Square Foot Gardening

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Square foot gardening offers an efficient and organized way to grow a variety of food, mainly vegetables, even if you have only a few square feet of available land. In this blog, we will explore the concept of square foot gardening, its foundation, and how you can create your own square foot garden to enjoy an abundance of fresh produce and flowers.

 Square foot gardening was invented by Mel Bartholomew. His passion for creating a gardening method that anyone could embrace led him to develop the concept of square foot gardening. In 1981, Bartholomew introduced his innovative ideas to the world through his book, “Square Foot Gardening,” which quickly became a bestseller. The success of the book led to the establishment of the “Square Foot Gardening Foundation,” a nonprofit organization that aims to promote and educate people about the benefits and techniques of square foot gardening. The foundation continues to carry forward Mel Bartholomew’s legacy by providing resources, training, and support to aspiring square foot gardeners around the world. Through his groundbreaking work and the establishment of the foundation, Mel Bartholomew has empowered countless individuals to embrace gardening, regardless of their available space, and reap the rewards of a bountiful and sustainable harvest.

What is Square Foot Gardening?


Square foot gardening is a gardening method that focuses on utilizing space effectively and maximizing crop yield. It was popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book, “Square Foot Gardening,” which introduced the innovative idea of dividing the growing area into small square foot sections.


The foundation of square foot gardening lies in its efficient use of space and resources. By dividing the garden into equal square foot sections, gardeners can clearly delineate planting beds and manage their crops more effectively. This method is particularly beneficial for those with limited space, such as urban dwellers, apartment owners, or individuals with small yards.


The square foot garden bed, typically raised for easier access and management, becomes the canvas for this gardening technique. The bed is divided into a grid system, with each square foot serving as a designated growing area for specific plants or a grouping of compatible plants. This arrangement allows for easy organization, reduces weed growth, and optimizes the use of soil and nutrients.


One of the key principles of square foot gardening is proper plant spacing. By adhering to the recommended spacing guidelines for each plant, you can optimize growth and ensure efficient utilization of available resources. The square foot gardening method emphasizes close planting, utilizing the entire square foot section effectively. This results in higher yields per square foot compared to traditional gardening methods.


Square foot gardening also promotes the use of compost to enhance soil fertility. Compost plays a vital role in replenishing and maintaining the soil’s nutrient content, supporting healthy plant growth. The small-scale nature of square foot gardening allows for targeted composting, ensuring that each square foot section receives the necessary nutrients for optimal plant development.


Square foot gardening offers the flexibility to implement crop rotation. By rotating crops within the small spaces of a square foot garden, you can reduce the risk of nutrient depletion and plant diseases. This practice helps maintain the overall health of the garden and promotes sustainable gardening practices.


Square foot gardening is a space-efficient and productive gardening method that allows individuals with limited space to enjoy the benefits of growing their own fresh produce and flowers. By dividing the garden into square foot sections, optimizing plant spacing, utilizing compost, and implementing crop rotation, gardeners can maximize their yields and create a thriving garden in even the smallest of spaces.


In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the process of creating a square foot garden, understanding plant spacing, and exploring the pros and cons of this remarkable gardening technique.

How to Create a Square Foot Garden

Creating a square foot garden is a straightforward process that can be adapted to fit your available space and personal preferences. Here are the key steps to follow:

Select an appropriate location: 

Choose a location for your square foot garden that receives adequate sunlight. Most vegetables and herbs require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Ensure that the area is level and easily accessible for maintenance and watering.

Determine the size of your garden bed: 

Assess the available space and determine the size of your square foot garden bed. Consider factors such as the number of plants you wish to grow and the available space in your chosen location. A common size for a square foot garden bed is 4 feet by 4 feet, providing 16 square feet of growing space.

Build or prepare the garden bed: 

Construct a raised garden bed using untreated lumber or other suitable materials. Alternatively, prepare the existing soil in your chosen area by removing any weeds, rocks, or debris and improving its fertility by adding compost or organic matter.

Divide the garden bed into square foot sections: 

Use a grid system to divide the garden bed into equal square foot sections. This can be done by attaching wooden slats or using string to create a grid pattern. Each square foot section will serve as a dedicated growing area for specific plants or plant groupings.

Choose your plants and plan their placement: 

Select the plants you want to grow in your square foot garden. Consider their spacing requirements, compatibility, and the amount of sunlight they need. Refer to planting guides or reputable sources to determine the number of plants that can be accommodated in each square foot section.

Plant your square foot garden: 

Follow the spacing guidelines for each plant and plant them in their designated square foot sections. Ensure proper soil preparation, watering, and labeling of the plants for easy identification. Take into account the height and growth habits of plants to avoid shading or overcrowding.

Maintain and care for your garden: 

Regularly monitor your square foot garden for watering needs, weed control, and pest management. Water the garden as needed, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Mulching can help retain moisture and suppress weed growth. Provide support, such as trellises or cages, for plants that require it.

Harvest and enjoy: 

As your plants grow and mature, harvest the fruits, vegetables, and herbs when they reach their peak ripeness. Regular harvesting promotes further production and ensures a continuous supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season.

By following these steps, you can create your own square foot garden and experience the joy of growing your own food, even in limited spaces. The organized layout and efficient use of resources in square foot gardening make it a practical and rewarding gardening technique. Experiment with different plant combinations and adapt the concept to suit your needs, and soon you’ll be enjoying the bountiful rewards of your square foot garden.

Plant Spacing in Square Foot Gardening

One of the key principles of square foot gardening is proper plant spacing. By understanding and implementing appropriate plant spacing, you can optimize growth, maximize yields, and ensure efficient utilization of available resources. Here are some important considerations when it comes to plant spacing in square foot gardening:

Research plant spacing requirements: 

Different plants have varying spacing needs based on their mature size and growth habits. Refer to reliable gardening resources, seed packets, or plant labels to determine the recommended spacing for each type of plant. This information will guide you in determining the number of plants that can be accommodated in each square foot section.

Utilize the square foot grid: 

The grid system in square foot gardening serves as a visual guide for plant placement and spacing. Each square foot section represents a designated growing area. Based on the plant spacing recommendations, divide the square foot section further into smaller planting areas, ensuring that each plant has enough space to grow and access adequate sunlight, air circulation, and nutrients.

Consider companion planting: 

Companion planting is the practice of growing mutually beneficial plants together. Take advantage of companion planting in your square foot garden to maximize space utilization. By pairing plants that have compatible growth habits, nutrient requirements, and pest-repelling properties, you can optimize the use of each square foot section and create a harmonious garden ecosystem.

Vertical gardening techniques: 

In square foot gardening, vertical gardening techniques such as trellises, cages, or stakes can be employed to support climbing or vining plants. This allows you to grow vertically, utilizing the vertical space and freeing up more square foot sections for other plants. Vertical gardening not only maximizes space but also enhances air circulation and light penetration, benefiting the overall health and productivity of your square foot garden.

Succession planting: 

Succession planting is the practice of planting new crops as soon as the previous ones are harvested. By implementing succession planting in your square foot garden, you can ensure a continuous supply of fresh produce throughout the growing season. As you harvest one crop, replant the square foot section with another compatible plant, making the most of the available space and extending your harvest period.

Regular maintenance and monitoring:

As your plants grow, keep a close eye on their development. Regularly monitor and maintain your square foot garden, ensuring that plants do not become overcrowded or shade each other excessively. Prune and thin plants when necessary to maintain proper spacing and encourage healthy growth.

By paying attention to plant spacing in your square foot garden, you can optimize the use of space and resources, promote healthy plant growth, and achieve bountiful harvests. Remember to tailor the spacing requirements to each specific plant and make adjustments as needed throughout the growing season. With careful planning and adherence to proper plant spacing, your square foot garden will thrive and produce an abundance of fresh and flavorful crops.


The Pros and Cons of Square Foot Gardening

Square foot gardening offers numerous advantages that make it a popular choice for gardeners, especially those with limited space. However, like any gardening method, it also has its drawbacks. Let’s explore the pros and cons of square foot gardening:


Efficient space utilization: 

Square foot gardening maximizes the use of available space by dividing it into small, manageable sections. This allows you to grow a wide variety of plants in a compact area, making it ideal for urban gardens, balconies, or small yards.

Higher yields: 

The close spacing and organized layout of square foot gardening result in higher yields per square foot compared to traditional gardening methods. By following proper plant spacing guidelines and utilizing the available resources effectively, you can harvest more produce from a smaller space.

Reduced weed growth: 

The grid system and raised beds in square foot gardening help minimize weed growth. With clearly defined planting areas and proper soil preparation, you can focus your efforts on tending to your crops rather than battling persistent weeds.

Easy maintenance: 

Square foot gardening is designed to be low-maintenance. The smaller, manageable sections make it easier to care for and tend to individual plants. Weeding, watering, and harvesting can be done more efficiently, saving you time and effort.


Raised beds used in square foot gardening offer ergonomic benefits by reducing the need for bending or kneeling. This makes it easier for individuals with physical limitations or mobility issues to enjoy gardening and engage in nurturing their plants.


Initial setup cost: 

onstructing raised beds and implementing the grid system may involve some initial investment. However, this cost can be offset by the long-term benefits and productivity of your square foot garden.

Regular soil amendment: 

Square foot gardening requires ongoing soil amendment to maintain its fertility. Compost and other organic matter need to be added regularly to replenish nutrients, as the intensive planting in small spaces can deplete the soil more quickly.

Limited plant selection: 

Due to the smaller growing spaces, some larger or sprawling plants may not be suitable for square foot gardening. Additionally, plants with extensive root systems may require more space than a single square foot can provide.

Potential for overplanting: 

In the enthusiasm to maximize space, there is a risk of overplanting in square foot gardening. It’s essential to adhere to recommended plant spacing guidelines to ensure adequate room for plants to grow and access necessary resources.

Monitoring and adjustment: 

Because plants are grown in close proximity, it’s important to regularly monitor their growth and make adjustments as needed. This includes pruning, thinning, and addressing any issues with overcrowding or shading.

By weighing the pros and cons, you can make an informed decision about whether square foot gardening aligns with your gardening goals and constraints. With proper planning, care, and attention, the benefits of increased yields, efficient space utilization, and reduced maintenance make square foot gardening a compelling choice for gardeners seeking to make the most of their available space.


Square foot gardening is a remarkable gardening method that empowers individuals to create productive and flourishing gardens, even in limited spaces. By dividing the garden into small square foot sections, optimizing plant spacing, and utilizing resources efficiently, gardeners can enjoy higher yields, reduced weed growth, and easier maintenance. The organized layout and careful planning of square foot gardening make it an ideal choice for urban dwellers, apartment owners, and anyone seeking to maximize their gardening potential. While there are initial setup costs and ongoing soil amendment requirements, the benefits of increased productivity, efficient space utilization, and the joy of harvesting homegrown produce outweigh the drawbacks. Square foot gardening offers a practical and rewarding way to cultivate fresh vegetables, herbs, and flowers, regardless of the size of your available space. So, whether you have a small yard, balcony, or even just a sunny windowsill, embrace the principles of square foot gardening and embark on a journey of sustainable and abundant gardening. Get ready to witness the transformation of your limited space into a thriving garden oasis bursting with life and flavors. Happy gardening!

About The Writer

Cormac is located in Derry, Northern Ireland and he is the founder of Vine Permaculture. He has 10 years of experience in permaculture gardening and has worked on over 20 permaculture designs and counting. He lives on a small urban plot and has experience raising chickens, worm farming, composting  and growing in an urban environment. He is currently studying for a Diploma in  Permaculture Design with the UK Permaculture Association. 

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