12 Square Foot Gardening Tips to Make Your Garden Trouble-Free | SHIFTING ROOTS

12 Square Foot Gardening Tips to Make Your Garden Trouble-Free

Are you planning on square foot gardening? I have used the square foot gardening method and I couldn’t be happier with the results! I’ve been able to grow so much more food in a small space and cut my time weeding in the garden down considerably.

However, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my first couple years. Fortunately for you, you can use what I’ve learned to your advantage when you plant and calculate your square foot garden.

Here in this post, I’ll tell you the top 12 things that I would recommend you do when making your square foot garden.

1. Use a Grid & Plan Ahead

Planning out where you are going to put each vegetable in a grid before you plant everything is extremely important. Grids are simple to see and gives you an organized framework to your garden. Since you can visualize everything, it will also help you see potential mistakes in spacing that will ruin the amount of vegetables you get.

Like the planner in the picture? Get your free copy here.

2. Use a Seeding Square

Vegetables in a square foot garden are planted in spacings of 1, 4, 9, or 16, with some vegetables taking up 4 large squares. I would highly recommend using the Seeding Square, as I use it all the time in my square foot gardens.

The seeding square will accurately place the seeds in each square with the minimum length apart for them to grow in the one foot square. This will allow you to maximize your space and not overcrowd your vegetables.

3. Start Small

If you are new to growing square foot gardens, don’t try too much at once! A smaller 2×2 (4 grid squares) or 4×4 bed size (grid of 16 squares) is a good starting point! It is easy to construct, grow a surprising amount of plants, and is accessible from all sides.

Starting too big can become overwhelming and stressful if you are inexperienced in square foot gardening. Starting small will be less costly and much more manageable, even though it’s super tempting to go overboard in the Spring after a long winter.

4. Companion Plants

I personally take most companion plant pairings with a grain of salt. For example, I like planting my zinnias with my tomatoes, but does that mean that just because one year it proved to be an idea pairing it will be every year in every garden setting? Maybe–maybe not. (But seriously, I was one of the few people in town who had good tomatoes that year when I planted zinnias and tomatoes side by side.)

I like to think of companion planting more in terms of interplanting and preventing plants from shading one another out.

For example, Spinach under a cucumber trellis is a good idea–by the time the spinach is ready to be pulled out, the cucumbers will take over that empty space. Peppers beside tomatoes are a terrible idea. Not only are they from the same family of vegetables, the tomatoes will eventually shade out the peppers.

Which brings us to the next tip. . .

5. Keep Height in Mind

Vining plants can take up a lot of space – BUT – they are definitely a win for gardens since they grow upwards! Upward growing plants are a great utilization of space in your square foot garden.

These taller vegetables can work to your advantage if planted correctly. On the one hand, if there are heat-loving plants amongst your taller plants, make sure to plant taller veggies, like tomatoes, on the north side of your bed. This will allow the smaller plants to get their daily dose of sun. For this pattern, I’ve come up with four done-for-you plans to plant in your square foot garden.  You can download them here.

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If you have shade loving veggies, that do not require direct sun, plant you tall ones towards the middle of your garden! This way, the sun-loving plants can be on the north side and get their sun bathe, while the shade-wanting plants can be saved by the tall plants in the middle.

6. Fertilize, Refresh, and Rotate

The soil in your square foot garden will need to be amended every year. Add in compost, manure, and optional peat moss to replenish vegetables that the vegetables used. It’s a good idea to rotate what you plant where. However, as long as you keep adding in compost and manure each year, it’s not as critical.

7. Watering & Weeding


The soil in square foot gardens, especially in raised beds, tends to dry out faster. Plan on watering your beds everyday in the summer, and possibly twice a day if the temperatures start soaring.

However, be careful to only water when your garden needs it, as over-watering is a very common mistake for beginner gardeners to make. To make sure you get it right, feel the soil with your fingers. If it feels dry it needs water. If it doesn’t, don’t water it.

Weeding is a pain for most gardeners out there, but a perk of raised beds is that you are not required to weed as much as in a traditional garden. The closer spacing of plants means that there isn’t much room for weeds to grow. However, you still need to weed once a week initially, then as needed once the plants are larger.

Tips Related to Raised Beds

Most square foot gardens out there are typically in raised beds. These next few tips and tricks are specifically for raised square foot garden beds.

Side note: You don’t have to have a raised bed to use the square foot gardening technique! Look for a new post coming out soon about how you can apply the square foot gardening method to a regular, in-ground garden.

8. Use Treated Scrap Wood

Using treated scrap wood to build your beds? Make sure it’s newer than 2003, as anything earlier contains carcinogenic materials that will leach into your soil, making the vegetables you grow unsafe.

Cedar is some of the best wood you can use, as it can last for 10-15 years and looks amazing. Unfortunately, is it more expensive in most areas. However, as long as you have a wood that is rot resistant and safe for soil & plants it is safe to use.

9. Soil Costs More Than You Think

When making new beds, know that the cost of soil will be 2-4 times the price of the garden bed. You need a good soil that will retain the water and nutrients. You will want the garden beds to be a mix of topsoil, compost, and other organic material.

10. Use Weed Suppressing Fabric or Cardboard

Make sure any weed-suppressing fabric goes under both the inside AND outside of the frame of the bed. If you this is not done, you’ll get weeds and grass right up against the bed that are hard to pick out/get rid of.

11. Do This One Trick to Save Money on Soil in High Raised Beds

Making a higher raised bed than normal? Fill in the bottom with wood and twigs to cut down on the soil you’ll need! It will decompose overtime and save some money on soil.

12. Keep Depth in Mind

Keep in mind that some root vegetables have deep roots. If you want to grow root vegetables, your beds should be a minimum of 12 inches high. A depth of 18 inches is most ideal.

And finally, if you really want to up your small space gardening game, you’ll want to grab a copy of Small Garden, Big Harvest. It’s everything you need to maximize every available inch of growing space you have available. Grow enough produce to have something fresh from the garden every week, and feel more at peace knowing you’re contributing to your food security in some small way.

Click here to find out more

Kristen Raney

Kristen Raney

Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots.  She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden.  She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.

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Hi, I'm Kristen and I help new gardeners learn to grow their own vegetables and beautify their yards. I also share recipes that use all that delicious garden produce. Grab a coffee (and your gardening gloves) and join me for gardening tips, simple recipes, and the occasional DIY, all from the lovely city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

P.S. First time gardener? You'll want to download the quick start gardening guide below!