between the plants preventing some types of disease.

If you are setting up your square foot garden against a railing, fence, or somewhere that has a spot to tie a netting to, then you can go pretty cheap and just get some trellis netting to let your plants crawl up. I use cattle panels as trellises in my garden, but they are quite large and I get them at the Tractor Supply store. Check out the second picture below (you can click it) to see something that works in a similar way but you can get it from Amazon. I also use bamboo sticks to build my own trellis systems like teepees or A-frame style trellises.

Ready to get planting? I hope so! The square foot method is a great way to start gardening for the first time or a new method to try for the seasoned gardener who usually does rows. Hopefully this how to start a square foot garden planting guide has prepared you to dig in ASAP.

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