Square foot gardening: How to unlock the technique

Ready to take on a gardening project that is sure to yield more fresh produce with fewer resources? Look no further than square foot gardening. We explain the method, how to set up your own gardening unit and what to plant. Before you know it — you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the fruit (plus veggies and herbs) of your labour.

Squaring in on this gardening technique

Gardening comes in a variety of approaches and methods to achieve any one goal. For those wanting to dabble in gardening within limited spaces, explore our small garden ideas guide. We explore how to maximise the use of restricted areas, with zoning and vertical gardening — very similar to the concept of square foot gardening.

The premise of square foot gardening

Founded on the methods developed by Mel Bartholomew, this practice aims to optimise gardening. It revolves around planting within a garden box with a particular planting style. Not only does the technique utilise less space, but it also outputs a higher yield of produce if used correctly. Unlike a traditional gardening space that uses rows, the square foot approach uses only 10% of the water that rows would consume.

Ultimately, it was created to alleviate needs for space, water and tools. It is a go-to for any environmentally-minded gardener and ideal for those with limited access to resources. Gardeners will achieve a low impact food production that supports plant-based living as well as a self-sufficient lifestyle.

How to set up a square foot garden

1. Select a space

Start by choosing an area that receives between 6-8 hours of sunlight a day and is easy to navigate around.

2. Build a gardening box

Next, build or buy a 4-by-4 foot (metre by metre) raised bed box. Be sure to line your box with weed barrier fabric. This helps reduce the chance of weeds sprouting if you’re planting above ground soil.

3. Fill the gardening box

Use a mixture of vermiculite (or potting soil), peat moss and organic compost. Fill your box generously and mix well.

4. Create a grid

This gridding system assists with spacing, organisation and allows a specific area to be monitored. Use either string or dowelling rods to section off three equal rows, by three columns, to create nine growing squares.

You can then lay out your seeds according to your needs. This method encourages a 1, 4, 9, or 16 seed planting grid.

Planting examples

1. Plant per square

Form a hole in the centre of a square and plant your seeds/seedlings.





Lettuce (head)






Sweet potatoes

Tomatoes (staked)

2. Plants per square

In this set up, you can feature seeds side by side within a square — use the recommended seeding distance with a support trellis.





Up to 4 plants per square

Plant these in a square with each seed or plant in one of the four corners. Place them at equal distances from each other and the grid border


Garlic (for growing larger bulbs)

Leeks (for growing larger plants)

Lettuce (leaf)

Onions (for growing larger bulbs)

Swiss chard

Tomatoes (use a cage)

Baby marrows (with cage)

Up to 9 plants per square

Plant these in a grid- or square-like pattern within the square space. You can use three plants long by three plants wide. Avoid crowding by making sure they are equidistant from each other and the border of the grid.

Green beans (bush or pole)



Garlic (smaller bulbs harvested, but more plants)

Leeks (smaller but more plants)

Onions (smaller, but yield more plants)



Tomatoes (unsupported)


(Up to) 16-Per-Square Plantings

Plant these in a grid or square pattern within each space. Use a maximum of four plants long by four plants wide. Avoid crowding by making sure they are equidistant from each other and the border of the grid.




Get ready to get more out of your gardening

May your square foot gardening project bring you a happy harvest. For more ideas on planting techniques, be sure to explore our collection of garden guides, or contact us.