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5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden

Ten years ago I bought my first gardening book, “All New Square Foot Gardening”, by Mel Bartholomew. I read it cover to cover, and then read it again. This book made gardening easy to understand, with clear steps to get started and be successful. 

I followed Mel’s advice, and ten years later I still believe square-foot gardening is the best way to get started and have a thriving home garden. Here are 5 tips for a successful square foot garden.

5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden

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1. Start small to have a successful Square Foot Garden.

One “4 foot by 4 foot” raised bed is a good starting point. It is easy to construct, and you can grow a surprising amount in this size space. 

Starting out with one bed is manageable and you can learn as you grow. Add more beds later as your experience increases.

5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips

This one “4 foot by 4 foot” raised bed has 5 varieties of peppers, 4 different herbs, swiss chard, carrots and more!

2. Follow the directions to have a successful Square Foot Garden!

All New Square Foot Gardening, by Mel Bartholomew Best Gardening Books

As you read the book All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel gives specific advice about planting distances, size of beds, and distance between beds – this is great advice. There is a reason this book is a best-selling gardening book! Follow his instructions! 

If you are going to buy a book about square foot gardening, I recommend the latest edition of Square Foot Gardening, it’s even better than this version.  


Here are a few important directions to follow to have a successful Square Foot Garden:

Use a grid!!! I have raised beds with permanent grids and some without. Here’s the interesting part — the ones with grids utilize the space so much better!!! The other ones have open space but it’s not as noticeable. I tend to leave that space unplanted, but in my gardens with grids, I’m quick to fill an empty square (see tip #5 below) with seeds or transplants.

I am not the most organized gardener, but here’s my secret — the permanent grids give me a framework and guidelines to be organized. I love them!

Recently I’ve added watering grids from Garden in Minutes for the grids in my garden. The benefits of using the Garden Grid™ from Garden In Minutes include:

  • The grids are prominent and easy to see. 
  • Assembly is simple; the garden grids come in preassembled sections that press together by hand in seconds.
  • At the end of each season, it’s easy to lift the grid off of the bed to add compost to fill the beds. With my previous grids made of wood, it was difficult to add compost because the grids were screwed into the beds. 
  • Each square is watered evenly with 16 water streams, which helps seed germination.

Follow the plant spacing guidelines.  Planting the recommended amounts allows you to utilize all the space in the beds without overcrowding. (Photo courtesy of squarefootgardening.org)

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Follow the garden bed and aisle size guidelines. It may seem like a lot of space between aisles but plants thrive in Square Foot Gardens and will quickly fill in the spaces. 

5 Tips 5 Tips for Starting a Fall Garden - How to start a fall garden - What to plant in a fall garden #fallgarden #gardening for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips

Use the correct blend of soil and don’t forget to add fresh compost each time you plant. Mel’s Mix is great if it is locally available. If not use 

    • 1/3 vermiculite
    • 1/3 peat moss
    • 1/3 compost (several different types is best)

For more information about the best soil for raised bed gardens read this post

 

3. Use vertical space to have a successful Square Foot Garden.

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There never seems to be enough space in the garden; fortunately, there’s a simple solution – growing up! Mel gives a great overview of how to do this in the book, All New Square Foot Gardening

There are several other ways to grow vertically such as ladders, ladder mesh trellises, etc., but no matter how you do it, use the vertical space in your garden!

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4. Follow a planting guide for your area to have a successful Square Foot Garden.

Mel’s book lists general guidelines for planting, and this is where people run into trouble. Timing is so important in gardening. For example, where I live in Arizona, our planting dates are very different from other parts of the country. I use this Arizona Vegetable Planting Guide. Find a reliable planting guide for your area, and follow it using square foot gardening principles and you will be successful.

5. When a square opens up, plant something to have a successful Square Foot Garden.

The last of the 5 tips for a successful Square Foot Garden seems simple, but it is important. When you follow correct square foot gardening principles, you will harvest plants from squares and have open space that might go unnoticed in less organized gardens. An empty square is an invitation to plant!

Use this tool to space seeds perfectly in your square foot garden. 

A few steps and you’re ready to plant in your empty square:

5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips
  • Clean out the debris from the previous plant. 
5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips
  • Add a scoop or two of fresh compost; mix it into your soil.
5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips
5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips
  • Plant seeds or starts in the square!

Looking for more information about gardening in Arizona? The Ultimate Guide for a Summer Garden in Arizona is full of great information about gardening in Arizona in the summer. 

Mel Bartholomew’s book, All New Square Foot Gardening, made my list of “5 Best Gardening Books“. Find out which other books make the cut in this post

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5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden #gardening #squarefootgarden #gardentips

Amy

Tuesday 21st of June 2022

Angela, I just moved to AZ and your blog is FANTASTIC! Thank you, it gets me excited to get started! With the garden grid watering system, when you are planting 1 plant in the square foot, do you simply plant it close to where the lines cross? Thanks!

Angela Judd

Tuesday 21st of June 2022

Welcome to Arizona! For one each square foot, I plant right in the middle of the square.

Elizabeth

Sunday 23rd of January 2022

Do you have issues with hard water and the watering grid? I live on the other side of the Valley from you and we have off-the-charts hard water and I'm assuming you have hard water, too.

Angela Judd

Monday 24th of January 2022

I do have hard water, but it hasn't been an issue with the grids the way it is with soaker hoses. I can wipe off any build up on the outside.

Brandon

Thursday 13th of January 2022

Hi Angela,

Loved this post. Definitely a beginner gardener here and I love the idea of the square method. I’m purchasing the Gardening in Minutes grid for my 4 x 4 bed, but I’m curious to know how much to be watering (how long I should run it)? I’m planning on tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, and some herbs. Each of these plants vary with the amount of water needed? So how would the watering grid work?

Angela Judd

Monday 17th of January 2022

Hi Brandon, typically I focus on watering the entire depth of the bed each time I plant - so most beds get about the same amount of water. Depending on your soil, bed depth, and water pressure that may be anywhere from 5-12 minutes. That being said some plants do require more water occasionally. I also install a pressure control valve https://amzn.to/3qBkkvf going into each bed. That way I can adjust the amount of water going into the bed (not individual plants). Hope that helps. I really have found the garden grids to be an amazing way to water. They are the best. Hope this helps.

Gilbert Gardener

Tuesday 11th of May 2021

Hi Angela, Love your posts. I am in the low desert region. I started this month with SFG. However I see that my soil is infested with a lot of tiny little insects (not sure if it is gnats or aphids or combination of both). Some of my saplings are dying because of this. I tried mosquito bits and have stuck yellow sticky sheets to attract gnats but have not seen good results. Any idea how to get rid of this infestation?

Angela Judd

Tuesday 11th of May 2021

Sounds like fungus gnats. Keep replacing the sticky traps to stay on top of it and let the top couple of inches of soil dry out. There are other options in this post that may help as well https://growinginthegarden.com/organic-pest-control-that-really-works/

Audra

Saturday 16th of January 2021

Thank you for your wonderful blog! Have you ever published your "map" of what you plant in each square for the upcoming season? I've been gardening for awhile but I feel like I could do better with using space effectively and staggering harvest times throughout the season. I'd like to try the square foot method in one of my raised beds for spring.

Angela Judd

Saturday 16th of January 2021

Good idea. I actually have a post like this on my list to write. Garden planning definitely helps you make the most of your space. Square foot gardening is a great method.