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!

The best way to water square foot gardens and raised bed gardens #squarefootgarden #gardening #watering #driplineirrigation

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)

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

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

10 Comments on 5 Tips for a Successful Square Foot Garden

  1. I really like all the information that is on the internet unfortunately so much of it is for the US. Is there anywhere specific to look for information on gardening in western Canada?

    • That is a great question. I would suggest looking for facebook gardening groups in Canada as well as checking instagram for Canadian gardeners. Regional conditions make a big difference in what and where you can plant. I was in Canada this summer at Butchart Gardens and it was amazing! You have a beautiful country! Best of luck to you.

    • My advice is to always add compost, and lots of it. If you aren’t planting over the winter, add a cover crop and turn it under next spring. Good luck!

  2. Hi Angela, I enjoyed reading your blog about Square foot Gardening and I was looking into purchasing watering grids from Garden in Minutes. I was wondering about our hard water in Chandler, Az and How it might affect the use and durability of the irrigation grid?

    • Hi. I’ve had many of my grids for several years and they haven’t clogged a bit. My water is very hard here in Mesa as well.

  3. 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.

    • 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.

  4. 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?

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