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Square Foot Gardening Ideas and Tips

Square Foot Gardening Ideas and Tips

Square Foot Gardening-  A Beginners Guide:

The following Information is all about Square Foot Gardening Ideas.

Introduction To Square Foot Gardening:

Square Foot Gardening is a simple and orderly gardening system, in this gardening method the growing areas are divided into small partitions and creating an intensive garden in a compact area. This Square Foot Gardening System encourages a variety of different crops over time, and each square is used to plant a different kind of crop. And the number of plants per square foot depends on the plant size. The Square Foot Gardening was invented by Mel Bartholomew a retired engineer in the year 1981.

The Square Foot Gardening is a raised bed system, where the plants are grown in nutrient rich growing medium.  This gardening process occupied very less space with minimum water requirements. Small beds are easy to maintain and can be easily protected from weather fluctuations, and harvesting is also very simple.

Square Foot Gardening Ideas (Flicker).
Square Foot Gardening Ideas (Pic Source: Flicker).

The basic theme of Square Foot Gardening includes the creation of small garden beds of size 4’ by 4’ or 4’ by 8 or 8’ by 8’ etc. depending on our space requirement. In general, 4’ by 4’ and 4’ by 8’ are some common size beds used in Square Foot Gardening. An ideal Square Foot Gardening bed size is 4’ by 4’ and it is divided into 16 small squares.   And each bed is divided into 1-foot squares, these square grids used for growing different crops. In each squares seeds or seedling are planted, and number of plants in each depends on the size of the plant. And in Square Foot Gardening, we don’t require any paths, so there is no chance to waste the growing space.

Advantages of Square Foot Gardening: 

  • Best gardening method for home gardeners.
  • High Production: Square Foot Gardening is an intensive growing system that produces more yields in a compact area. It is the best choice for the gardeners who are running out of space. you can earn more vegetables or fruits in a limited area.
  • Easy Creation: It is easy to build a square foot garden, even for beginners, it is a very easy method to execute. The Square Foot Garden is raised bed gardening method, the bed can be placed everywhere. This square foot garden can be placed over ground, pavement, balconies or terrace garden, etc. the Square Foot garden boxes should be filled with commercial potting or soilless potting mixes.  It just takes few hours to build up a square foot garden. The main advantage of square foot garden is its quick buildup process.
  • Maintenance Cost: Maintenance cost of square foot gardens is very low. As the size of the garden is less, the investment, planting and harvesting costs are very less. you don’t even need to spend more time in gardening. And the small beds are easy to protect from temperature fluctuations and pests with cages or garden cloches.
  • Problem Resistant: the crops grown in the Square Foot Gardening system are hardly affected by diseases and pests. And the densely planted crops from a living mulch and prevents formation of weeds. And the Square Foot Gardening promotes companion planting which is a natural insect repellent process, which reduces the use of pesticides. And the different crops under a compact area controls the spread diseases. And the with companion planting the pests can get confused with a wide range of crops.
  • No Overplanting: with square foot gardens, there will be no over plantings. It helps the gardeners target only on a certain quantity of plants that are needed. In case of normal gardening, crop production is very high which the gardeners can just throw away in case they get damaged.
Advantages of Square Foot Gardening.
Advantages of Square Foot Gardening (Pic source: Wikimedia Commons).

Disadvantages of Square Foot Gardening: 

  • Cost Effective: The Square Foot Gardening process includes building up of the raised beds, which is bit expensive. Filling the raised with soilless potting mix for implementing improves gardening techniques is not very cheap, the can take away a good amount of money.  you can deal with this problem if you have fertile nutrition rich gardening soil, it can save some money.
  • Limited varieties of crops: Not all varieties of crops are suitable for growing in Square foot gardens. This gardening technique is suitable for the plants that can grow in a compact space, and the plant that needs lots of space to grow are not suitable for Square Foot Gardening. The Square Foot Gardening is suitable for growing herbs, compact vegetable plants like carrots, radishes, etc. and flowering plants like roses, lilies, merry gold, etc.
  • the Depth of the beds: Depth of the bed play a key role in plant growth; the roots of the plant should get enough space to extend. Ideal depth of beds should be 6” deep, but most of the plant roots need more space. To solve this problem, if growing in pavement makes frame deeper up to 12” and fill it to the top with potting soil. If growing on the garden ground, place a cardboard under the bed, this cardboard will slowly break down and the roots start to extend into the ground.
  • Watering: the growing medium used for bed in Square Foot Gardening is soilless potting soil, which dries out very fast. So, these beds should be watered at regular intervals, to maintain the moisture levels in the soil. In summer and dry seasons, the watering frequencies should be increased. To resolve this problem, use soaker hoses or drip irrigation techniques for an effective watering system. Organic mulching can also be a good solution for this problem. Mulching can be straws, grass clippings or dried leaves.
  • Constant monitoring: Square Foot Gardening system need good maintenance. Weeds should be constantly monitored, weeds should be removed when they are tiny seedling. Once weeds get established with roots are very tough to remove.  Weeding should be done twice a week, hoeing the bed in every growing season is also a best method to control weeds.
  • All the disadvantages can be solved with simple solutions.

Steps to Build a Square Foot Garden: Building a square foot garden is easy, economic and efficient.  The space requirement for square foot garden is 80 % less than the normal gardens. And the production rate of square foot garden is three times more than the normal gardens. Before planning to build a square foot garden, first decide what to grow and how to grow.

  • Location: Before planning for square foot garden, location plays a key role for gardening. Select the place where it gets minimum 6 to 7 hours of sunlight. Make sure that the areas don’t get interfered with trees or shrubs. The location can be back yards, back yards, terraces, balconies, pavements, etc. the location should be having good water resource and good draining system.
  • Layout: When you are planning for a square foot garden, first make a layout design. The design should be in square in squares, the size of the square should be 4 “by 4”. If planning the garden of size more than one square foot, you should also plan for path/aisles to get access with plants without disturbing the growing medium and other plants. So design a perfect layout plan before preparing for the garden.
  • Building the Boxes or Grids: Once the location and design of square foot garden is decided, next comes the building of boxes.  Boxes can be built with any material, like untreated cedar, pine of fir. Or you can use bricks cement blocks, vinyl or any other recycled plastic. Use any material except the treated wood, treated wood contains chemical that can get mixed with the potting soil, which can influence the fruits or vegetable produced. To prevent weeds, use weeds mats or landscape fabrics.

Material for constricting Boxes:

  • Untreated wooden card boards, cedar can be a better choice. For one square foot garden box you need four, 2 by 6-inch cardboards of 4ft length.
  • Wood screws and machine bolts. Select 4-inch wood screws.
  • Lattice strips to divide the bed into small squares on the top of the garden box. For one square foot garden you need six 4 ft lattice strips. Instead of lattice strips you can use strong wax coated strings to make grids. And use nails or screws to fix the strips or strings.
  • Weed barriers: to control the weeds, use weed mats to control weeds.
  • Driller, staple gun, and screws/ nails are some necessary material to construct the garden box.
Square Foot Gardening Material (Pic source: Flicker).
Square Foot Gardening Material (Pic source: Flicker).

Constructing a perfect bed is a key feature in Square Foot Gardening, if you don’t have good experience in making boxes, go to near lumber yards where you can order a perfect garden bed.  Many online videos or books available showing the step by step procedure for constructing a square foot garden box. Whatever method you choose, it should come under the estimated cost.

Ready-made Square Foot Gardening boxes are available in man garden store, online stores or in nurseries. The gardening boxes can decorative or simple, depending on the cost and the landscape.   And the boxes should have provision for adding trellis, trellis are required if you grow the vine plants like beans.

  • Potting Soil: Once the gardening box is read, next is to choose the right growing medium. A good quality potting soil is the main feature for a healthy gardening, that protects the plants from weeds, diseases and supplies good nutrients to the plants. It is best to choose a good quality soilless potting mix, that is well drained and rich in organic matter with no chemical traces.

If preparing homemade potting soil, the ideal composition can be: equal proportions of compost + vermiculite + peat moss. Enrich the potting soil with natural composts like animal manure or worm castings to balance the nutrient levels. Instead of vermiculite a fertile river sand can be the best substitute to improve the draining capability of the soil.

  • Select the right plants in square foor gardening: Select the plant depending on the mature size of the plant. Each square foot can allocate 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants. The space needed for the plants is specified on the seed packets. Plant as per the spacing requirement of the plant.

Spacing Requirement Vs Per Square:

  • 12-inch plant spacing: One plant per square.
  • 6-inch plant spacing: Four plants per square.
  • 4-inch plant spacing: Nine plants per square.
  • 3-inch plant spacing: Sixteen plants per square.

Plants that require more than one square:

  • 18-inch spacing plants: Four plants in nine squares.
  • 24-inch spacing plants: 2 plants in two squares.

Some Vegetables for Square Foot Gardening and their spacing requirements:   

  • Basil- Four plants per square.
  • Beans: Nine plants per square if choosing bush variety bean plant and for a pole variety beans eight plants per square.
  • Beetroots: Nine plants per square.
  • Carrots: 16 plants per square.
  • Celery: One plant per square.
  • Cilantro: Nine plants per square.
  • Corn: three plants per square.
  • Cucumbers: these are vined plants and need the support of the trellis and the two plants are grown per square.
  • Eggplant: One plant per square.
  • Garlic: It is root vegetable plants and need more ground space for root stock to extend. Plant 4 plants per square.
  • Kale: One plant per square.
  • Lettuce: If growing lettuce for leaves, then plant four per square. If growing from heads, plant one plant per square.
  • Okra: One plant per square.
  • Onions: For green onion plants 16 plants per square, for storage onion plants four plants per square.
  • Oregano: One plant per square.
  • Parsley: One plant per square.
  • Peas: Eight plants per square.
  • Peppers: One plant per square.
  • Potatoes: One plant per square.
  • Radish: 16 plants per square.
  • Rosemary: One plant per square.
  • Spinach: Nine per square.
  • Sweet potatoes: One plant per square.
  • Turnips: Nine per square.

For plants like:

  • Tomatoes: Plant one plant per square with stakes, four plants per square with cages. If growing dwarf varieties, nine plants per square.
  • Pumpkins: two plants per square with stakes.
  • Squashes: Four plants per square with cages.
  • Watermelons: two plants per square with trellis.
  • Zucchini: Four plants per square with cages.

Select the plant basing on the size of the plant and the season. Plants can be started from both seeds and seedlings. And seeds should be sprouted indoors and then transplant the seedling to the gardening boxes. Check the companionship of the plants before planting.  Planting should be done very carefully as the space is very small. Just sow the seeds or seedlings with fingers and cover them with loosely for good aeration.

Planting seeds in Square Foot Gardening: to sow seeds in planter boxes, poke hole with fingers and sow the seeds in the holes.   And fill the soil lightly and keep some identification near the seed holes. Once the seeds emerge cut the weaker sprouts and leaving only 1 seedlings per plant area. Weaker sprouts should be pulled out carefully without damaging survivor roots. Plants grown from seeds in a square foot garden box are Okra, cucumber, beans, spinach, Methi, radish, melons and coriander.

Planting Seedling in Square Foot Gardening:  Some seeds germinate fast in indoors, so those seeds should be started indoors and then then transplanted in the garden boxes. Seedlings should be harden-off before they moved outdoors. Plants started from seedlings are eggplant, basil, lettuce, peppers and tomatoes.

  • Plant Maintenance: After planting the selected plants, water them at regular intervals. As the boxes are compact and we use soilless potting soil, which increases the water requirements. And water the plants with water cans with fine hose and use warm water or the water that stays in room temperatures. Warm soil promotes the growth of the plant and nourishes the soil.
  • Plant Protection: Plants should be protected from temperature fluctuation like harsh summers and chilly winters. Cover the plants with garden cloches or cover to protect the plants from the frost. And use organic mulch to hold the moisture levels of the soil during dry seasons.
  • Pests and Dieses: Square Foot Gardens are less affected by pests and diseases. Square foot gardens promote companionship which makes plants more resistant from diseases. In case of diseases use some organic fertilizers instead of chemical fertilizers. Use some cages or fine nets to protect the plants from spreading.
  • Fertilizing the Square Foot Garden: the main advantage of Square Foot Gardening is that is doesn’t require more fertilizers. Adequate nutrients required for the plant growth are added to the growing medium before plantings. Compost is best, natural feed for the plant that supplies the necessary nutrients throughout the plant life cycle.  In case additional feed use fish emulsion or side dress the potting soil with compost during growing season.  Or can use balanced organic fertilizer of N: P: K ration: 5:5:5 or 10:10:10. Other organic nutrient sources are Bone meal, seaweed, wood ashes or mushroom compost, etc.
  • Harvesting: Once the plant gets matures, harvest them regularly. After harvesting, dig out the roots. And then add new compost, and then plant new seeds in that square.

Best Companion Plants for Square Foot Gardening:

Square Foot Gardening promotes plant companionship. Plants helps each other in many ways. So many of us get confused in choosing the best companion plants. Here we are listing some best companion plants:

  • Basil: Basil is the best companion with tomatoes and peppers. And basil goes well with all the crops.
  • Beans: Beans are the best companion with corn, radish, potatoes, carrots and strawberries. And it doesn’t grow well with garlic and onion.
  • Carrots: Carrots are the best companions with lettuce, onions, peas, rosemary, squashes, etc. And it doesn’t grow well with tomatoes or potatoes.
  • Corn: Corn is the best companion plant with beans, cucumber, and squashes. And corn doesn’t grow well with tomatoes and celery.
  • Eggplant: Eggplant grows well with beans, peppers, potatoes, spinach and tomatoes. Eggplant grows well with all the plants.
  • Garlic: Garlic is best companion plant with tomato, lettuce, potatoes and tomatoes. And it doesn’t grow with peas and beans.
  • Lettuce: Lettuce grows well with beets, carrots, onions and cucumbers. It doesn’t grow well with celery and parsley.
  • Marigold: Marigold is the best plant with everyone.
  • Onions: Onions are best companions with carrots, lettuce and tomatoes. And doesn’t grow well with beans or peas.
  • Peppers: Peppers grow well with basil, cabbage, and tomatoes. And they don’t grow well with kale or beans.
  • Potatoes: Potatoes grow well with beans, basil, corn and melons. And don’t grow well with carrots, cucumber and tomatoes.
  • Spinach: Spinach grows well with celery, eggplant, strawberries and peas. And spinach doesn’t grow with the potatoes.
  • Strawberries: Strawberries are good companions with lettuce, spinach, garlic and onions.
  • Tomatoes: tomatoes grow well with carrots, onions, corn and beans. And don’t grow with the

Plant Rotation in Square Foot Gardening:

Every year, rotate the plants  for the healthy growth of plants. Plant rotations controls the development of fungal diseases in the soil and keep soil nutrients balanced.  Some gardeners follow three to four-year schedule. For example, some plants like beans, peas enrich the soil with nitrogen, plants like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants need more    nutrients. So, plant tomatoes after green beans, and plant kale or cabbage after tomatoes. This rotating planting schedule keeps the soil fertile and healthy growth of plants.

Mistakes in Square Foot Gardening:

  • Choosing a wrong location: The location should be a sunny location, choose an exact location for garden boxes.
  • Building too Large Beds: Building too large beds are very hard to maintain.
  • Over plantation: too much plantation can minimize the growth of the crops.
  • Improper drainage: the box should have a good draining system if the boxes on placed above the ground. Water stagnation will damage the plants.
  • Improper watering: too little or irregular watering will affect the growth of plants. Water the plants in before sunrise and after sunset.

Square Foot Gardening is an Intensive gardening method that gaining its popularity around the world for its easy gardening activities and higher productivity compared to traditional gardening activities.  Square foot gardens are used to grow a wide range of vegetables and flowers.

Read about Terrace Gardening.

Read about Hydroponic Growing System.

Last Updated: June 10, 2018
Author: Jagdish

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