Square Foot Gardening Layout Plans: Make Your Garden of the Dream

square foot garden plans

Square Foot Gardening Layout: What Should You Know?

Growing flowers and vegetables in a variety of containers are popular all over the world. Possibilities of such gardening are extremely diverse: containers decorate terraces and patios; they are placed on balconies and loggias; they are ideal for children’s or decorative vegetable garden; it is a great option for those who want to diversify the usual cottage landscape and change it at their discretion without much effort and expense. “Smart” beds or square foot garden layout from Mel Bartholomew are the perfect solution for a small plot of land to grow plants of all tastes and colors. The dream bed looks like a honeycomb in a beehive – made up of squares. The perfect square foot garden plan is when the bed constantly bears fruit, and weeds stay away from it. And, what is of great importance, you always know exactly how many seeds you’ll need to sow it!

Mel Bartholomew, author of the square foot gardening plant layout which was perfectly described in his book “Square Foot Gardening”, the horticultural engineer Mel Bartholomew suggested not just a new square foot gardening planting layout, but made gardening almost an exact science. He pondered the ideal size of a square bed, calculated how many and what plants to plant in it, and, given their compact arrangement, proposed a scheme for the best square foot gardening layout companion planting.

What Size Should the Beds Be in Square Foot Garden Plans?

  • Four feet by four feet- the minimum size of typical square foot gardening raised bed plans. Usually, it is needed to put a lattice on top, which will help to visually separate the crops one from another. Four to four feet beds will allow plants to coexist in a closer environment.
  • To make planting easier, you need to remember that you don’t have to make any spacing between the planted crops. Instead of gaps, you should plant 4 to 16 plants in each square, paying attention to the size of the plants. The exceptions are peas and beans, as they are considered large plants and are best planted in two squares.

What Is the Right Depth of Bed according to the Square Foot Gardening Plan?

  • To maintain perfect drainage and to give the opportunity for plants to get the needed nutrients, the beds should be deep. The relevant depth must be from 6 to 12 inches.

What Else Should You Know about the Rules of Square Foot Gardening Planting Layout?

  • Do not walk on the soil that you have put in the bed, as by doing so you will only compact it, which will be detrimental to the plants!
  • You should use a specific water-retentive and nutrient-rich soil mix. This soil will provide you with a start without the weeds, and will enrich your plants with water and nutrients. The rich soil allows plants to grow much closer to the surface than usual, which in turn displaces weeds.
  • Never pull unnecessary plants in the bed, but rather just cut them off with scissors. This will allow you to avoid disturbing the root system of the plants you are growing.

Mel Bartholomew Beds – Pros and Cons of the Square Foot Garden Layout Plan

plan square foot garden

The “square foot garden” principle is based on dividing the bed into squares. This division of space is an easy way to create a small but high-yielding and compact vegetable garden. Everything looks beautiful and structured on such a square foot garden design.


  • there are no paths and wide row spacing that require constant weeding;
  • when weeding is needed to be done, it is much easier;
  • there is no wasteland, all land is filled with plants;
  • the ground is always loose, since no one walks on it, and therefore there is no trampling;
  • a square foot is warmer than a regular bed;
  • less seed consumption.

A Side Note!

The idea of the square foot gardening layout plans will definitely appeal to those who like flat lawns, but wouldn’t mind picking a cucumber or tomato from their own bed. It’s a practice for beginners who are just taking their first steps in vegetable gardening. And, of course, a way out for those who are limited by the size of the plot, but do not want to stay without fresh vegetables within walking distance.

Cons of the Square Foot Gardening Plans:

-squared beds are not suitable for lovers of preserves and large quantities of crops; -the harvest will definitely be good, but the scale is not the same;

-the method is not acceptable for all crops.

Where to Place the Smart Bed?

If the square foot garden design has won you over, then think about some of the nuances before you start to implement it. First of all, decide on the composition of the vegetable garden, understanding what crops will take up space in it. Then, choose a location that is appropriate for them. Take into account how sunny it is, when there is shade, when it is windy, or when it is in a lull. Finally, you need to position the planting from north to south so that it is evenly lit and warm.

Mel Bartholomew’s Various Squares

square foot garden plan

We have repeated the word “squares” so often that one might get the impression that there is no other choice. In fact, it is only a general principle of the four square gardening design. The shape can be not only strictly square, but also rectangular, and even round!

Mel Bartholomew’s basic rule of bedding: a square foot inside is a constant – 1×1 foot. Then the squares are combined into 4×4 blocks, and you get a 4×4 foot structure. It has a total of 16 squares, according to Mel’s plan square foot garden.

To build a bed you will need antiseptic-treated boards and timbers, screws and slats or ropes with which you divide the bed into squares. Each square is a separate bed for one crop.

If you decide to assemble the construction of the four square gardening design in the garden, you can do it directly on the ground. The bed will be filled with a nutrient mixture that will suit any soil. If the construction will unfold on the lawn or sidewalk, you will need a bottom, such as a geotextile or dense spunbond.

Soil for the Bed according to the Square Foot Vegetable Garden Planner

The first time Mel Bartholomew shared his experience with the general public, he suggested filling beds with garden soil enriched with compost. But later he urged to abandon garden soil because it contains pests and weed seeds in favor of a soil mixture of compost, vermiculite and peat. Such a mix is not a cheap one, so few gardeners will afford to completely eliminate soil.

During the rotation process, maintain soil fertility in the square garden by introducing compost after each cycle. Mulch the space between plants again with compost or other organic materials. Give plants liquid feedings of compost or herbal infusions.

The Watering of the Beds

The obvious plus is that watering a compact square foot vegetable garden layout requires much less water than a regular vegetable garden. And it’s easier to keep track of whether or not you need to hydrate, because everything is literally at your fingertips. It will also save you time – watering a standard 4×4 unit takes only about 5 minutes.

What to Sow in the Square Foot Vegetable Garden Layout

square foot gardening plans

Before settling “tenants” of the beds, start sowing seeds or planting seedlings in squares, draw a scheme of the bed with crops on paper.

  • Be guided by the principle: one cell – one crop.
  • Taller plants on the north side.
  • Allow space for climbing crops at the edges, providing them with vertical support.

Let’s say you have leaf lettuce and cucumbers next to each other. Great! When the lettuce leaves are gaining strength, the cucumbers are still small. Conversely, when the cucumbers get older, it’s time to cut the salad leaves. That is the point, they don’t interfere with each other. The essence of Mel Bartholomew’s method is that he recommends planting an exact number of plants in one square. The giant plants in Mel’s coordinate system occupy two squares at once.

The square foot gardening layout companion planting: good and bad neighbors

In the natural environment, some plants either help or hinder the growth of others. This point needs to be considered while making the square foot vegetable garden planner. Further we will name several examples of good and bad neighbors, but more information you may find in our next articles!

For example, beans are good neighbors with maize, sunflowers, lavender, cabbage, cucumber, eggplant. However, they do not get along with onions, garlic, and fennel. Beets get on well with beans, onions, garlic, lettuce, cabbage and they have no bad neighbors. Carrots` good neighbors are rosemary, leeks, wormwood, lettuce, peas and the bad ones: strawberries, cabbage, and fennel. For more information, continue reading our blog!

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