A Square Foot Gardening Layout and Great Tips for Garden Designs

Square foot gardening needs planning in layout and design, but a square foot garden using raised bed gardening methods will have more vegetables, in less space, with half the effort.

Mel Bartholomew is a man who has been attributed to creating a different method of growing vegetables and flowers, and that is not in rows, but in squares. Thus, the term Square-Foot Gardening, or for some, squarefoot gardening. However there is far more to this way of planting other than how you plant your plants.

To quote Mel about his square foot method of gardening he says, "Square Foot Gardening is a new way to garden, in less space, with less work."

What is Square Foot Gardening?

  • Plants are planted in squares rather than rows.
  • The layout of a square foot garden means that the squares are in multiples of 12 inches x 12 inches - the total measurement being 1 square foot.
  • The squares are designed so that you never have to stretch more than 2 square feet to reach your plants.
  • As a result, you never have to walk on your garden, which prevents the soil from becoming compacted.
  • Once your beds have been created, there is no need for any further cultivation.
  • The number of plants per square foot will vary due to size and spread.
  • Crop rotation and companion planting are to be encouraged.
  • All climbing plants are trellised, further optimizing the use of space.
  • It is a popular concept for raised bed gardens, especially for those who don't want to bend all the time.
  • The sets of squares are separated by pathways.

Square Foot Gardening Versus Conventional Gardening

Often we start off with good intentions of having a vegetable garden. But soon we find we don't have the time to dedicate to these plants that are soon overrun with weeds and pests. Square Foot Gardening for vegetables is the answer. According to Mel, by using this system you will save 80% of your space, time and money normally needed to garden, and in addition your results will produce a better harvest that is continuous with less work.

Square Foot Gardening: Getting Started - The Soil

Many people find themselves with soil that is not the perfect growing medium for growing great flowers and vegetables. Furthermore, to try and improve this existing soil will not only take a lot of time, effort and money, but it could be several seasons before one gets good results. If you have poor soil then growing vegetables in containers, as squarefoot gardening is, is the only way to go.

The soil composition proposed is 1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 compost. Vermiculite is preferred over perlite which may be cheaper but it does not absorb as much moisture, keeping your soil moist for longer, and it also floats up to the top of the soil when you water your garden, making it look unsightly.

The composition of the compost is important too. Most commercial bags of compost are only made up of one or two ingredients. To grow great fruit and vegetables you need at least five different composting materials. Therefore, it is advisable to buy five different types of commercial compost and mix them, or the best solution would be to make your own in your own backyard from vegetable scraps, grass clippings, leaves and farmyard manure. You can make compost very quickly. See our article on compost making using worms and making compost bins for storage.

The depth of your boxes and soil would be fine at 6 inches. The richness of the soil mix provides all the necessary nutrients for your plants and therefore there is no need for further depth to your soil.

Square Foot Gardening: Placing a Permanent Grid

Once you have built your boxes and filled them with soil you will be tempted to start planting straight away. Don't! You need to build an additional grid that will be a permanent feature of your boxes. On a 4x4 foot frame you will have a grid with 16 squares. This is your guide as to where you will need to put your plants.

This grid can be made out of strips of wood, doweling etc. and can be left on your frame throughout the year. With the grid you will be planting according to the squarefoot gardening method, without it, you will be tempted to go back to planting in rows.

Square Foot Gardening: Planting the Seeds

With the square foot method of gardening, no longer are we left with a surplus of crops we don't know what to do with, nor do we end up thinning out crops which results in further wastage. Instead each square is planted with exactly the right number of seeds that you will be harvesting. For example 4 seeds of lettuce in one square foot of garden is all you need to harvest 4 lettuces at the end of it. If you want to harvest more lettuces you will plant accordingly. But at the end of the day, you only plant the number of seeds that you want plants.

However, no one family would ever end up eating more than 4 lettuces a week. So what one needs to do is to validate what you plant, and make sure that you plant successively to extend your harvesting season. This is done by planting another 4 seeds a week or two later. That way you can eat what you plant, without ending up with a glut.

The essence of the square foot method is that when you plant your seeds you space them according to the final thinning spacings on the seed packet. So if the seeds should be thinned out at 5 cm each, this is where you plant each seed, and only one seed, and they are placed in the square foot and planted the same distance apart in all directions.

Square Foot Gardening: How Many Seeds Per Square?

How many seeds will be determined by how big your plants will grow, and how much space they need to mature. Onion, carrot and radish seeds need only 3 inches around them to mature, allowing you to plant 16 plants in such an area. Whereas, spinach and bush beans need 4 inches. Therefore, only 9 plants can be planted per square foot.

16 squares a grouped together forming a 4 foot by 4 foot block, thus allowing accessibility from all sides, and preventing the need to trample through your veggies to weed and maintain them. With an average of 8 plants per square foot, this means that with a 4 foot x 4 foot frame you would be planting 130 plants.

Square-Foot Gardening: So What can you Plant in Each Square?


16 radishes
16 carrots 16 onions 9 bush beans

9 spinach
9 beets 9 garlic 8 peas

4 Swiss chard

4 lettuce 4 parsley 4 thyme


1 cabbage
1 broccoli 1 cauliflower 1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 eggplant 1 potato 1 corn


1 tomato
2 cucumbers
1 musk melon
8 pole beans

Square Foot Gardening: Planting to Extend the Harvest

With nearly 2000 seeds in the average lettuce seed packet one really doesn't need to plant the whole packet if you are growing lettuces for the average family, as you would never get through that many lettuces in a season. Therefore it stands to reason that the best method is to plant successively to extend the harvest period. This is easily done in square foot gardening by leaving some of your squares vacant for a week or two and then planting them with more seeds of what you have already planted.

companion planting with marigolds

Square Foot Gardening: Companion Planting

I am a great advocate of companion planting and in a square foot garden system you can easily plant those plants near your crops that will protect them. Marigolds, garlic, chives, onions and nasturtiums are just some of the plants that you can plant to deter bugs and beasties in your garden. We also advocate that you use natural pesticides that are less harmful to the environment.

Buy your own Square Foot Raised Bed Garden Kits

Click on each of the pictures for prices and details.

Books on Squarefoot Gardening

We hope that this has given you some insight into Mel's concept of creating a square foot garden, and something for you to try next time you get into that veggie patch of yours. For more information you can buy his book through our
Best Selling Books

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My Dad and I would spend weekend mornings watching Square Foot Gardening on TV. That was thirty plus years ago. He swore by the method and the garden …

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Hello! As for the square foot gardening, all I have to say is that it's a great system. I tried gardening for many years but desisted do to weeds, …

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