Square-Foot Gardening: A Solution for Small Spaces


Square-foot gardening became popular in the 1980’s and still provides a great gardening solution for people with limited or no backyard space. Build a small raised bed and divide it into square-foot sections. Fill with soil and plant! Keep reading for more deets.

Would you like to grow vegetables but lack space for a garden in your backyard? Square-foot gardening might be the perfect growing method for you.

Square-foot gardening is an efficient, intensive gardening technique invented in 1976 by retired civil engineer Mel Bartholomew. While working in his local community garden that incorporated traditional rows, he felt there had to be a less laborious, more efficient gardening method. The alternative he created—“square-foot gardening”—quickly became popular and continues to enjoy popularity 40 years later.

The Basics of Square-Foot Gardening

The standard square-foot garden is small—four by six or four by eight feet. It’s divided into one-foot square sections. The bed is contained in a raised box with a soil depth of six inches. The square foot divisions can be created either with a grid of interior walls or with a grid of string stretched across the top of the box.

The idea is that each square contains a different kind of vegetable. Closely planted, vegetables in these gardens enjoy a high yield. Because the beds are raised, the soil doesn’t get stepped on, and it stays good and crumbly. Another advantage of the beds being raised is that weeds are easy to reach and remove (if they’re small).

Building a Square-Foot Garden

Use pressure-treated wood, cedar, railroad ties, or bricks to create the perimeter of your garden. Make it 4’x6’ or 4’x8’ or whatever size works for your small space. Make sure you can reach the middle of the bed from each side. Build a grid inside the box to create sections that are one square foot each. (Or leave this out and create your grid later with string.)

Lay a fabric weed barrier or several sheets of newspapers at the bottom of the box and then fill the box with good soil or with potting mix. If you did not build solid dividers, now stretch lengths of string across the box edges at one-foot intervals lengthwise and widthwise to create square sections.

Great Vegetables for This Planting Method

This method isn’t great for vegetables that need lots of real estate, like asparagus or vining winter squash. Instead plant things like carrots, zucchini, Asian greens, and radishes. Peas are also suitable for square-foot gardens, as are herbs.

Know the Pitfalls

Square-foot gardening may not be for everyone. There are a few disadvantages of this technique.

  • If you must purchase materials and soil for building and filling the raised bed, the dollars add up.
  • Sometimes these raised beds aren’t deep enough for the roots of plants. Consider making the bed edges taller and filling the box with one foot of soil instead of six inches.
  • Be prepared to water daily or every couple of days. The shallow soil in the raised bed tends to dry out quickly.
  • Square-foot gardens need to be weeded often. Removing weeds when they’re tiny eliminates the mess it makes of a densely planted bed to get an entrenched weed out.

Summing Up

Despite the negatives, a square-foot garden can provide a compact, productive gardening experience for the novice and expert alike.