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Square Foot Gardening (Pros/Cons & How to Guide) – GIY Plants

Growing with square foot gardening bed

If you’re searching for the perfect vegetable garden layout, consider square foot gardening! Also known as the SFG Method, square foot gardening solves many gardening frustrations. Planting, maintenance, and harvesting become ten times easier with this gardening method. But this method can be intimidating at first. That’s why we’re here to share tips about square foot gardening for beginners.

To learn more about creating a sqft foot vegetable garden, keep reading!

What is Square Foot Gardening?

What is square foot gardening

First, let’s dive into what square foot gardening is and how it came to be.

In 1975, a man named Mel Bartholomew retired from civil engineering and wanted to find a hobby. That is why he joined his local community garden, but soon found a few things wrong with the way they garden in rows. He found the process a waste of time and labor; he knew there had to be a better way to garden. So, the former engineer put his skills to work and came up with square foot gardening [1].

The purpose of the SGF Method is to eliminate much of the labor and time involved in gardening. It also produces high yields since it is a form of intensive planting. That is due to its size and shape. The typical set-up utilizes a 4×4 gardening box made of wood filled with soil and a grid placed on top. Although, beds can also be made from other materials like concrete blocks.

The grid is what makes it the square foot gardening method – it is made up of squares that are 1′ on each side. Because of the square foot grid, gardeners can pack many plants into a single bed. Additionally, it cuts labor in half while still producing a bountiful harvest.

Pros and Cons of Square Foot Gardening

The sqft gardening method comes with many upsides, but like anything in life, it also has its cons. To help you decide if this kind of gardening is right for you, we want to go over square foot gardening’s pros and cons.

Pros of Sqft Gardening

High Yields:

Square foot gardening is a type of intensive planting. That means that although you are planting in small spaces, you will still have high yields.

Minimal Maintenance:

The most notable pro of sqft gardening is that it is low maintenance compared to other methods. That is because of the garden’s size. Your daily gardening chores will only take a few minutes of your day.

Easy Set-Up:

You can plant a sqft garden anywhere, even over pavement or grass. All you have to do is place your garden bed in your desired location, fill it with the soil mixture, and put in the grid.

Minimal Weeds:

During your first season following set-up, you can expect zero to few weeds. The soil mixture contributes to this factor. Although, you may see an increase in weeds in the following seasons as seeds settle and blow into your bed.

Cons of Sqft Gardening

Limited Space:

The biggest complaint gardeners have when using this method is its limitations. Firstly, square-foot gardening is unsuitable for crops like sweet corn and winter squash. That is because of the cramp grid spacing, there is simply not enough room for the crop to grow. Also, the beds lack depth without some modification.

The average square foot garden bed is 6″ deep, which is unsuitable for vegetables with deep roots. You can remedy that by creating a deeper bed with more soil mixture that is 12″ deep, but costs will increase.

Frequent Watering:

Soils that are in raised beds tend to dry out faster. Because of this, sqft gardens usually need more water than other gardening methods. During the summer months, depending on the plants you grow, you may need to water the bed daily.

Creating a Square Foot Garden

Creating a sqft garden bed layout

Do you want to build and create your own sqft garden? If so, you can find all of the information you need to get started below.

Planning and LayOut

  • Square foot garden size

The size of the average square foot garden bed should be 4×4 with 16 1×1 square sections[2].

  • Square foot garden layout

Your square foot garden layout should consist of one plant type per 1×1 square within the 4×4 bed. Because of the grid separation gardeners plant different vegetables together in one bed. For that reason, it is wise to use companion planting strategies.

Soil preparation

  • Square foot gardening recipe

The creator of sqft gardening has a signature soil mix for sqft beds called Mel’s Mix. The signature mix consists of 1/3 peat, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 blended compost. The concoction offers adequate drainage, neutral pH, necessary nutrients, and more.


  • Square-foot gardening depth

The average depth of a square foot bed is 6″, but this can be inadequate for certain vegetables. Plants with sizable roots do not thrive in the usual sqft bed. You can increase the depth to 12″ for plants that need more root space, but your set-up costs will increase.

  • Square foot gardening spacing

As stated previously, when planting in a sqft garden you do so in 1×1 squares. But you also need to ensure that the seeds within those squares are spaced enough to grow.

  • How many plants per square foot

A frequent question new square-foot gardeners have is how many plants can you grow per 1×1 square. This answer solely depends on what plants you are growing. Typically, it is best for there to be 3 to 4″ of space per seed in a square. For certain plants, like tomatoes and potatoes, you can only plant one per square foot. But for plants like carrots and beets, you can plant up to 16 seeds per square foot.

Best Plants for Square Foot Gardening

If you are unsure of what to plant in your square foot bed consider these popular and suitable options!

  • Carrots

You can plant up to sixteen seeds at a time.

  • Beets

Like carrots, you can also grow sixteen within a single square.

  • Peas

You can grow as many as 9 pea seeds in a single garden square.

  • Spinach

Spinach also allows you to produce high yields because you can plant 9 seeds per square.

  • Basil

You can typically plant four seeds per square when growing basil.

  • Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is another plant where you can grow up to four seeds per 1×1 square.

  • Parsley

In a 1×1 square foot garden section you can grow four parsley seeds.

  • Strawberries

As most fruits come from more tree-style plants, it isn’t common to see them in sqft gardens. But strawberries can be grown in a square foot garden bed at 4 seeds per square section.

Mel’s Mix vs Raised Bed Soil

The defining difference between Mel’s mix and raised bed soil is that you need to add compost to the latter. Mel’s mix consists of 1/3 peat, 1/3 vermiculite, and 1/3 blended compost, some consider this mix soilless.


[1] History. Square Foot Gardening. (2022, January 19). Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://squarefootgardening.org/about-us/history/

[2] Square Foot Gardening. UF|IFAS Gardening Solutions. (n.d.). Retrieved January 5, 2023, from https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/design/types-of-gardens/square-foot-gardening.html

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