Square Planting in 8 Easy Steps

In this article, we discuss the premise of square planting! What is Square Planting all about? Why is it so popular in the United Kingdom?

We will look at the type of soil mix to use, and the kinds of plants you can grow in a square-foot garden. We will show the pros and cons of this technique. Learn more about a basic square planting set-up how to plan your garden grid, and much more.

Hopefully, this information will help you begin your own square-foot garden at home! Read on to learn more about this popular gardening method.

The premise of square planting, square gardening or square foot gardening (SFG) as it’s so often called was developed by civil engineer Mel Bartholomew in the 1980s. He wanted to create a method for kitchen gardening. The idea was to plant as many plants as possible in a small space, thereby maximising yields and minimising waste.

But he didn’t stop there. In his book, Square Foot Gardening, he described other methods that could produce more food in a smaller area.

The square planting method involves dividing a ‘planting’ area into equal squares 4 ft (1.22 m) x 4ft (1.22 m) or 4ft (1.22 m) x 8ft (2.44 m) these are very common sizes; then dividing these grids into 1ft (0.3 m) squares. These beds are normally between 6in (15 cm) -12in (30 cm) deep.

According to the Square Foot Gardening (SFG) foundation, this method of gardening uses 20% less space and 10% less water, costs 50% less and requires just 2% of the effort, as compared to single-row gardening. Pathways are also said to be unnecessary, weeds are reduced and digging is said to be unnecessary.

For the backyard or small garden gardener or those new to urban gardening, this perennial gardening is your ideal food-growing solution for many reasons.

  • Including the fact that it allows you to grow a lot of food in a vastly reduced space:
  • It’s easy because you can grow food on your patio, balcony, or even in a smaller plot without excessive weeding.
  • Compact 4ft (1.22 m) x 4ft (1.22 m) raised bed gardens are simple to access.
  • It is very simple, less work means less strain on the body and is thus perfect for beginner gardeners.
  • There is no damage or adverse effect on the backyard or garden
  • By sourcing your own food, you can save money with little management. 
Square Planting

Square Planting: Square Gardening Involves Dividing a ‘Planting’ Area Into Equal Squares, 4 ft (1.22 m) x 4ft (1.22 m)

The Pros and Cons of Square Gardening

Like most things in life, there are a few pros and a few cons. Square planting is no different.

Let’s look at some of the pros first.  As mentioned, this style of gardening incorporates raised beds and maybe a series of vegetable planter boxes if you are really tight for space. This method is especially ideal for minimal spaces, as you can build or buy a planter box and garden in a very small space, maybe even a balcony.

Your square-foot garden may even be placed over asphalt or concrete. In general, the square planting method is easier on the environment than traditional row crop planting; plus, in addition, you can plant more crops in the same area.

You get a bigger bang for your ‘buck’ or ‘pound’ should I say. Because you can harvest a lot from a ‘small space’ due to intensive planting; this gardening method is ideal for those with very little space.

It’s quick to start; with square foot gardening, you can start a new garden from scratch in just a few hours (especially if you use a raised bed filled with combined topsoil (25%), compost manure (50%) and sand/grit (25%) mix.

First-time gardeners will also appreciate its fast set-up. You can place your raised bed anywhere and start planting right away! Even if you work in your existing soil, you’ll only have to prepare planting areas, not paths, so it takes less time and effort.

Pro’s In summary:

  • High Yields
  • Quicker Set Up
  • Minimal Garden Maintenance
  • Much Less Weeding

On the negative side or the cons, building even a small raised bed and filling it with a soilless mix can become expensive, especially if you already have excellent soil to work within your garden. If you have good soil to work with, we suggest you stick to your original area and form in-ground beds for less money.

Don’t squash your squashes; small square-foot garden beds aren’t ideal for crops that take up a lot of room, such as the vigorous vines of winter squash, asparagus, or a big planting of sweet corn.

A smarter approach initially would be to grow herbs and or more compact veggies such as carrots and radishes in your square foot garden, and relegate large plants or plantings to a traditional rowed vegetable garden until such times you can gauge what can be grown where.

Down, down, deeper and down. The 6in (15 cm) deep beds outlined in Bartholomew’s revised publication are inadequate for a lot of plants, particularly if their roots are unable to extend into the soil beneath. We call them the vertical crops, like carrots, parsnips, and turnips.

We would suggest that if you are gardening above a solid base like concrete, construct a frame that’s at least 12in (30 cm) deep and fill it with your growing medium to the top. On the other hand, if you are gardening in soil, use ‘cardboard’ instead of a weed-blocking material under the bed; the cardboard will slowly decompose and allow vegetable roots to extend into the soil.

Water, water everywhere. It may seem like you’re watering your plants constantly during hot summer days, as soils in raised beds can dry out fast and are hard to re-wet.

To avoid this, consider setting up soaker hoses or some other type of drip irrigation system. Mulching the soil with organic materials like grass clippings or torn newspaper conserves moisture.

Con’s In summary:

  • Initial Expense (if buying)
  • Not Suitable For Very Large Vegetables
  • Beds Tend To Dry Out Quicker in Summer
  • Root Depth of Some Vegetables

Square Foot Gardening: How to Start And Set up Your Square Foot Garden

Basic Square Gardening Set-Up

To ensure you get the best out of your new square-foot gardening venture, there are a few simple basic rules you should follow.

Firstly, the correct location for your SFG. We have some freedoms here as we are not tied to a location with soils as we now know.

The ground should be relatively flat and receive at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day for a square-foot vegetable garden to thrive. Avoid low-lying spots that might become ‘puddled’ after a downpour. Try to choose a location near your house to make watering, weeding, harvesting, and other gardening chores easier and less likely to be neglected.

Now you have found your perfect spot, it’s time to ‘construct’ or buy your raised beds if your DIY skills are not as good as you would like. These beds are usually 4ft (1.22 m) x 4ft (1.22 m) as described above; this is the most common square-foot gardening configuration.

This grid size is easy to divide into a grid of 16 x 1ft (30 cm) x 1ft (30 cm) squares; most gardeners can reach the middle of their ‘raised bed’ from any side with this configuration, your sides should be at least 6 in (15 cm) deep based on what you intend to grow. Root vegetables as mentioned, such as ‘carrots’ require sides that are 1ft (30 cm) deep.

You can create a DIY square-foot raised bed by following the instructions in the video above. Alternatively, there are various videos and websites that show you how to construct these beds using wood, old palettes, bricks, blocks even corrugated metal.

Once you have built the frame, it’s time to fill your frame with soil. If your frame is sitting on soil, do you need to amend the soil in your square-foot vegetable garden? It is actually possible to use what you have, as long as you amend it; by determining the soil’s pH first, we always advocate this, which is a good idea for any garden.

To begin, loosen and aerate the ground soil. Then, fill the frame with enough compost, sand/grit and extra topsoil, in the percentages 50%/25%/25% (mentioned above). It’s a good idea to mix compost into the soil at a rate of ⅓ by volume (such as a 2 in (5 cm) layer of compost into 6 in (15 cm) of soil/sand/grit.

Take soil samples to determine the composition of your soil, and then add the right amendments in the right amounts to create the best-growing medium for a vegetable garden of your own choice.

If your raised garden grid is set over concrete or other solid bases, then you will need to fill your bed completely with the described mix above. For a 4ft (1.22 m) x 4ft (1.22 m) x 6in (15cm) bed, you will need approximately 8 Cu ft (0.2 m3) of mix.

Another option is to follow a ‘soilless’ mix according to Mel Bartholomew’s formula (in his book). Compost, peat moss, and vermiculite are mixed in equal ⅓ quantities.

Finally, once your bed is ‘filled’ and your soil or soilless mix is level, you can create a 1ft x 1ft (30 cm x 30 cm) grid using lattice strips, PVC pipes, or even string. Attach the grid to the sides of the frame using nails or screws.

This will ensure you see each ‘square foot’ section clearly as you plant, it simplifies the process. A thin layer of fine mulch may be used to conserve soil moisture and slow weed growth if desired. 

Square Planting Beds- Filling in

Square Planting: Once Constructed, Fill Your Beds With a Soil/Manure/Sand-Grit Mix

Planning Your Garden Grid Layout

If you dislike creating a new garden layout from scratch or get lost when figuring out where different plants should be located in your garden, then SFG is the answer. It will give you a straightforward ‘framework’ (square) to help you easily organise your grid layouts, this is especially beneficial for first-time gardeners.

To start off your ‘square planting’ grid layout, measure the length and width of your entire area where you want to place your grids. This could be an allotment, back garden, patio etc.. This will then help you determine the scale of your available area.

After that, you should draw the ‘perimeters’ of your full area, using a dark colour. Write down how long each side is in ft/mtrs. This can be easily done using ‘graph’ paper or a computer drawing package. I use a ‘free’ office computer package called ‘open office‘ which has a drawing application with it.

Once done, now use the same method to ‘draw’ your garden grid, and create rows and columns based on the length and width of each ‘cell’ that you want to plant within your available area. Next, you should label each cell with the name of a specific crop/s you intend to plant (see ‘planting your square foot garden’)

If you use ‘Open Office’ or another package to do this, you will find most come with a large library of symbols for ease of identification. Once you’ve selected a style/symbol as a plant, you can simply ‘click’ to insert plant types in the respective cells.

Planting Your Square Foot Garden

Deciding what to plant is one of the most engaging aspects of ‘square foot gardening’. If you want to grow fruit and vegetables but don’t know where to start, I would simply recommend producing items that your family likes to eat; as well as items that aren’t perhaps commonly available in the supermarket and or are maybe expensive to buy.

You may sow these seeds directly into the soil in your grid or in colder parts of the UK, you may need to start seeds off indoors under glass before planting out. The critical thing to remember when planting seeds or seedlings is to ensure you place the appropriate number of each ‘plant’ in each ‘square foot’ of your grid.

Therefore, it makes sense to ensure that ‘one single’ large plant such as cabbage, tomatoes, peppers, and cauliflowers are planted in a single square. On the other hand, several carrots, spring onions, parsnip, and beetroot seedlings can potentially be planted, in the same square around 3-4 in (7-10 cm) apart, this is the benefit of intensive square planting.

In fact, there are so many planting combinations; that it would become tedious for the reader if we were to try to name them here in this post. Instead, the words SFG plant spacing entered into Google search came up with a whole host of results with layouts one can easily follow for all sorts of plants and their planting layouts. This will give you better ideas for planting out your square-foot garden based on your own requirements.

Square Planting

Taller Crops Like ‘Runner Beans’ Should be Planted at the Back of The Grid, to Give or Not Give Shade to Other Plants if Required

Square Gardening Crop Rotation

To maintain healthy, fertile soil in a vegetable garden, crop rotation is an excellent strategy to embrace. By moving crops to different locations each year, you can reduce the need for chemicals in the garden by making the soil healthier, more fertile, less susceptible to pest and disease attacks, and much more.

You should try to avoid planting crops from the same families; for instance, the ‘legumes’ such as broad beans, peas, and runner beans or from the ‘brassicas’ such as cauliflower, cabbage, and brussels sprouts in the same ‘grid’ year after year.

In the ‘square planted’ garden, crop rotation can be carried out by simply creating three, four or more beds in the garden. Then you can ‘rotate’ crops by assigning one bed to each family of plants, then moving them on to the next bed annually.

Companion Planting And Square Foot Gardening

It is well worth thinking about companion planting. It sounds complicated, but it is really quite simple and straightforward with a bit of research.

Likewise, it is a good idea to think about whether the plants you are planting will be mutually beneficial to one another.

Simply put, plants, like humans, can assist one another by establishing mutually beneficial relationships. For example, flowers such as marigolds are superb plants for a ‘square foot garden’ because they attract ladybirds and hoverflies that will help pollinate your plants.

On the other hand, the carrot fly, which is attracted by the smell of carrots, can be repelled by the strong scent of chives if planted close by.

We know barely anything about how plants interact with one another, so companion planting is a rather inexact science.

It is possible, however, to design square-foot garden beds with mutually supporting plants that form healthy, diverse ecosystems.

Maintaining Your Grids

You will find it simple to maintain your square foot garden after it has begun growing; I guarantee that it will be even simpler if you have located it in the appropriate location near the house and a water supply, as we discussed above.

Weeding of your grids should be minimal, as the close spacing of plants prevents weeds from proliferating and is one of the biggest advantages of the square-foot gardening method. If you try to weed weekly, it’s easier to ‘pull weeds’ when they are small seedlings than trying to pull them out when they are established. Once weeds are established, there is a greater risk of disturbing your planted vegetable roots, which we do not want.

However, it is critical that your plants are adequately supplied with water throughout the growing season. Should you choose not to install drip feed irrigation, then you might want to ask a neighbour or friend to water your plants while you’re away on holiday. To help with water retention, and weeds, don’t forget, to mulch your grids. Organic mulch retains moisture, breaks down to provide nutrients, and protects the health of your soil.

Remember that overwatering is as bad as underwatering, so use your judgment. If the soil is damp, it doesn’t require more water, but don’t let it dry out and turn powdery—it will be difficult to bring back if you do.

As with all gardens, pest control will undoubtedly be required to varying degrees. If you have followed the advice on companion planting, then hopefully pest control may be kept to a minimum. Like watering, inspect your grids often and try to spot any diseases and pests early before any infestations take hold.

Caught early bugs can typically be picked off, sprayed with an organic spray or simply sprayed with a water hose to remove them.

If you have followed the soil mix described above, you will not need to fertilise your grid either due to the organic matter within the mix. However, after each growing season and before the next planting, more organic matter should be added to the grids.

Harvesting From Your Square Foot Garden

Harvesting at the right time is important. There is no need to wait until a crop has ‘fully’ matured to its maximum size before harvesting it. Carrots, peas, swiss chard, and beets can be harvested while still ‘young’ and will taste so much better. 

Whether you’re gardening for yourself or for family and friends as well, harvest your crops as soon as you can. You can pick fresh vegetables that can go from the ‘garden’ to the plate within minutes with a ‘quick rinse’ under the tap. Choose what looks good, smells nice, and pleases all your senses at once.

Cut and come again lettuce varieties, for example, will regrow after being harvested. After harvesting, you can plant your next exciting crop, such as root veggies or brassicas. Square Foot Gardeners should never have a vacant square at any one time of the year. It may be difficult, but with adequate effort, a little research it can be accomplished.

square foot planting guide


What is The Best Time of Year to Start Square Planting? 

The best time of year to start square planting depends on the climate and the type of plants you want to grow. In general, it is best to start square planting in the spring or early summer, when the soil is warm and the weather is mild.

How Much Space Do You Need For Square Planting?

The amount of space you need for square planting depends on the size of your garden and the number of plants you want to grow. A typical square foot garden is 4ft x 4ft (1.3m x 1.3 m) and can accommodate up to 16 plants.

What Vegetables Are Best For Square Planting?

Vegetables that are well-suited for square planting include lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, and onions.


Square Planting was really revolutionary back in the 80’s. It introduced new gardening concepts, such as not having to trample the soil to cultivate the garden, which in turn popularised raised bed gardening. It also encouraged everyone to grow their own ‘bit of food’ and appreciate the procedure. It was a simple and common sense concept back then, that can be applied today.

When you create a new growing area, you do not need to follow one method religiously. You don’t have to follow the square-foot garden approach, flexibility comes with experience.

While there are many advantages to this technique, it may not be appropriate for you or where you live. You may like some aspects of the approach, while others will require alterations to suit your individual requirements.

As you gain knowledge and gardening experience, be open to altering these concepts, and you will end up with a garden that is tailored to your wants.

If this article has helped you in any way, then please share it on Facebook or amongst your family and garden-loving friends.