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
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.
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!
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! The latest edition of this book can be found here.
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! I need to add grids to all my beds.
- 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.
3. Use vertical space to have a successful Square Foot Garden.
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!
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 the Vegetable Planting Calendar for Maricopa County published by the University of Arizona Extension Office. 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!
A few steps and you’re ready to plant in your empty square:
- Clean out the debris from the previous plant.
- Add a scoop or two of fresh compost; mix it into your soil.
- Plant seeds or starts in the square!