Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Jan 15
4 min read
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Square Foot Gardening

Designing A Garden For Beginners

If you are just starting out, gardening can be kind of intimidating. What kind of tools to use? What to plant? How do you plant? There can be a lot of questions if you haven’t had any experience with growing before. The good news is gardening can be very simple. The key is meeting the main requirements plants need to grow, including soil, water, and sunlight. You can start a garden in any container that will hold your soil and allow excess water to drain. It is generally best if it is also located in an area that gets eight or more hours of full sunlight a day.

Once you have your garden space planned, you will need seeds or starts ready to go. Starts are just young plants you would pick up from a local nursery or start growing seeds indoors yourself. Check out our seed starting article for instructions on how to start seeds indoors. If you aren’t sure what seeds should be started indoors vs. directly sown, take a look at our “When Should You Start Your Seeds Indoors” article.

As for the fun part of actually planting your seeds, we recommend using the square foot method for a beginner. This method was taught by many individuals throughout history but was named and made popular by Mel Bartholemew. This method centers on the idea that plants can be arranged in patterns for optimal use of each square foot in your garden. Planting in rows has long been the most popular method for its organization and ease of planting. Although it leaves some unused space, the square foot design allows for greater variety and 100% of your space to be productive regardless of the size or shape of your growing space. Below you can find instructions on how to design and plant your garden. Simplify the process of planting seeds by using this square seeding template.

square seeding tool

Other similar methods include the biointensive method taught by John and Cynthia Jeavons. This method focuses on enriching, replenishing, and restoring the soil. They use many organic growing practices paired with planting seeds and starts close together to reduce water evaporation and utilize the plants' shade to reduce watering requirements over time. Plants grow stronger when they are surrounded by more plants. This is because they can better retain water within the root zone when working together. They can also share nutrients and deter pests.

How to Design a Square Foot Garden

  • Prepare your soil by amending it with compost and/or fertilizer
  • Outline each square foot with string, wood, wire, etc.
  • Decide what plants you want to include based on how many squares they will take up and how much you want to harvest.
  • Build or place a support system, such as a trellis, in the squares that will require extra support during growth.
  • Plant your seeds or starts according to the recommended planting rate per square foot. To make the planting phase easier, try using this seeding template tool.
  • Care for your plants by watering them each day, weeding regularly, and fertilizing them as needed.

Planting Rates:

1 per Square Foot - Lettuce, Tomatoes, Peppers, Potatoes, Kale, Eggplant, Rosemary, Parsley, Chives, Oregano

2 per Square Foot - Cucumber and Squash with growth supports, Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower

4 per Square Foot - Garlic, Basil, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Leaf Lettuce, Onions, Radishes, Rutabaga, Swiss Chard

9 per Square Foot - Green Beans, Beets, Cilantro, Peas, Spinach, Turnips

16 per Square Foot - Carrots, Parsnips, Radishes

*Corn can be planted 1 per square foot, however, it really grows best when planted in a block with several rows.

For more information and updated methods we recommend studying Mel Bartholomew's course for Square Foot Gardening.

Ashleigh Smith's photo

I'm Ashleigh Smith, a native to Northern Utah. I first gained a love of gardening with my grandmother as I helped her each summer. I decided to make a career of it and have recently graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University - Idaho. My studies have focused on plant production while I also have experience in Nursery & Garden Center Operations.

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Michelle

I learned a lot from this article! We give our cat wheatgrass but never knew how good it was for them! I just bought some seeds to grow our own so our cat can have it all the time.


Kathie Hitt

This is amazing! I had no idea you could grow your own popping corn. Will be definitely adding to my fall gardening plan to surprise my family. Thank you!


Bethany

Thank you for the helpful information! As a beginner gardener it has been tempting to start everything indoors. It’s helpful to know that it best to directly sow some crops.


Mandy

Beauty berry is one of my favorites bug repelling plants. Great article.


Mandy

I love nasturtiums. Great article.