What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening has been around for a long time but it is still new to many gardeners. This guide will teach you the key points of this unique gardening approach.

Square Foot Gardening has been around since 1981. It was created as an approach to grow more vegetables per square foot of ground.
In summary, Square Foot Gardening is the approach of separating vegetable beds into 1-foot square sections. Plants are added to each section rather than sown in rows as they were traditionally grown.

Square Foot Gardening is an intensive growing approach where you can plant 3 -4 times the number of plants you would with the traditional row spacing.

Square Foot Gardening: a brief history.

In 1981 Mel Bartholomew created Square Foot Gardening as a new approach to growing vegetables. He felt that there was a much better way to grow vegetables in smaller spaces and in a way that meant less work for the grower. He, therefore, started experimenting with growing fruit and vegetables in 1-foot square sections, publishing his approach in his book Square Foot Gardening.

He advised creating 4x4 1-foot beds as the simplest and easiest way to implement his approach. But you can follow his approach using any multiples of 1-foot squares.

Screenshot of a typical 4 by 4 foot square foot gardening vegetable bed taken from VegPlotter's free online garden planner

How to set up the Square Foot Beds

Bartholomew recommended growing in raised beds, but that is not a hard restriction, and you can follow square foot gardening in any bed type.
Creating the beds is as simple as measuring out the length and width you need. As long as the full bed reaches a multiple of 1-foot squares, you are right. Good weed-free compost is recommended for filling the bed. This is to minimise the risk of perennial weeds and ultimately reduce the work needed in future.

Then lay out your beds into 1-foot squares. Ideally, you would use rigid lengths of wood that don't move. But you can also use taught string. Typically SFG growers use thin wooden laths to separate the 1-foot sections.

Square Foot Layout / Planning Guide

Laying out your plants in your Square Foot Garden bed is simple but there are a few points you need to consider. Many are the same as you would layout your traditional row-based plantings:

  • Plan to put a good variety of plants across the bed. This helps to minimise the risk of attracting one type of pest to the bed.
  • Know your plants. Some like to be sited next to each other (like corn for good pollination). If they do plant then in a small block will help.
  • Where plants need a structure to climb up, it can be useful to build that structure along one side of the bed and plant those plants along that row of squares.
  • Be mindful of the potential heights of plants and where the sun travels through the day. Make sure the tall ones aren't going to shade the smaller plants.
  • Consider how you will protect your more vulnerable plants. You can do this with other plants or by adding netting or caging to protect the plants.
    Consider this when deciding where to plants these plants.

How to layout your plants in each square

If you plan out your vegetable garden layout with our free garden planner, it will tell you how many plants to include in each section. It will also show you how to lay them out in each square. You can also use the table below to guide how many plants to sow in each 1-foot square section.

PLANT NUMBER (per Square)
Asparagus 1
Aubergine 1
Basil 4
Beetroot 9
Bell Pepper 1
Broad Bean 8
Broccoli Sprouting 1
Brussels Sprout 1
Cabbage (winter/savoy) 1
Calabrese (Broccoli) 1
Carrot 16
Cauliflower 1
Celery 4
Chives 16
Coriander (Cilantro) 1
Courgette (Zucchini) 2 per 4 squares
Cucumber 2
Dill 1
Florence Fennel 1
French Bean 8
Garlic 9
Kale 2
Kohlrabi 9
Leek 9
Lettuce (loose Leaf) 4
Mint 1
Mustard 16
Onion 16
Pak Choi 4
Parsley 4
Parsnip 4
Pea 8
Perpetual Spinach (Spinach Beet) 9
Potato 4
Pumpkin 2 per 4 squares
Radish 16
Runner Bean 8
Seakale 2
Spinach 9
Spring Cabbage 1
Squash 2 per 4 squares
Strawberry 4
Summer Squash 2 per 4 squares
Sweetcorn 4
Swiss Chard 4
Tomato 1
Watermelon 2 per 4 squares
Winter Squash 2 per 4 squares

Is Square Foot Gardening up to the hype?

Square Foot Gardening is an excellent way to garden, especially in small gardens. It has been around since 1981 and is a tried and tested approach. It makes a gardeners life easier by maximising the capacity of each bed. In turn, weeds are minimised, with crops covering the entire bed. It is certainly worth giving it a try. Maybe give it a go on one bed.

We recommend using our online garden planner to plan and layout your garden, especially your square foot garden.


Author: Richard Lewis

I enjoy vegetable gardening, being a dad, building software, sailing, rowing and food.

Creator of vegplotter.com - the simple and effective allotment/vegetable garden planning software. Give it a try.