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“Square foot gardening” refers to an organized method for planting a raised vegetable garden bed through the creation of a grid divided into one foot squares in which a set number of similar  plants can be cultivated and managed in groups. This efficient garden design simplifies planting and maximizes plant density to ensure a bountiful harvest. Since square-foot garden beds are planted so densely, weeds are kept to a minimum.

This structured garden design can work nicely for novice gardeners and those who have limited space available. However, it doesn’t lend itself well to large crops that take up a lot of space, such as squash or melons. Vegetables and fruits that grow on vines would work as long as they’re trained on trellises to grow vertically. Square foot gardeners need to choose their vegetables wisely. We have included a list of obvious candidates along with the estimated number of plants per square, based on their size and our plant spacing guidelines:

Small plants: 16 plants/square

Small plants: 16 plants/square

  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Sweet Onions
  • Parsnips

Medium plants: 8 plants/square

Medium plants: 8 plants/square

  • Turnips
  • Leeks
  • Collard Greens
  • Beets
  • Beans
  • Chives
  • Peas
  • Spinach

Medium-large plants: 4 plants/square

Medium-large plants: 4 plants/square

  • Basil
  • Corn
  • Leaf Lettuce
  • Swiss Chard

Large plants: 1 plant/square

Large plants: 1 plant/square

  • Broccoli
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Kale
  • Parsley
  • Head Lettuce

It’s helpful to choose plants that provide a mutual benefit to their neighboring plants — thwarting pests, for example. For more information please refer to our post, Companion Planting. Taller plants should be planted to the north side of the garden so they don’t block the sun for shorter plants.

Raised beds can be designed and constructed in whatever size you want using a variety of materials — a quick online search will provide a number of ideas. Obviously, if you’re planning a square foot garden, it’s helpful to choose a square shape —  4’ x 4’ is a popular size. There are also different popular methods for laying out the “grid” in a square foot garden, including wooden strips or twine.

Remember, no matter what the method or how many cool tools you use for planting, your vegetables won’t thrive if they don’t get the basics: plenty of sun, nutrients and water. Most garden herbs and vegetables need at least six hours of sunlight a day, along with enriched soil, organic fertilizer and regular watering. Happy Planting!