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Square Foot Gardening Planting Guide

Square Foot Gardening Planting Guide

Welcome to the Ultimate Square Foot Gardening Planting Guide!

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Square Foot Gardening relies on forward planning and careful planting to make the most of your growing area. Before you get started you need to have a clear understanding of what this style of gardening requires.

We have the perfect introductory article for you here: What is Square Foot Gardening?

Once you’ve grasped the basics you can go on to create your own designs and experiment with companion planting.


As with any gardening it is dictated by the seasons. You are planting outside, and you will need to research which hardiness zone you are in. You can find a helpful guide here.

The UK falls under various different zones because we have such a wide variety of environments; from the mountains of Scotland and Wales, through to the balmy beaches and cliffs of Cornwall.

When you know your zone you can start to look at vegetables and plants that are suitable. As mentioned in other articles, the RHS plant finder is perfect for this.

You will need to consider:

These questions may seem daunting. However, once you have made your lists of ideas things will all come together.

seedlings SFG planting guide

Plan your harvest

Designing your garden you will need to take into account when fruits and vegetables ripen, and what time of year the harvest will take place.

We speak from experience when we say this is just as important as deciding what plants to grow – a summer of eating nothing but fresh peas with every meal was an error in judgement on our part!

peas SFG planting guide

There is a great information sheet here which gives you a clear idea of how many weeks each crop takes to come to full maturity. This information can also be found on the back of your seed packets.

Make sequential staggered sowings so that (unlike us!) you don’t have a bumper crop all within a two week period that could end up going to waste.

Where will you store your harvest?

Think about how much space you have in your freezer for peas, beans and sweet corn. Where will you be storing potatoes, squashes and courgettes?

The aim is to have as much as you can eat each week with some left over for storage, and no excess. A brilliant book that will help you with this side of planning can be found here – “Grow Your Own Vegetables”.

Top gardening tip

Did you know that by planting rosemary, mint, or other strong-smelling herbs of this type can assist in keeping bugs at bay?

Their essential oils (which are in the leaves and root system) act as a deterrent and discourage the pests from remaining in the area. Think about adding these to your square foot garden.

Plan Your Grid

Your grid is full of equal squares. Plants grow to various sizes which means you can’t always have multiple plants per square.

There are small, medium, large and extra large plants. As you can imagine, the extra large plants (such as broccoli or bell pepper) can only have one per square, but the medium and small plants (such as carrots, beets and radishes) can have several rows per square.

What to plant where in a square foot garden

It can help to plan it out by numbers to check what spacing you need and how many squares each crop will require.

number grid for Square foot gardening

Once you know how much space you have, and what kinds of plants you’d like to grow, you then have to ensure you fill your raised bed (or feed the ground) with the correct compost.

Double check the movement of the sun across the growing area, and adjust your plant layout if necessary.

Square Foot Gardening is perfect for elderly people who may want to continue their hobby despite age-related restrictions such as poor mobility.

Top gardening tip

Don’t forget that you can create partially shaded areas by companion planting with taller plants. Rosemary can grow to 60cm tall, and as well as creating shade it is a great pollinator. It can repel certain pests too!

Starting your seeds

If you have a greenhouse, or a warm dedicated space near a window in your home, you can start your seeds off inside.

If space is at a premium and these aren’t available you will need to wait until the last frost has ended and plant outside. As we mentioned earlier, this all depends on your hardiness zone.

As part of your planning diary and calendar you will need to take into account what is going to grow in the grid once your crop has been harvested.

There is an excellent Square Foot Gardening crop rotation guide that you can use to aid your decisions. It contains 4 plants groups and 4 steps.

If you have the traditional SFG grid this is also divided by 4 – so it should makes things simple.

The idea is that when your plant is harvested the next plant to fill the square requires different minerals etc. In this way the compost does not become exhausted, and it also prevents pests from taking hold as there is a noticeable change within each bed.

Group 1 – plants grown for their leaves or flowers
Group 2 – plants grown for their fruit
Group 3 – plants grown for their roots
Group 4 – plants and legumes that ‘feed the soil’ (such as peas and beans)

Top gardening tip

Companion planting is a fantastic way to organically manage pests in your garden.

You can find out more about organic Square Foot Gardening here.

See our short guide below to help you decide which companion plants to add to your square foot garden or click below to read the full article!

What are the best companion plants for Square Foot Gardening?

There are so many species of plant that we could never make an exhaustive list, so we have researched the most common companion plants that people use in SFG.

Rosemary and Lavender

Their strong smell (especially when they are warmed by the sun) deters beetles, flies and other creepy crawlies that would do harm to your crops!

If you plant them at the edge of your grid they should prevent pests entering the main growing area. The great news is that they are also the perfect accompaniment for lots of dishes!

rosemary and lavender


This beautiful plant is edible and you can even use its blue flowers in your summer drink… its use as a companion plant comes from the fact it deters underground beasties from attacking the roots of your vegetables and stunting their growth.

It’s also a great pollinator.

borage companion planting


These are often used to brighten up borders in gardens, or as a burst of colour in flower arrangements, but they are by far one of the best companion plants available.

You only need to take a quick look at the list of things they protect: asparagus, corn, cucumber, pumpkins… they discourage nematodes, beetles and some species of pest worms too!

beneficial insect on flower


Wild, alpine or cultivated, strawberries are great at protecting onions, lettuces, and spinach. Their attractive white flowers turn into succulent fruit.

They are self-seeding, and fairly low maintenance. This makes them an easy plant for a Square Foot Garden.

Garlic / Alliums

These strong-smelling plants put off bugs and beetles as well as rodents and some birds. Animals can sense their presence from a great distance and will avoid the area.

Although only some are edible, the colour and safety they bring to your garden will be worth the space they take up.

garlic / alliums

Don’t get disheartened

There are two sides to every story. You may be reading books on Square Foot Gardening that show abundant fruit and vegetables with smiling gardeners, you may also see Instagram-worthy photos where home-growers proudly show off their produce… these are the end results of trial and error!

The fantastic news is that in the 21st century we have access to the best information and advice which should prevent major issues with your first crop.

Don’t be disheartened if something goes ‘wrong’ or your planning is a little wonky for the first couple of seasons. You can make a note of what works for you and your plot, and over time become a better gardener.

harvest SFG planting guide

A great way to embrace the ethos behind Square Foot Gardening is to consider making your own compost. This is a form of recycling; it’s often organic and can be cost effective.

If you want to follow traditional SFG methods, you should try to use “Mel’s Mix”.

Officially Mel’s Mix is:
1/3 of a good blended multi-purpose compost made from at least 5 different sources
1/3 coarse vermiculite
1/3 peat moss (or coco coir)
In the UK it is possible to create this mix with 50/50 blended multi-purpose compost and vermiculite.

what is square foot gardening composter

If you are looking to start the process of composting at home we suggest purchasing a compost bin. These come in various shapes and sizes.

They sit in a secluded part of your garden, you then add food and plant waste to them.

Here are some of your options:

Compost bin for Square foot gardening
You can make your own compost using something as simple as a wooden crate or search for composters here.

See some of our other articles here:

What is Square Foot Gardening?

Do I need a Raised Bed for Square Foot Gardening?

Best Companion Plants for Square Foot Gardening

Top gardening tip

You can buy a ready made raised bed or build your own using a kit!

what is square foot gardening without a raised bed

Square Foot Gardening (SFG) has enjoyed a recent resurgence because the method is suitable for many people’s outdoor areas.

top gardening tip

Did you know that garden centres and hardware stores such as B&Q and Homebase now carry kits that are affordable and easy to assemble if you are creating a new SFG?

These might be the way forward if you’re not comfortable sawing, or building your own wooden frame.

Useful Videos


When was Square Foot Gardening invented?

Square Foot Gardening was first invented by Mel Bartholomew in 1976 and he published his first book on the topic in 1981.

How much does it cost to set up a Square Foot Garden?

You could set up your square foot garden for free using things you have lying around in the house or garden. It depends if you are using a raised bed or not and how much you are investing in your initial set up. You should plan ahead and fully cost your materials before you begin.

What compost do I need for a raised bed?

If you want to stick to the official method of square foot gardening then you should try to use mel’s mix for maximum results. However, depending on what plants you are growing, you may need to add specialist types of compost. It may also depend on your climate and how wet or dry your compost is likely to be.

Can I make my own compost?

Yes. Absolutely! There are many reasons why you should make your own compost. Not only is it good for the environment, but it’s also a great way to make use of your garden waste and spent plants. It’s also said that using compost you’ve made in the same garden is a great way of attracting beneficial insects to your square foot garden which helps to reduce pests.

What is Mel’s mix?

Officially Mel’s Mix is:
1/3 of a good blended multi-purpose compost made from at least 5 different sources
1/3 coarse vermiculite
1/3 peat moss (or coco coir)
In the UK it is possible to create this mix with 50/50 blended multi-purpose compost and vermiculite.

Should you dig the ground over before you start?

This all depends on how you feel about the whole dig vs no dig debate! There is absolutely no reason you would need to dig if you can’t or don’t want to!

Things you’ll need for a Successful Square Foot Garden


Mel’s Mix

Home Composting

Suggested Reading

Want to learn more about No Dig Gardening?

no dig gardening
no dig gardening
no dig gardening

Learn more with these books from the Square Foot Gardening Foundation

Square Foot Gardening
Square Foot Gardening
Square Foot Gardening

Still want to know more about Square Foot Gardening? Find out how it all started!

Check out the video below for more help to get started with Square Foot Gardening!

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