How to Plant a Square-Foot Garden

Learn how to start a square-foot garden, including proper plant spacing and garden planning techniques, to help you grow more food in less space.

| November 22, 2011

Square-foot gardening has become a method embraced by small-space gardeners. Even if you have a large garden, utilizing this planting technique will help increase your garden’s yield per square foot. Learn about how to plant your square-food garden in this excerpt from All-New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew (Cool Springs Press, 2005). The following is adapted from Chapter 6, “How to Plant Your All New Square-Foot Garden.”  

In square-foot gardening, begin by visualizing what you want to harvest. This simple step prevents you from planting too much. Picture a large plant like a head of cabbage. That single cabbage will take up a whole square foot so you can only plant one per square foot. It’s the same with broccoli and cauliflower. Let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum and think of the small plants like radishes. Sixteen can fit into a single square foot. It’s the same for onions and carrots — 16 per square foot. (Yet that’s a 3-inch spacing between plants, which is exactly the same spacing the seed packet recommends as it says “thin to 3 inches apart.”)

Consider Plant Size

Think of your plants as if they were shirt sizes. Shirts come in all four sizes: small, medium, large and extra large, and so do our plants. It’s that simple. 

The extra large, of course, are those that take up the entire square foot — plants like cabbages, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and geraniums. Next are the large plants — those that can be planted four to a square foot, which equals 6 inches apart. Large plants include leaf lettuce, dwarf marigolds, Swiss chard and parsley. 

Several crops could be one per square foot if you let them grow to their full sizes, or they can be planted four per square foot if you harvest the outer leaves throughout the season. This category includes parsley, basil, and even the larger heads of leaf lettuce and Swiss chard. Using the square-foot gardening method, you snip and constantly harvest the outer leaves of edible greens, so they don’t take up as much space as in a conventional garden. 

Medium plants come next. They fit nine to every square foot, which equals 4 inches apart. Medium plants include bush beans, beets and large turnips.

7/25/2013 9:13:31 PM

I have just built a square foot garden, but only planted a few plants in it, as I left it kind of late in the year. You can follow my progress on my blog.

Will Atkinson
1/3/2012 4:35:38 AM

I'm building/planting a square foot garden this year in our new/old house. This is a great method, thank you, Mel!

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