Small Garden Ideas: Square-Foot Gardening

Garden plans and designs for square-foot gardening include companion plants.

| November/December 2013

  • Settle in, relax and watch your garden do what it does best — grow.
    Photo By Jean Fogle
  • You can trim excess roots by snipping them off with scissors. Trim off only the excess though.
    Photo By J. Paul More/Courtesy Cool Springs Press
  • Gritty in the garden.
    Illustration By Brad Anderson
  • Plants grow to be different sizes, so keep that fact in mind when deciding the number of plants to place in each square foot.
    Illustration Courtesy Cool Springs Press
  • Plant more frequently harvested vegetables to the perimeter in order to make succession planting and harvesting easy.
    Photo Courtesy Cool Springs Press
  • If you are planting something that may need a plant support later as it gets fully grown, you might consider other plants that could share the same support and plant them in adjacent squares.
    Photo Courtesy Cool Springs Press

Square-foot gardening is one of the many great small garden ideas that can simplify the growing process and help train the grower’s focus, eliminating the overwhelmed feeling that some folks face year after year. Every year there are about 15 million people who fit into each of these categories:

• would like to begin gardening.
• tried the traditional single-row gardening method, but failed.
• don’t want to begin gardening because they have heard of all
• the hard work, time and cost associated with gardening.
• are practicing single-row gardening but are tired of the hard work, time and cost associated with this method.
• are unable to continue caring for their big single-row gardens.

Combined, that’s an estimated 75 million people ready for a gardening revolution, compared to about 10 million single-row gardeners who are content with their method and don’t want to change. These statistics come from Mel Bartholomew, who has developed and is a proponent of the square-foot gardening method, a relatively new perspective on gardening that could help you grow more in less space — and with less work. He has been at it since 1976 and has written multiple best-sellers on the topic of square-foot gardening. What follows is excerpted from the second edition of his All New Square Foot Gardening.

How it all works

Square-foot gardening is taking a grid and dividing it into more manageable parcels, planting and treating each square foot separately, for the most part. A common square-foot garden configuration is a four-block by four-block structure, with each block divided off from the other blocks using thin wood placed on top of the soil surface or some other divider.

Begin by visualizing what you want to harvest. This simple first step prevents you from planting too much. Picture a large plant like a head of cabbage. That single cabbage will take up a whole square foot, so you can only plant one per square foot. It’s the same with broccoli and cauliflower. Let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum and think of the small plants like radishes. Sixteen can fit into a single square foot.

It’s the same for onions and carrots — 16 per square foot. Yet that’s a 3-inch spacing between plants, which is exactly the same spacing the seed packet recommends thinning to.

5/6/2014 7:59:55 AM

I also started SFG but found the mix suggested to be very expensive in my area. I had to drive to Ace Hardware (went out of business) for the large bags of vermiculite, Home Depot for the large bags of peat moss and the compost blend was purchased on sale at beginning of Spring. Previously, I used Miracle Grow potting soil in a raised bed. This alone was not as effective as the suggested Mel's Mix. I have read on the Internet Mel has said one could use Miracle Grow potting soil with peat moss added, though I don't know the ratio. Then I started with Craig's list under Farm and Garden, found horse manure either free if I load, some are $5 up to $20. For $5 I let them start up their tractor. First year I grew sweet potatoes in the fresh manure which did exceedingly well! Will also add the decomposed bits that are always under the wood pile, leaf mulch, compost etc. I make sure to heat up whatever I'm using to drive out roaches, kill grubs, etc. Purchased a cement mixer on sale at HF and now use that for mixing, much easier than using a large tarp at my age!

Kim Roman
10/16/2013 7:29:42 PM

OOPS! You pulled excerpts from the All New Square Foot Gardening book but neglected to mention the absolute most critical aspect of SFG . . . Mel's Mix. If you don't use this wonderful fertile soil-less growing medium you will NOT be successful growing your vegetables so close together. Then people will blame the Mel and his method and not your omission of this cornerstone. Mel's Mix is 1/3 peat moss (or coco coir), 1/3 coarse vermiculite (or perlite in a pinch) and 1/3 of a good blended compost. Hope you'll correct this. Thanks, Kim Roman, Certified SFG Instructor Owner, Square Foot Gardening 4 U (



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