If you’ve been looking at various gardening techniques for small areas, you’ve probably run across the term Square Foot Gardening. Here, we’ll explore the concept and consider the best ways to do it; and a couple of pitfalls to avoid. Let’s get started.
What is Square Foot Gardening?
The Square Foot Gardening Method is a method where you use a raised bed and cut it into 1 ft x 1 ft sections, usually marking it with food-safe paint or tape. You intensely plant in these areas based on companion planting methods (and there is an enormous variety to pick from) or by using only one type of plant in that area. Essentially, it’s making a compact garden in one raised bed.
Here’s the disclaimer: square foot gardening works if you really research what you’re doing. Too many people dive right into it because we have the idea that a smaller garden is easier to tend to. I disagree with that; the right garden in the right space with the right plants is the easiest to tend to. You need to understand your soil, your light, and a great deal about your weather and the exact varieties of plants that you want to grow.
I know that sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. If you want to give square-foot gardening a shot, I strongly recommend it. But you do need to do the research and effort that you would do if you were planting a larger garden.
Is Square Foot Gardening Appropriate in All Cases?
There’s an argument to be made for almost all potential square-foot gardens, except in the case of very large melons. You can grow watermelons and pumpkins and the such in square-foot gardens, but I’m personally not a fan of forcing the vines into such tight spaces. It’s better to grow miniature versions of these, bush cucumbers and beans, squash that have been gently woven onto cattle panels, and so on and so forth, than to try to force vines to weave back all over themselves as some will tell you to do.
I also have to note that square-foot gardening is not ideal for a situation in which you do not have permission to do a good deal of tearing up the landscape. Square foot gardening does best in a 4 ft x 4 ft or 8 ft x 8 ft grid, in my experience. Any larger than that and you’ll begin to have trouble reaching your central squares. Any smaller and you may as well be working in container gardening.
Regardless, it’s a pretty substantial space if you live in an urban area. Just keep in mind that if you’re renting, you want your deposit back.
What Plants are Best for Square Foot Gardening?
I mentioned above that I would prefer to plant bush varieties over vining varieties. Generally speaking, that’s about the only guidance I usually give people. There are so many thousands of plants that are grown in gardens around the country that it is absolutely impossible for me to tell you one way or another whether you would certainly want to grow this or that in your climate, your soil, and your garden.
That said, I love using the square-foot gardening method for salad gardens. If you have a 4 ft by 4 ft garden space that you intend to turn into a square foot garden, you’ll be able to plant approximately 15 carrot plants, 2-3 cucumber plants, up to 20 lettuce plants of different varieties (for simplicity’s sake, I’m including things like leaf lettuce, iceberg, kale, spinach, etc.), several green onions, and a number of other salad additions. Some may choose to grow peppers, radishes, and even herbs within this salad garden, too.
Not a big fan of salad? You may want to consider using your square-foot garden for flowers. These gardens make a wonderful pollinator haven away from all the predatory bugs that are on your vegetables, giving them a safe place to flourish and thrive, encouraging them to come back to your garden over and over again to supply your vegetables and fruits with the help they need to sprout and grow.
If you’re planting a square-foot flower garden, look for varieties of flowers that are all of the same height. It makes taking care of them so much easier in such a very small space.
Which Plants Shouldn’t be Used for Square Foot Gardening?
Vining plants are ones I tend to stay away from in square-foot gardens. The reasoning should be obvious: the plants are constantly folded back on themselves and it seems to make them extremely uncomfortable, even “cramped”, for all the plants can’t possibly actually complain about the situation. They just don’t grow as well and seem to be unhappy when you force them into a square-foot gardening method.
However, there are a number of other plants that I wouldn’t place in a square-foot garden. Those include miniature fruit trees; which would really prefer more room despite their size and root mass, potatoes; which really seem to hate the idea of being forced to grow too closely to other plants generally speaking, and tall plants.
When I say tall plants, I mean things like bamboo, sugar cane, corn, burdock, and so forth. Though square-foot gardening offers a wonderful root foothold, it is an intense planting method. That means that you’re running the risk of a lot of crushed vegetation if a tall plant happens to tip over in the garden and that’s weeks of work you can’t possibly get back. Keep the tall plants off by themselves and away from your square-foot garden.
Have you worked within a square-foot garden? Would you prefer to do it again or would you suggest that people use another method? If so, which method would you prefer? Leave us a note in the comments; we’d love to hear from you. And, as always, Happy Gardening!
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