Square Foot Gardening for Beginners

If your goal is to grow as many vegetables as possible using the minimum amount of effort, a square foot garden could be the answer. Introduced to the world by Mel Bartholomew, a retired engineer-efficiency specialist, and keen gardener, square-foot gardening is a great solution to those wishing to produce a high yield from a small area.

This style of gardening is suited to both amateurs and pro gardeners, particularly those who don’t have much space or time to play with.

In most cases, square-foot gardening involves a raised garden bed measuring four by four feet. This bed is filled with nutrient-rich soil and divided into squares measuring one foot by one foot. These are separated with markers similar to lattice strips.

The next step involves planting a set number of plants or vegetables in each square section, with the amount of each depending on the size and type of plants. You should be left with a highly organized gardening space that is easy to manage.

Tips for creating your own square-foot garden

When it comes to creating your own square-foot garden, there are a number of points to consider, as we’ve detailed here.

Choose the right location

Location is key when creating your own square-foot garden. This is because the majority of vegetables require up to eight hours of sunshine per day. It’s therefore important to pick a sheltered spot that boasts flat ground. Try to steer clear of any low areas as the beds could become saturated should there be heavy rainfall.

You may also want to pick a spot close to your front door, as this will make tending to your square foot garden a hassle-free task, allowing you to prune, water, weed, and harvest your vegetables with the minimum of effort.

Create a raised garden bed

Square foot gardens are traditionally four by four feet in size. This is because it provides gardeners with easy access to all vegetables in the raised bed without having to reach over too far or step on the raised bed. This leaves you with a grid of sixteen squares, meaning you’ll have ample opportunity to grow an array of different fruit or vegetables.

When creating your raised garden bed, it is important to ensure that the sides are at least six inches in depth. This figure should increase to 12 inches in depth if you plan on growing root vegetables such as beetroot and carrots. Herbs and compact vegetables such as radishes are best suited to being grown in this fashion, while larger plants are more suited to bigger vegetable gardens or allotments.

An easy way to fashion your square foot garden involves investing in wooden planking or small sleepers and arranging them in the required layout. These can be secured with nails or by using metal fixings on the corners. You’ll want to ensure that the frame is solid enough to take the pressure that will be exerted on it once the spaces are filled with soil.

Add soil to your raised garden bed

Now that you have fashioned your frame, the next stage involves filling the bed with nutrient-rich soil. If you only have the soil in your existing garden already, you can make use of it, although it will need to be altered slightly to create the best growing conditions.

Begin by aerating and loosening the ground soil, before adding additional compost to fill the frame and an additional layer of topsoil if required.

Alternatively, you can use a tried and tested soilless mix, introduced by Mel Bartholomew in his book on square foot gardening. His formula consists of one-third peat moss, one-third compost, and one-third vermiculite. To fill a bed that has six-inch sides, you’ll require eight cubic feet of this mixture.

This will need to be doubled for a bed with sides of 12 inches. Although this can work out as the more expensive option, it can be worthwhile as the mixture is high in nutrients, retains moisture, and deters weeds.

Pick a selection of vegetables to plant

If you’ve decided to create more than one raised square foot garden, leave enough space between them to allow for easy access. The formula for planting is a simple one: if planting small plants, you can fit 16 into one square.

If planting medium plants, this number reduces to nine, while for large plants it is four. Should you have extra-large plants, it’s best to plant just one per square. If planting spreading vegetables or fruits, you will require an entirely separate bed.

Planting tomatoes

If you’re keen to grow tomatoes in your square foot garden, you’ll need to consider which variety you want as each requires a different amount of space. Each separate plant will necessitate at least four squares if left to grow in an unmanaged way, and may also need some form of support or stake.

Semi-determinate species will require a cage for support, which means they will need a total of four squares, whilst the majority of Heirloom tomatoes and vining species will require nine squares in order to thrive, especially if unsupported.

Alternatively, you can stake them and use one square per plant, although this means religiously pruning the plant to carefully manage its growth.

Planting seeds

If you’re planting seeds, it’s important to consider how big the plant will be in its matured state. Place one seed in each hole and space appropriately. Most seed packets come with a set of instructions, so it’s important to read these carefully before establishing your seedlings. Once established, look to water once per week.

Maintain your square foot garden

Although square foot gardening promises a lot less maintenance than your average garden, it’s still important to preserve your produce.

You can do this by creating a watering schedule, weeding your square foot garden, keeping an eye out for pests, and harvesting your produce at the correct time. Since this style of garden is on the small side, you should find you only have a small amount of maintenance to do per week.


Lily Calyx is our in-house flower whisperer, an expert on all things botanical and an enthusiastic orchids collector. She loves discussing the insights of the secret world of flowers, shares her gardening tips and hacks and moons over the latest additions to Serenata Flowers flower range. Ask Lily anything about flowers and we can guarantee she will have the answer.

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