Gardens are such lovely things to have in the summertime. They can provide delicious food, beautiful flowers, or a relaxing maintenance experience as you work daily.
If you are thinking about planting a garden, you may wonder how to start. One of the most common questions would-be gardeners have is how far apart to plant items.
Gardening planting distances are not always obvious and distance can make a big difference in how your plants grow and produce food.
Why Do Plants Need Space?
Plants require space to grow and thrive. As the plants in your garden grow, they will get larger and take up more space in your garden bed or yard.
When you first put a plant into your garden, it will likely be small and take up little space.
For a healthy garden, you want to provide space for your plants to expand and extend as far as required for them to flourish.
Plants grow larger as they mature, allowing them to produce more food. They also grow larger leaves and take up more space to soak up more of the sunshine they need to thrive.
Plants placed too close together can block sunlight from each other, stunting or stopping their growth.
Besides growing larger on the surface, plants also need space because of what occurs under the dirt.
Keep in mind that plants have extensive root systems to obtain water and nutrients from the soil.
When plants are placed too close together in a garden they compete for water and nutrients.
The result is an unhealthy garden where plants can wilt, produce little food, or die because they simply are not getting enough of what they need to survive.
Water is especially important when determining the best square foot distancing for your garden.
If you live in a dry climate with little rain, like Arizona, New Mexico, or Nevada, there will be high competition for water in your garden.
If you’re in a rain-heavy environment, like Hawaii, Mississippi, or Florida, you can place your plants closer together.
You may even opt for the minimum square footage around each plant because there will be less competition between plants in your garden for water.
Another reason plants need space is to protect them from disease.
Many diseases can affect garden plants, from black spots to powdery mildew. Unhealthy plants, like the kind produced by garden overcrowding, are more vulnerable to disease.
To protect your plants from garden disease, you want to ensure you space them properly so that they are healthy and can withstand these threats.
One final reason you want to place plants at farther distances from one other in your garden is you. You will need space to move around and work in your garden.
Ensuring you have enough space between plants or rows makes gardening much easier.
What Are the Different Garden Layouts?
The way you space plants in your garden as you determine the best square foot gardening planting distances has a lot to do with how you lay your garden out.
There are three basic options for garden layouts from which to choose in order to maximize your space and ensure your plants can thrive:
- Raised beds
- Row planting
- Staggered planting
One layout many gardeners choose is building raised beds for their plants. Raised beds have many benefits, including:
- Better drainage
- Uncompacted soil
- Earlier spring warming (which leads to earlier crop yields)
- Longer season of growth
- Fewer weeds
- Better soil temperature
- Ideal drainage
- Less pest susceptibility
- Unlikely to be trampled by kids or pets
- May leave your yard intact
How you place your plants will depend on the size of your raised bed and the plants you choose.
One option many raised bed gardeners use is lattice or separated gardening.
With this method, you place a lattice or matrix of boards on top of your raised bed to separate plants from one another.
The benefit of this method is that you can see the space in which each plant should grow. This makes tending to your plants clearer and also makes weeding easier.
Because this is such a clear garden layout, it is an ideal set-up for beginning gardeners.
The most common layout for backyard gardens is row planting.
With this layout, you place plants in clearly defined rows, ensuring you place enough distance between the plants in each row.
This layout makes your garden look neat while ensuring your plants have the space they need to thrive.
It also makes your garden easier to navigate as you walk between rows tending to your plants.
Also, Read: Square Foot Gardening Nasturtium
If you opt instead for a staggered garden, there is no predefined layout to use.
Staggered gardens are characterized by placing plants just so far apart that they have enough space to grow, but not setting predetermined rows for planting.
Often staggered gardens use a zig-zag pattern to maximize the use of space.
The benefit of staggered gardening is that you can likely fit more plants in your garden than if you are using the traditional row method.
One drawback of this layout is that it can make your garden more difficult to navigate and make weeds harder to spot and pluck.
How Much Space Do Plants Need?
The amount of space a plant needs to grow and thrive depends on the type of plant and what grows alongside it.
Different plants take up different amounts of space, and companion planting (which we’ll discuss later) can affect how a plant grows.
In general, plants should have between 1.5 and 3 square feet of space for ideal growing conditions.
That is a wide range, however, and if you are trying to maximize space, you want to put your plants close enough that you make the best use of that space but not so close together that growth is stunted or stalled.
Also, keep in mind that larger plants need more space.
While most plants can thrive with square foot perimeters between 1.5 and 3 square feet, some large or wide-spreading plants like cucumbers, butternut squash, and pumpkins may need as much as 6 square feet surrounding them to grow best.
Since plants can vary so widely in the amount of space required for ideal growth, it helps to know the exact preferred square-foot gardening planting distances for the plants you may want.
Below is a list of some of the most common garden plants with their ideal square foot planting distances:
- Artichokes: 1.5 square feet
- Asparagus: 1-1.5 square feet
- Pole beans: .2-3 square feet
- Bok choy: 1.5-2.5 square feet
- Broccoli: 2-3.5 square feet
- Brussels sprouts: 2-3 square feet
- Butternut squash: 3-5 square feet
- Cabbage: 1-3 square feet
- Carrots: 1-1.5 square feet
- Corn: 1.5-3 square feet
- Cucumbers: 3-5 square feet
- Eggplants: 2-3 square feet
- Kale: 1.5-2 square feet
- Lettuce: 1 square foot
- Okra: 1.5-3 square feet
- Peas: 1.5-2 square feet
- Peppers: 1.5-2 square feet
- Potatoes: 1-3 square feet
- Pumpkins: 6-10 square feet
- Radishes: .5 square foot
- Spinach: .5-1.5 square feet
- Tomatoes: 2-4 square feet
- Zucchini: 2-3 square feet
How to Measure Your Garden
If you are working with a raised bed and know the dimensions of the bed, measuring your garden is not such a daunting task.
If however, you’re working with a backyard garden and you have an irregular or unknown space, it can be hard to know how to measure your garden’s square foot planting distances.
First, measure the square footage of your garden. This is easiest if your garden is in a square or rectangular shape, but you can accomplish this with any garden.
To calculate square footage for a square or rectangle, simply multiply the length by the width.
If your garden is more of a triangular shape, measure the base of the triangle and the total height from that to the top point.
Then, multiply the base length by the height length and divide by two to get the square footage.
Once you know the square footage of your garden, it is time to create a matrix to set the square footage you will need around each plant.
With your measuring tape, measure 1 foot from a corner of your garden space around the edge. Place a stick one foot from the corner.
Continue measuring around the perimeter of your garden, placing a stick every foot until you’ve rounded the entire space. Then, take a string and tie it to the end of each stick.
Carry the string across your garden and tie it to a stick on the other side directly across from the original one.
Continue doing this until you have formed a grid across your entire garden.
What you will end up with is a series of squares that are each one square foot.
Now you can determine where to place each plant based on the square foot distance you want surrounding each plant.
If a plant needs two square feet surrounding it, plant it in the center of a square and ensure there are two squares around each side.
Keep in mind that different plants need different amounts of space to grow and thrive.
So, you do not want your plants to be equidistant from each other in your garden.
Instead, you want each plant to have the recommended square foot planting distance between it and other plants to maximize your space.
Maximizing Your Garden Space with Companion Planting
This practice is called companion planting.
Companion planting involves placing plants that can benefit one another closer together. Believe it or not, some plants thrive when together.
With companion planting, the proximity of plants to one another may benefit only one of those plants or both. Some of the benefits of companion planting include:
- Better soil: Some plants can improve soil conditions for the plants around them. Beans, for example, take in nitrogen from the atmosphere and add it to the soil, enriching the soil for surrounding plants.
- Support: Plants that need support, like pole beans that need something vertical to climb as they grow, can use other plants for that support. With our pole bean example, you can plant these vegetables alongside corn; the pole beans will climb the corn as they grow.
- Protection: Some plants, like herbs, like to be grown in shade. Planting them near other plants that will guard them from the sun offers the protection they need to thrive.
- Weeds: Plants that tend to extend and sprawl as they grow provide excellent ground cover for the larger plants around them. This ground cover discourages weeds from growing, making the taller plants flourish while making your weeding job as a gardener much easier.
- Insects: Some plants can attract insects that are beneficial for the plants around them, for example, bees which can spread pollen. The inverse is also true. Some plants emit odors bugs don’t like and can keep pests from eating away at your fruits and vegetables.
A great example of companion planting is known as the three sisters.
The companions in this gardening approach are corn, climbing beans, and squash. The climbing beans can use the corn as they grow.
Meanwhile, squash takes up lots of room on the ground as they grow, shading the ground and preventing water loss through evaporation.
What’s more, squash tends to have large, prickly leaves, which can keep pests and weeds at bay.
Additionally, climbing beans pull nitrogen from the atmosphere, enriching the soil for the corn and squash to grow.
There are many examples of great companion planting combinations.
The odor of basil, for example, can keep unwanted pests away from your tomato plants while the tall-growing tomatoes provide the shade the basil herb loves.
Or garlic planted between your potatoes, cabbage, or lettuce can repel vegetable-destroying insects like ermine moths, onion flies, Japanese beetles, and aphids.
Companion planting is a great way to maximize your space while creating ideal conditions where each plant can thrive.
When practicing companion planting, it is best not to rely on recommended plant spacing. Instead, research which plants should grow together and place them in closer proximity.
Additionally, you may like some more gardening posts:
- Chamomile Square Foot Gardening
- Square Foot Gardening Pumpkins
- Square Foot Gardening Sugar Snap Peas
- Lavender Square Foot Gardening
There is no universal rule for square-foot gardening planting distances. Each plant has unique needs; there are different recommendations for spacing for different plants.
Use the information above to help determine the best square-foot planting distances to use in your garden.
Use practices like staggered gardening and companion planting to maximize your use of space. Happy distancing and happy planting!
I’m Elsa, and I love gardening. I started GardeningElsa.com as a resource for other gardeners, and I offer expert advice on gardening topics such as plants, flowers, herbs, and vegetable gardening. On my website, I share my latest tips and tricks for creating beautiful gardens. When I’m not working on my website, you can find me in my own garden, tending to my plants and flowers. Read more about me.