Whether you live in Arizona, Alaska, or New York City, You need a mixture of food, including fruits and vegetables, to eat. Few Americans have enough space to plant whatever they want.
Square foot gardening can be the answer in situations in which you’re limited on space.
Spacing is key to this approach, so you’ll want to read on to gain a better understanding of its impact before planting.
Also read: Square-Foot Gardening Soil Mix [Best Tips & Tricks]
Many novice gardeners inquire about when to choose certain gardening approaches over others and best practices for ensuring a fruitful harvest.
One of the most resounding reasons these amateur gardeners choose to implement the square-foot gardening approach is due to space restrictions.
Square foot gardening, when well-planned, allows you to grow a diverse sampling and significant amount of plants within a small space.
Spacing within the garden can be a challenge, though. Not all plants require the same amount of space for growing, meaning there are limits on how much you can grow at once.
We’ll delve into how much space is necessary for some common types of plants below.
The same rule for spacing doesn’t apply globally to all plants. Some of the more common spacing requirements include the following.
Allow for 12 inches of spacing per plant for vegetables and most herbs. This spacing is appropriate for:
- Heads of lettuce
- Potatoes (including sweet)
- Brussel sprouts
- Trellis-grown cucumbers
Leave four inches of spacing so you can plant nine plants per square foot when planting vegetables like turnips, scallions, leaf lettuces, and arugula.
A three-inch spacing is necessary to plant 16 radish or carrot plants.
Smaller squash and asparagus require at least 18–24 inches of spacing between them, taking up two square feet per plant.
Zucchini and larger squash plants require nine square feet of planting space each.
The herbs and vegetables below require at least 6 inches of spacing so you can plant four plants per square foot.
- Swiss chard
- Baby kale
- Leaf lettuces
- Shallots onions
Fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and melons require at least four square feet of space for a single plant.
If growing pole beans or peas on a trellis, you need to give them three inches of spacing so you can grow eight plants per square foot of space.
Check out: Companion planting square foot gardening [Complete Guide]
Some people have the desire for self-sufficiency for their nutrients and start a square-foot garden because of the numerous benefits.
We’ll look closer at some of the pros and cons of this gardening method.
Square foot gardening offers significant benefits over other approaches to planting crops, some of which include space efficiency and minimal resources needed.
One of the pros associated with square-foot gardens is their efficiency. You can reap a sizeable harvest using a relatively small amount of space.
Carefully planning the spacing of plants and modifying the layout of your garden can ensure an optimal harvest.
Some gardeners even apply the square-foot gardening approach to their conventional row gardens, which increases their yields without raised beds.
Another pro associated with square-foot gardens compared to other gardening approaches is that it leads to less water use and fewer weed infestations.
Spacing is responsible for all these benefits. The closer your crops are, the less the sun’s rays can reach the soil, keeping each plant hydrated longer.
The proximity of your plants also leaves little room for weeds to sprout, meaning you save time having to pull them.
When using raised beds for your square foot garden, you may feel the need to go out and purchase potting soil and fertilizer after finishing the construction of them—you shouldn’t.
That consists of one-third each of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss and is all the fertilization you need to yield fruitful crops.
Have a look: Okra square foot gardening
While the ability to be self-sustaining using a confined parcel of land makes having a square-foot garden ideal, this approach to gardening does come with some downsides.
Although the ability to grow plants using a small parcel of land is positive, the concept introduces complications.
One con associated with the square-foot gardening approach is the inability to grow some crops next to others.
Certain plants, like tomatoes, aren’t likely to thrive when planted next to other fruits and vegetables.
For example, planting tomatoes next to corn leaves them vulnerable to becoming infected with a corn earworm or tomato fruitworm, which can eat through your entire harvest.
Likewise, planting potatoes and tomatoes next to each other can cause an outbreak of potato blight.
On the flip side, plants with similar growth requirements or disease exposure risks may be effectively grown side-by-side. One example is growing peppers alongside tomatoes.
This concept, which is referred to as companion planting, is super important when engaging in square-foot gardening.
So, we’ll discuss things you want to be on the lookout for in more depth later in the next section of this article.
Aside from limited spacing, square-foot gardeners also face an uphill battle with cost.
Many would-be gardeners have the misperception that raised gardening beds are necessary, which can be costly to construct, yet they’re unnecessary.
A cost-saving approach is to plant directly into the soil. Doing so saves the cost of planting soil and makes it unnecessary to purchase lumber to construct raised beds.
Building growing boxes can be a timely undertaking; so too can the planning that goes into initially setting up a square-foot garden.
You can’t rely on looking at the back of the seed packages for spacing requirements when planting a square-foot garden.
Instead, you must educate yourself on Bartholomew’s spacing requirements for each plant.
If you’re looking to grow varied crops, then you determine how closely each plant can be to each other. You’ll want to ensure they’re compatible for side-by-side planting first, though.
Check post: Square Foot Gardening Broccoli: the best way to grow
Since space is a limited commodity in a square-foot garden, you have to be super careful about the plants you place next to each other.
If you’re not, then you could unintentionally wipe out the entire harvest you’ve worked long and hard to grow.
Above, we addressed some of the factors you need to worry about when planting tomato plants. The following are some other crops that thrive when planted nearby one another:
Beans do well when grown next to:
Carrots’ companions include:
Corn thrives next to:
For lettuce, the following are all companions to this leafy green:
Ideal neighbors for onions are:
Good companions for potatoes include:
Spinach does nicely next to:
Companion plants do more than help each other grow; they also can keep out weeds, in the case of squash.
Read: Square Foot Gardening Tomatoes (7 Ultimate Tips)
Some plants that make for really poor combinations and could cause disease or a low harvest yield, aside from issues with tomatoes as previously referenced, include:
- Onions and garlic mixed with beans or peas can cause stunted growth of the latter.
- Mixing kohlrabi, a type of cabbage, with tomatoes can lead to mutual stunted growth.
- Sage can damage cucumber plants.
- Planting dill next to carrots can stunt their growth.
The good news is that some herbs have widespread benefits for crops when placed around the edges of gardening beds.
For example, thyme effectively keeps worms that can damage strawberries and cabbage at bay.
A common question that those looking to venture into square-foot gardening ask is if building and using raised gardening beds is necessary. As previously suggested, it’s not.
You can certainly follow the square foot gardening methodology by planting in-ground directly into your soil.
However, some circumstances may warrant you to consider using raised beds, including the following.
When you’re attempting to plant in rocky terrain. In other words, if your rocks are more abundant than soil, you may want to consider using raised beds for the best possible yield.
You want to maximize space usage; a square-foot garden allows you to grow crops more efficiently in a small space.
But, using raised beds can allow you to create multiple growing levels (if they have bottoms in them), leading to an ever-bigger harvest.
Installing a barrier where there’s contaminated or low-quality soil separates the bottom of your raised bed from the soil is key to ensuring no cross-contamination occurs.
An oversaturation of your plant can be just as bad as being bone dry, so you’ll want to use a raised bed if the former is a concern you’re dealing with.
If you have limited mobility, stooping down to plan crops or maintain your garden can be a challenge.
Raised beds make your plants easily accessible at whatever height works best for you.
Check out: Square Foot Gardening Pole Beans (Well-Researched Tips)
If you’re looking to get into gardening to grow fruits and vegetables, then you probably want to know the easiest way to get started.
There are many ways to set up your garden, but we’ve summed them all up in seven simple steps.
Here are the chronological steps you’ll want to follow when setting up your garden.
Since planning is a focal point of the square-foot gardening approach, the first step you will want to take is to identify an area on your land where your crops have the best chance of thriving.
Determine that space based on optimal sun exposure and existing soil. Also, ensure that it’s close to a water source.
Once you’ve found the ideal area to place your garden, you’ll want to measure the space you’re working with.
Next, you should draw a to-scale grid of your garden beds and divide them into 1-foot squares. This drawing will serve as the blueprint for your grid design building.
If necessary, you’re now able to build your grids and raised beds. Ensure the ground under your beds is level for proper water drainage.
Mix up your soil using Mel’s Mix formula described earlier in this article. Another fertilizer use is unnecessary if you do this.
Plant your seeds, taking care to transplant roots whenever possible for optimal growth.
Take time to weed, prune, water, and harvest daily to ensure optimal yields from your square-foot garden.
Note that step four above isn’t required and may be skipped, as previously mentioned.
Some people will plant right into the existing soil, thus eliminating the need for building and installing raised beds.
Additionally, you may like some more gardening tutorials:
- Square-Foot Gardening Radish [How to Grow]
- Square Foot Gardening Cucumbers [Helpful Tips]
- Square Foot Gardening Bush Beans [Best Methods to Grow]
- Square Foot Gardening Strawberries (Unbelievable Ways)
- Square Foot Gardening Spinach (Helpful Tips)
- Square Foot Gardening Basil (Phenomenal Ways)
- Grow Corn in Square Foot Gardening (Detail Steps)
- Square Foot Gardening Potatoes
- Watermelon square foot gardening
Deciding to tackle growing your own fruits and vegetables is ideal because it reduces your reliance on others for your sustenance. However, it’s not something you can rush into.
Spend time exploring more the pros and cons associated with square foot gardening; read Mel Bartholomew’s 1981 book on the topic.
Following the guide and steps above while measuring and spacing your plants will ensure you have an optimal harvest using a small space.
Just remember to be careful when planning which crops to place alongside each other, so there aren’t any problems.
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.