What Is Square Foot Gardening?

Organic gardening and raised bed gardening are two of the terms people often use when describing square foot gardening. Square foot gardening is simply "gardening on a grid."

Build a 4-foot by 4-foot square box. Fill it with soil and add a grid that separates the box into approximately 1-foot by 1-foot squares. Plant your vegetables and flowers, using 1, 4, 9 or even 16 plants per square foot, with one variety or vegetable in each grid. That's classic square foot gardening.

Apartment dwellers, people with limited yard or porch space, children and seniors are often happy starting their square-foot gardening experience with a 2-foot by 2-foot box or smaller.

With a raised bed, or box that rises 1 to 3 feet off the ground, you have a raised bed garden. But a true square-foot garden also divides the soil into sections for ease in planting, weeding, growing and harvesting your vegetables.

Both square-foot and raised bed gardens are always tended to from the aisles, not from walking or kneeling on the soil in the garden. Therefore it's important to separate your boxes at least 3 feet apart, to make sure you have room to move and work between boxes.

Tips for Starting Your Square Foot Garden

  • Decide what you want to grow, flowers or vegetables, herbs or a mixture, to help you plan the number of boxes you'll need.
  • Decide how much time you want to spend on your garden and what size garden box you'll need to accommodate your needs.
  • Don't use pressure treated lumber for your frame. The wood contains toxic chemicals which will leach into your soil and plants.
  • If you have more than one box, make sure the aisles between them are wide enough to get a stool or cart between them, and that you have enough room to work with ease - generally a distance of about 3 feet from wall-to-wall.
  • Use a grid. The grid is what makes the garden work. You can use string tied to stakes, or 1-inch by 2-inch lumber, plastic lattice or whatever will help you keep the box divided into square-foot sections.
  • Don't over-plant. If your seed pack says plant one plant per 12 inches, then plant one plant per square.
  • Use quality soil, preferably your own compost. Since you aren't walking or kneeling on the soil, it shouldn't compact from pressure. You will still need to be able to work it easily. Mix bags of soil from a home or gardening center with peat moss and vermiculite to help keep soil loose and to hold in moisture.
  • After harvesting your crop, rotate your next planting. Plant something different in that square so you don't deplete all the nutrients there.
  • Water often, but water only as much as your plants need. When you first plant your garden, seeds and seedlings will need more water, especially when it's hot. Water by hand, and water with warm water when possible. Plants watered with warm water (between 62 and 72 degrees, about room temperature or sun warmed) will grow faster and bigger.