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What is Square Foot Gardening?

If you maintain a backyard garden each year, then you might be tired of putting in the same effort year to get less than satisfying results. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results. So why not mix things up this year and try out Square Foot Gardening?

Square Foot Gardening can be an effective strategy for gardeners looking to take a different approach to their vegetable beds this year. But what is Square Foot Gardening? And is Square Foot Gardening right for you? Let’s talk about it.

Square Foot Gardening–What is it?

Square foot gardening is a gardening method that aims to create small, efficient, and productive gardens that grow food you can put to use in your own kitchen. The concept is quite basic and simple, and square foot gardening derives its name from the look of the finished square foot garden. In square foot gardening a garden plot is divided into individual square foot spaces where plants are grown by density.

How to Try Square Foot Gardening for Yourself

To try square foot gardening for yourself, first carve yourself out some garden space. All you need to get started is a small garden bed. Standard dimensions of 4 by 4 feet, or a rectangular 4 by 8 feet will both work well. From there, begin to “square foot” off your space by dividing it into a grid of 1 foot square patches.

Once your space is sectioned off, you can start planting. It may take a little bit of research to determine exactly how many plants or seeds you need for each square, but generally the larger the plant, the less seeds per square foot. For example, only one tomato plant will fit in a square, while you can plant around 15 seeds for smaller plants such as lettuce.

Where did Square Foot Gardening come from?

The history of square foot gardening is relatively modern, with its invention and popularization only occurring in 1981. Invented by retired engineer and hobbyist gardener Mel Bartholomew, it started as an attempt to grow the most efficient vegetable garden possible. Once he saw the success of his experience, Mel decided to write a book.

This book, aptly named Square Foot Gardening, was a hit with the public and is still widely bought today.

In the more than two decades to follow, Bartholomew has continued to expand on his idea. He released another publication, All New Square Foot Gardening, which provides updated guidelines and emphasis on use of compost for planting.

Who is Square Foot Gardening useful for?

Square foot gardening is great for people who are looking to mix up their standard approach to their yearly vegetable garden. If you want to maximize your crops while making the most of a small amount of space, this technique can help you strategize and increase your harvest without increasing your work.

Square foot gardening is not the best option for people with very large garden plots, or who are looking to take a more casual approach to their vegetable gardens this year.

The Pros of Square Foot Gardening

Bang for Your Buck

By packing as many plantings as possible into a small square footage bed, you’re optimizing the bang for your buck. The extensive planting means you will harvest a lot from even these small spaces, making it a great option for gardeners working with limited room, or even container planters.

Easy to Set Up

No one would implement this technique if it took a long time to get running. Square foot gardening is simple to understand and easy to set up. Even starting from scratch, the learning curve is minimal, and your garden bed can take place anywhere.

It’s not unrealistic to envision setting up within just a few hours, taking you from zero to a fully formed square foot garden within a day. If you’ve been put off by other gardening techniques by a high barrier to entry, then square foot gardening might be the planting method for you.

Reduce The Hassle of Weeding

No gardener would tell you that their favorite part of maintaining their vegetable plot is weeding. Weeding can be tough and unrewarding. Spending hours on your knees pulling weeds that seem to return in hours is frustrating at best and can become completely discouraging over time.

Square foot gardening reduces the burden of weeding when your garden is constructed with a soiless mix. This strategy is covered in Bartholomew’s second edition book, All New Square Foot Gardening.


Easy to Maintain

The smaller the garden, the less ground you have to cover–literally. Square foot gardening relies on a small plot with big pay off. Day to day, you should only need to sink a few minutes into maintaining your square foot garden, with the most legwork happening during the initial planting period.

The Cons of Square Foot Gardening

Start Up Costs

While the skill level barrier to creating a square foot garden is low, there is one barrier that can add up. The expense of building raised beds can add up quickly. From materials, to soil, to planting, even small raised beds can impact your bottom line. Generally, in-ground garden beds are cheaper to create than their raised alternatives.

Limited Planting Variety

Small spaces create bang for your buck, but they also create close quarters for your plants. Due to this lack of additional space, larger plants such as squash, corn, or pumpkins may require more room than is provided with a traditional square foot garden bed. Smaller plants like herbs, carrots, lettuce, or radishes can be better choices for square foot gardens.

Shallow Depth

Low on space, and low on soil depth. Square foot gardens are traditionally made using very shallow plots. This means that roots don’t have the room to extend into the soil. To increase soil penetration, create beds that are at least 12 inches deep, or allow ground soil to be permeable.


Finally, shallow soil means more watering. This may not make sense at first, but when you think about it, it’s only logical. The less soil you use in a garden bed, the faster the sun will dry it out. This means that during hot summers, watering may become a regular part of your routine.

You can reduce watering needs in your square foot garden by creating ground cover on the surface of your soil. Mulch, clippings, or even organic paper material will help to block hot sun rays and retain moisture.

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