Started in 1981, square-foot gardening was developed and coined by civil engineer Mel Bartholomew. Bartholomew’s book, Square Foot Gardening, is known as one of America’s bestselling gardening books of all time. Since then, there have been over one million copies sold and the long-awaited update was published in 2006 as The All New Square Foot Gardening. Bartholomew developed the technique upon finding that single-row gardening was less efficient and productive. He created the technique by combining his city design and planning experience with his green thumb. Want to learn more about this technique? Follow our Square Foot Gardening 101 Guide.

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening is a method of intensive gardening that is ideal for residential areas
Put simply, this technique is the most often used method for growing vegetables, herbs, and greens in a small space. It involves careful planning and measurement of gardening plots, companion planting, intensive spacing, and allows you to get the most food possible out of a small space. Square Foot Gardening yields healthier plants while cutting down on gardening chores and saving money and resources.

Why Choose Square Foot Gardening?

There are several benefits of Square Foot Gardening. First, it allows you to grow more in a smaller space, has no negative effects or damage to your yard, and due to its simplicity, is ideal for new gardeners. Generally, watering and fertilizing are more direct, which means you waste less, and as such, plants are healthier due to natural crop rotation and better air circulation. Similarly, weeds are easy to control because they are in a set space when using this method and similarly, it’s easier to treat plant infections. Square foot gardening systems increase food security among populations around the world. Finally, square foot gardening systems are more aesthetically pleasing and less chaotic looking.

How To:

First, build a bottomless box that is 4×4 feet square. Next, fill the box with a lightweight planting mix. Then, create your grid by marking out a one-foot square grid system with stakes and string, wood slats, or stones. For added space, build trellises for vining plants like peas, beans, and squash. As a rule of thumb, you should plant seeds into each grid individually large plants or add many seeds for smaller plants. Lastly, you’ll want to gently water and fertilize your plants according to their individualized needs.

  • 1 seed plants: celery, corn, eggplant, kale, okra, lettuce, oregano, parsley, peppers, potatoes, rosemary, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (stake)
  • 2 seeds plants: cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, winter squash
  • 4 seed plants: basil, garlic (large bulbs), kohlrabi, leeks, onions, winter radishes, rutabaga, summer squash, swiss chard, zucchini, tomatoes (cage)
  • Up to 8 or 9 seed plants: green beans, beets, cilantro, garlic (small bulbs), leeks, onions, peas, spinach, tomatoes, turnips
  • 16 seed plants: carrots, parsnips, radishes

Square Foot Gardening 101 Pro-Tip:

As a pro-tip, you should rotate what you put in each box to keep plant-specific diseases from building up. With that said, keeping a garden journal will help you remember what you planted. Year one plant green beans, year two plant tomatoes, year three plant cabbage, year four plant pumpkins or go back to beans.
Rotate your plants according to these categories:

  • Enrichers – legumes that enrich the soil with nitrogen (legumes, beans, peas, and peanuts)
  • Nightshades – heavy feeds (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers)
  • Leaf Crops – Need lots of nitrogen, anything grown for its leaves (cabbage, broccoli, kale)
  • Squash Feeders – heavy feeders (squash, pumpkins, melons, cucumbers)

Square Foot Gardening 101

Square foot gardening is a solid method for any at-home gardener who is a beginner or short on space. Looking to test out your green thumb and start your gardening journey? Here are some more of our 101 guides!