Square foot gardening may be the right fit for your lifestyle

By Lloyd Thompson
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener

Square foot gardening.
Square-foot gardens are divided into spaces, shown here in 2012, holding one large plant or several smaller plants. This one has wooden dividers, while some gardeners use twine to make the divisions. – Provided file photo/WSU Master Gardeners
Tomatoes in square foot gardening
Tomatoes can be grown using square foot gardening. – Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Lloyd Thompson
Lloyd Thompson – WSU Extension Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – Provided photo

The first time I heard the term square foot gardening (SFG) was around the late 1980s. I was teaching horticulture for the first time, and a book I had purchased described something called SFG.

It was a different method than anything I had ever used in regard to gardening, employing small squares and grids rather than long rows. The idea included giving less open space for weeds to grow since plants filled the entire area. This also increased productivity since there was so little space not planted.

Having grown up helping with gardens watered by ditches and the space between the small ditches called rills, this was a totally different way of doing things.

The basic idea is to create raised beds about 3 or 4 feet wide and use grids to lay out the planting area in 1-foot squares. I have seen grids that use string, PVC pipe and wood strips. While many websites say a bed 6 inches deep is sufficient, I’d build or buy boxes that are 10 to 12 inches to allow enough soil for deeper-rooted plants. The location should be mostly in full sun.

There are various planting plans that offer a wide variety of choices on what to plant and how many plants for each grid. For newer gardeners, there are some advantages for the SFG system, since the beds are smaller and easier to maintain than a larger garden and are very productive for their size.

Like all raised beds, square foot gardens tend to dry out faster, so water can be an issue. And, the higher cost, like any raised bed, can be a factor. Weeding, while less intense and time consuming, needs to be done weekly and requires hand weeding rather than using a hoe.

The raised beds are available premade or you can do it yourself; material choices include wood, concrete stack block and vinyl. I would avoid using treated lumber for vegetables because of the chemicals used in the treatment process.

If you are just starting out, try just one small bed and experiment with vegetables and the time required. Another alternative is to use large pots to garden rather than a raised bed, which allows apartment dwellers a way to garden. Pots with vegetables also can be incorporated into landscapes to allow a harvest among the flowers and other plants.

If you are interested in learning more about square foot gardening, there are a lot of resources available on the internet that include planting plans. As with most things web-related, rely on well-known and trusted sources for the best information.

Square foot gardening is a good way for someone who is new to gardening to get some experience and enjoy success at growing their own vegetables. It isn’t a perfect system by any means, but its variability and small size makes it more manageable than more traditional gardens with long rows and space between each row.