Mind & Soul > Square Foot Gardening – 5 Tips for Growing Plants in Small Spaces

Square Foot Gardening – 5 Tips for Growing Plants in Small Spaces

If you want a garden but don’t have space, you need these tips for square foot gardens. Learn how gardeners of all thumbs grow plants, veggies, and fruits in small spaces and containers.

Have you convinced yourself that you don’t have enough space, time, or agricultural know-how to grow your own fruits and vegetables? Square foot gardens are a wonderfully easy way to grow your own produce — and these gardening tips will help you create your square foot garden.

Before the tips, a quip:

“If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden.”  ~ Robert Brault.

Now is the perfect time to start gardening! Rising food costs, growing medical concerns about the long-term impacts of pesticides and fertilizers used in commercial agribusiness, and the sense of empowerment found in successfully learning a new skill are all great reasons to start your own square foot garden.

If you don’t have a container garden, check out the Greenes Raised Garden Bed.

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Square foot gardening is a technique that began in 1975.  It involves growing produce above ground in 4×4 foot boxes, divided into one-foot sections, hence the name “Square Foot Gardening.”  The idea is to plant crops in each square, based on how much of each type of crop you want to harvest. Gone are the days of hoeing, tilling, weeding, and harvesting long rows of produce, almost always producing more food than you, your family, your neighbors or your friends could eat.

Are you ready to eat fresh, organic produce, enjoy the sunny weather, and amaze your family and friends with your gardening skills?  Those alone are reasons why a square foot garden is a better way to garden!

And, here are several more tips for square foot gardens…

Square foot gardening requires less space

Square foot gardens require only 20 percent of the space needed for traditional row gardens to achieve the same or greater yield, which means you don’t need to live on a farm to have one.  Needing less space gives you much more flexibility in where you place your garden.  This is particularly important for urban gardeners and others who have limited space.  Since you’ll be harvesting from it regularly, you may want to put your garden close to your kitchen door.   You can also easily split your garden into multiple sections or in unique shapes (as long as they’re based on squares).  Simply figure out the best place(s) for your container garden; chances are a square foot garden will fit.

Container gardens have perfect soil, which means much less work

The gardens are above-ground, inside wooden frames that can be easily, quickly, and inexpensively made with 2”x6” foot untreated lumber, which most stores will cut to 4-foot lengths for you at no extra charge.  Since the soil is placed inside the boxes, there’s no need to till your soil, or worry about whether it’s sandy or clay.  Square foot gardening is a better way to garden because you never have to worry about pH balances or adding anything to the soil in order for your plants to grow.

Square foot garden soil, which is a equal part mix of compost, peat moss, and vermiculite, provides the perfect growing environment for produce, so you won’t need to add any fertilizers.  Adding certain flowering plants in your garden, like marigolds, will in most cases eliminate the need for any pesticides too.  The vermiculite keeps the soil loose and helps it retain moisture, meaning less watering.  And, if you place a piece of landscape fabric beneath your frame before adding the soil, you won’t have weeds either.  It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Square foot gardens reduce waste

Unlike traditional gardens which are usually at least 30 feet long, you don’t have to plant an entire row of a single crop.  Instead, decide how many one-foot squares you want to devote to each crop and how many plants to plant in each square (there are lots of resources available to help you figure this out). These gardens are better because you’ll avoid the hassle of tending to and wasting produce because you planted too much.

Gardeners can rotate crops for variety

Square foot gardening is better because it’s designed around a three-season planting scheduling, unless you’re fortunate enough to live in the South with perpetually warm weather.  Since you’re not planting large crops, when the plants have stopped producing, simply take them out and plant another crop in the same square that will grow in the next season.  Rotating your crops allows you to enjoy your fresh harvests for most of the year.  In fact, if you plant enough to freeze or can for the winter months, your container garden will feed you and your family all year long.

One last reason you need a container garden: you’ll save money!

Organic food at the grocery store costs more, but not if you grow it in your own garden.  Remember, you won’t be using fertilizers or pesticides.  That means you and your family will be eating health, fresh, organic produce for a fraction of the cost.

For more gardening tips, read Front Yard Landscaping on a Budget – Spend Less Than $200.

To learn everything you need to know about square foot gardening, get a copy of All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space! by Mel Bartholomew, the pioneer of the technique.  He also has a great YouTube video that describes how to make a square foot garden.

If you have any thoughts on planning or growing a square foot garden, please comment below.

Written by Sydney Tyler Thomas, a writer and small business owner living in Virginia. She is author of The Joy of Soulful Knitting: Reflections on the Art of the Craft. You can also visit Sydney at her blog, New Calling.

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6 thoughts on “Square Foot Gardening – 5 Tips for Growing Plants in Small Spaces”

  1. I had a really hard time finding vermiculite too. The only source I could find was Southern States(www.southernstates.com). They sell it in 40-lb bags.

    Good luck!

  2. Hi, I live in Langley, and I’m trying to find vermiculite but having no luck. I’m looking for the big bags, ~4 cubic feet. Where do you get your vermiculite? Am I just looking at the wrong time of year? (I’m making my friend a small square foot garden for her birthday, and adding a bit to my garden.)

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I have to add: if you’re new to container gardening, start by growing easy, foolproof veggies: peas, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, broadbeans, bush beans, and green onions.

    And, avoid foods that take up alot of space, such as pumpkins, squash, and zucchini. DOn’t sow too much seed (it produces too many vegetables, which you’ll lose to disease and pests).

    This is from an article called “Get a Garden That’s Good Enough to Eat”, in the Vancouver Sun. They call square foot gardening “crops in pots” :-)

  4. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Omigosh, Syd, you don’t eat peppers? And groundhogs in your neighbors’ garden??? Too many things to comment on here :-)

    We’ve tried growing peppers, but failed. I think they need to be started in a greenhouse first; they’re very sensitive and need lots of TLC. I love peppers, especially red and orange ones.

    Have you heard of the “ultimate space saver that can grow in a container”? It’s a combination fruit tree that is perfect for square foot gardening. These trees produce three kinds of fruit: apricots, plums, and peaches. They’re called a “fruit salad tree”, and you can buy them at the Cedar Rim Nursery in Langley, BC.

    I don’t know where to get this fruit tree other than in BC – although I suspect other nurseries have experimented with it. It seems perfect for container gardens!

  5. Hi Madelyn,

    No, I haven’t tried peppers, only because I don’t eat them. My neighbor does, and peppers are the only thing he grows in his square foot garden. They seem to do just fine as long as he can keep the groundhogs from getting to them first.