Contents

The all-in-one Plant Spacing Chart and Planting Guide

It’s a win, win … win!

So what do we mean ‘plant by area’?

Planting by area means taking a square section of garden, and dividing the length and width of that section by the plant spacing needs.
If you look on the back of a seed packet you’ll see two types of measurement:

  • 1. Seed/Plant Spacing
  • 2. Row Spacing

Now, we normally do not condone being wasteful, but we want you to take that row spacing number, and throw it away! You won’t need it. What you will need is the seed spacing/plant spacing number. You will use the seed spacing/plant spacing number to divide up planting sections to know how many seeds to sow.

Let’s get started: First you need to make planting sections

Typically about 1 square foot sections are preferred. We say “about 1 square foot” because the thickness of a garden bed board will make the growing area of your garden just under an increment of 1 foot; but not to worry, your plants will never know the difference.

To make plant spacing easier, many gardeners will make a plant spacing grid.

  • 1st they’ll measure their garden bed.
  • Then go out and buy materials such as wood or string and screws.
  • Then cut everything to length.
  • Then attach the pieces to the frame of their garden bed to make a grid.

If you don’t want to go through all of that hassle, we were nice enough to create a pre-assembled, tool-free plant spacing guide for you, and it just so happens to also be a garden irrigation system. It’s called The Garden Grid.

Next, let’s figure out how many seeds to plant:

We have our simple plant spacing chart below if you want to jump ahead and begin planting now, but if you want to know how we got the plant spacing measurements, stick right here!

We’re going to do a little math. Don’t panic! We promise it’s really, really easy.

  • Step 1: Locate the seed spacing number from the back of your seed packet. (We’ll use 3 inch seed spacing for this example)
  • Step 2: Divide the width of your planting section (about 12 inches) by the 3 inch seed spacing.
  • Answer: 12 inches across / 3 inch seed spacing = 4 plants across
  • Step 3: Repeat step two but for the length of your planting section. (Also about 12 inches).
  • Answer: 12 inches across / 3 inch seed spacing = 4 plants across
  • Step 4: Multiply your two answers together
  • Answer: 4 plants across X 4 plants across = 16 plants!
  • Step 5: Start planting! With 3 inch seed/plant spacing needs, you can grow 16 plants in a 1 square foot area.
  • Step 6: Keep planting! You now have the plant spacing formula for the rest of your garden!

For a little planting inspiration, try out this sample plant spacing layout we made for our 4×4 Garden Grid watering system. We also have salsa garden and salad garden planting layouts!

Now… what you have all been waiting for!

The Garden In Minutes Plant Spacing Chart

Find what you can grow the most of or find your favorite plants, but most importantly – get out and start growing!

Plant Spacing Chart

Vegetable Type Plant Spacing Per Square Vegetable Type Plant Spacing Per Square
Arugula 4 Oregano 1
Asian Greens 4 Parsley 4
Basil 2-4 Parsnips 9
Beans (bush) 9 Peanuts 1
Beets 9 Peas 9
Bok Choy (baby) 9 Peppers (Bell) 1
Broccoli 1 Peppers (Hot) 1
Brussel Sprout 1 Potatoes 4
Cabbage 1 Pumpkins 1
Cantaloupe 2 squares per plant Radicchio 2
Carrots 16 Radishes 16
Cauliflower 1 Rhubarb 1
Celery 4 Rosemary 1
Chives 4 Rutabagas 4
Cilantro 1-9 Sage 1
Collards 1 Scallions 36
Corn 4 Shallots 4
Cucumbers 2 Sorrel 2
Eggplant 1 Spinach 9
Endive 4 Squash 1
Fennel 4 Swiss Chard 4
Garlic 9 Tarragon 1
Green Onions 16 Tomatoes 1
Kale 1 Turnips 9
Kohlrabi 4 Thyme 4
Leeks 9 Wasabi 1
Lettuce (leaf) 6 Watercress 1
Lettuce (head) 2 Watermelon 2 squares per plant
Melons 2 squares per plant Yams 4
Mint 1-4 Yellow Parma Onion (large) 1
Onions (bunching) 9 Zucchini 1

So there you have it! Our all-in-one, everything your need to know, plant spacing chart and planting guide. Planting by area was inspired and made popular by the concept of square foot gardening, if you want to learn more about square foot gardening, check out our other article on just that! Also, if you’re still curious about setting up a planting guide with an integrated irrigation system, where you won’t need any tools, check out The Garden Grid on our How it Works page!

Our plant spacing chart is always growing. Have something you want added? Let us know in the comments below!

Intensive, high yield gardening uses growing space more efficiently than traditional methods. Instead of wasted room between rows of crops, the garden area is maximized — that way you can grow more vegetables in less space.

Even if you have plenty of room in your backyard, square foot gardening can require less work while still providing lots of healthy plants. Usually there is less weeding involved since plants are spaced closer together and every bit of garden space is cultivated throughout the entire growing season. However, because there is less room between crops, weeding will need to be done by hand or with smaller garden tools — there will not be enough room for machinery. Another drawback — to some people — is that because plants are always growing, they are not all ready to harvest at the same time.

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Raised Beds

A raised bed is simply when the level of the soil is higher than the surrounding ground. The Ohio State University Extension has listed several benefits of gardening in a raised bed. A few of these benefits are:

  • Higher yields
  • Improved soil conditions
  • Ease of working
  • Ease of pest control
  • Water conservation

A raised bed should be just wide enough that you can reach all the way across without climbing into it (or, if you can access both sides of the bed, you need to be able to reach half way across). See Building a Raised Bed Garden (PDF).

One of the reasons raised beds have such high yields is that the soil is mixed with amendments to create a light, fluffy growing medium to a depth of about 2-feet. This encourages great root growth.

Vertical Gardening

Vertical gardens are both a wise use of space and aesthetically pleasing. They can help keep plants up off the ground and can be used to define landscaped areas, by creating interesting focal points and eye-pleasing boundaries (see our article Containers with Altitude). Plants grown on walls, trellises and fences can cool your home or garden and block views you don’t want to see.

Good support surfaces for a vertical garden include:

  • Openwork fences
  • Trellises
  • Hanging baskets
  • Arbors
  • Cages
  • Poles with string or nets

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Choosing the right plants for a vertical garden is important. While many plants can be trained to grow upwards, not every plant is suitable. Some of the best fruits and vegetables are as follows:

Tomatoes do better grown in a cage or other support system than when left on the ground. Not only do they use up less space, but they are less likely to become infected with a soil-borne disease. Learn more about tomato gardening here.

Cucumbers grow as vines and are a natural for vertical gardening.

Corn grows vertically, naturally, and can be used as a support for beans or other plants.

Peas, melons, and passion fruit take well to upwards growth. Even zucchinis, pumpkins and other squashes will grow vertically as long as their support system is strong enough.

Tips for a Successful Vertical Garden

  1. Make sure your vertically-grown plants are in a location where they won’t shade out sun-loving plants.
  2. Grow plants on the south side of the support structure for maximum sunlight.
  3. Don’t forget to water. Your vertical garden will dry out faster without plants laying on the soil to shade it.
  4. Soil should be deep and well-drained so plant roots can grow down into the soil, rather than growing outwards where they will compete with other plants.
  5. Heavy crops, such as melons, pumpkins and squash, may need additional support. Construct a “hammock” from strips of old pantyhose by tying it to either side of the crop you are supporting and place the vegetable/fruit inside.

Interplanting

Growing two or more plants in the same place at the same time is known as interplanting. This can be done by alternating rows within a bed, alternating plants within a row or mixing up plants throughout the bed.

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When interplanting flowers and herbs in the vegetable garden make sure to grow plants with similar requirements near each other. Consider the following factors for each plant:

  • length of the plant’s growth period
  • growth pattern (tall, short, below or above ground)
  • possible negative effects on other plants (such as the allelopathic effects of sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes on nearby plants)
  • preferred season
  • preferred light
  • nutrient and moisture requirements

Spacing

In a raised bed or interplanted garden, plants are grown more closely together than in a traditional row garden. When growing vegetables, herbs or fruits, stagger your rows so that a plant in one row is between two plants in the other row. This creates an almost continuous leaf cover that shades out weeds and reduces the amount of area that needs to be mulched.

The following chart from the Arizona Cooperative Extension indicates how closely seeds or seedlings can be planted.

Vegetable Inches Vegetable Inches
Asparagus 15 to 18 Lettuce, head 10 to 12
Beans, lima 4 to 6 Lettuce, leaf 4 to 6
Beans, pole 6 to 12 Melons 18 to 24
Beans, bush 4 to 6 Mustard 6 to 9
Beets 2 to 4 Okra 12 to 18
Broccoli 12 to 18 Onion 2 to 4
Brussels sprouts 15 to 18 Peas 2 to 4
Cabbage 15 to 18 Peppers 12 to 15
Cabbage, Chinese 10 to 12 Potatoes 10 to 12
Carrots 2 to 3 Pumpkins 24 to 36
Cauliflower 15 to 18 Radishes 2 to 3
Cucumber 12 to 18 Rutabaga 4 to 6
Chard, Swiss 6 to 9 Southern pea 3 to 4
Collards 12 to 15 Spinach 4 to 6
Endive 15 to 18 Squash, summer 18 to 24
Eggplant 18 to 24 Squash, winter 24 to 36
Kale 15 to 18 Sweet corn 15 to 18
Kohlrabi 6 to 9 Tomatoes 18 to 24
Leeks 3 to 6 Turnip 4 to 6

To determine spacing for interplanting, add the inches for the two crops to be planted together, and divide the sum by 2. For example, if radishes are planted next to beans, add 2 inches + 4 inches = 6 inches, then divide 6 inches by 2 inches = 3 inches. The radishes should be planted 3 inches from the beans.

Tip: Be careful not to sow seeds too closely together or your crops may be at a higher risk of plant disease (often caused by poor air circulation). Always refer to the seed packet for appropriate spacing.

Succession and Relay Planting

Once a crop has reached its full production, it is time to plant more. Cool-season crops (peas, lettuce, broccoli) are followed by warm-season crops (peppers, tomatoes, beans), and if you live in a mild climate, these may be followed by more cool season plants, or even a fall/winter crop. Read our article on successive planting in the home garden to learn more.

Relaying is overlapping planting of one type of crop. For example, spinach may be planted at 2-3 week intervals to ensure a steady harvest. Or you can plant early, mid and late season crops all at the same time (see Planting Crops for a Second Harvest).

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If seeds are started indoors, there is always something ready to go into the garden as space opens up. Don’t forget to add compost or an organic fertilizer to get the soil ready for the next crop of plants.

Planning & Design

Start early when planning an organic garden. In January or February, while snow still covers the ground, it is time to get out some graph paper and seed catalogs and get to work.

1.) Pull out last year’s garden journal to see what did and didn’t work in your garden. What? You didn’t keep notes? Learn The Nuts and Bolts of a Gardening Notebook here.

2.) Grab a pencil and paper and draw your garden plot(s). Using graph paper helps determine how much space you have to work with more precisely.

3.) Choose what plants you wish to grow. For each plant consider:

– Nutrient needs
– Shade tolerance
– Above and below ground growth patterns
– Preferred growing season

4.) Determine which plants can be grown together or successively. Read our article about companion planting here.

5.) Add the plants to your chart after determining how closely together they can be grown.

6.) Order your seeds. You can start some plants indoors so they are ready to go or directly seed into the soil.

Other Resources:

Grow Your Garden “Up”
Vertical Gardening: Containers with Altitude

Spacing Guide

To find out how much space you need to leave between plants, check the plant tags, which usually list spacing requirements. These guidelines give the ideal distance from the center of one plant to the center of the next.

In traditional in-ground gardens, vegetable plants are planted in long, single rows spaced a uniform distance apart. This is what many people picture when they think of vegetable gardens. The simple system works, but it takes more space than many gardeners have these days because of the room you need to leave for the paths in between the rows. The spacing guidelines for planting refer to the distance between plants within a row.

In raised beds, you’re able to recapture some of that wasted space. It’s still important to follow the spacing guidelines on the plant tags, but you won’t need to leave room between rows for the paths. So, for example, if you’re planting onions and the tag says to leave 8 inches between plants, you simply leave 8 inches of space on all sides instead of having to leave a good bit more space between rows.

If you garden in containers, you’ll want to pay attention to the size of the container you choose, for the same reasons as noted above. Check out this container size guide to find how big a pot you need for the type of vegetable you want to grow.

If you choose to plant more intensively than is recommended on the plant tag, you will need to pay extra attention to your plants, as they will be competing for the same resources within the same space. You can help by watering and feeding your plants regularly, and by arranging them so they don’t battle for sun; for example, place plants that can tolerate some shade (such as lettuce) between plants that will grow taller (such as broccoli).

How to Space Vegetables in a Raised Bed

Raised garden beds are an excellent option when it comes to vegetable gardening since they provide a simple but effective alternative to growing in poor soil. A raised garden bed is just a planting area that sits above the ground. You can think of it as a giant container bed.

The great thing about raised vegetable beds is that you get to create the growing space, choose the depth and size of the bed, and even the soil it contains. Simply put, you can create the perfect growing conditions for your vegetables, which is something quite valuable in areas where diseases and pest lurk in the native soil.

Plant by Area, Not by Rows

Row spacing in a traditional garden is designed to provide a walking path between the plants, but it isn’t necessary in a raised bed since you won’t do any walking. The main reason for growing vegetable in a raised bed is to condense the growing areas to a point where all the plants are easily reachable without the need to step into the growing area.

The width of a raised bed should not exceed 3 to 4 feet, so that it becomes easier for you to easily reach across the planting area without the need to step into it. This helps prevent soil compaction that affects the growing of plants. If you have issues with moles, groundhogs, or gophers, attach hardware cloth to the bottom of the bed to ensure that they never tunnel up into the soil and raid your vegetables.

It is quite simple to make a raised bed. To create one with dimensions of 4 ft. by 8 ft., buy three 8-feet-long, 2-inch-thick and 12-inch-wide boards, cut one in half and then attach the boards so that they form a rectangular shape using 3.5-inch deck screws. If you don’t fancy the idea of building your own raised bed for growing vegetables, you can simply order a ready-made raised garden kit.

What Does ‘Plant by Area’ Mean?

Planting by area refers to taking a square section of your raised garden, dividing that section’s length and width by the spacing needs of the specific plant. If you look at the back of every seed packet, you will find two types of measurements:

– Seed/Plant Spacing

For raised bed gardening, you should forget all about the row spacing number because you won’t actually need or use it. What you need is the plant spacing/seed spacing number because it is what you will be using to divide up your planting sections to know the number of seeds that you should sow.

The First Step is to Make Planting Sections

1 square foot sections are generally preferred. To make planting easier, most gardeners make a plant spacing grid. To do this they follow the steps below:

– Buying the materials required for making the grid such as string, wood, and screws

– Attaching the pieces to the garden bed’s frame to make the grid

If you don’t like the idea of going through all that hassle, you can buy a pre-assembled, tool-free planting space guide, which sometimes doubles up as an irrigation system for your garden. You can find such planting guides in most gardening stores.

Spacing Vegetables in Raised Beds

If you want to know how spacing vegetables in raised beds is done, stick right here. It is time for a bit of math, but don’t worry because it is very easy.

  1. Locate the seed spacing number from the back of the seed packet
  2. Divide the width of the planting section by the seed spacing number
  3. Divide the length of the planting section by the speed spacing number
  4. Multiply the two answers from steps 2 and 3 together
  5. Start planting

How Many Plants Per Square Foot (SQF)?

The following is a guide for spacing vegetables in raised beds for common plants:

If you are unable to find your preferred vegetable/plant on this list, you can always use the formula provided above to determine the most appropriate approach to spacing vegetables in raised beds depending on the space you have available.

How Deep Should Soil Be in a Raised Garden?

The ideal depth of soil in a raised garden bed should be between 8 and 12 inches with more being preferred. That way, your pants can still grow even if you place it on concrete. However, you should have taller garden beds or place them on top of earth if you would like to plant anything that requires more than 8 inches of soil.

The Bottom Line

Raised vegetable gardens have revolutionized small-space gardening and have made it possible to grow more vegetables in smaller spaces. This has been a plant spacing chart and planting guide designed to make things much easier for you while figuring out how best to plan your raised vegetable garden. Learning how much space is required between plants results in healthier vegetables and higher yields.

Raised Bed Gardening and Construction

Raised bed gardening is a great way to making gardening more efficient and enjoyable. Building raised beds involves basic materials and construction;and if that doesn’t sound like something you are interested in doing, raised beds can be purchased from gardening supply and home improvement centers.

Benefits:

  • Easier to reach – less bending and stooping
  • More production per square foot since you don’t need the 24” – 36” space between rows
  • Better soil by making your own soil mix
  • Improved drainage, eliminating erosion
  • Less weeding. After the plants grow, there is little room for weeds.
  • Less water usage – you use less water because there is less space.
  • Easy pest control – trellises and fences can be installed to keep out pests
  • Harvesting is easier and less messy

Construction:

Materials you can use:

  • Pressure treated lumber (use products made after 2006 to avoid arsenic and other poisons)
  • Cedar, Cypress, Redwood and other outdoor woods (can be expensive)
  • Plastic, stone and composite materials are now available, but can be expensive
  • Cinder block, brick and stone

You can also construct raised beds with no material at all. Just make mounds 12” to 24” high with 45 degree slopes; rake the top so it is flat.

If you use wood, make sure it is a minimum of 1 ½” wide (i.e., 2 by 6, 2 by 8 or 2 by 10 dimensional lumber).

Do NOT Use:

  • Freshly treated railroad ties because they contain creosote and other toxic materials
  • Pressure treated lumber made before 2006 because it may contain arsenic and heavy metals
  • Concrete blocks because they will raise the PH of the soil (calcium carbonate will leach from the block, making the soil more alkaline)

You can also purchase ready-made raised beds.

Raised Bed Design:

Width is the most important dimension and will depend upon your reach. The general rule is no wider than 4 feet and a minimum of 12 inches deep. Soil depth needs to be a minimum of 10 inches and you will be filling the bed to within 2 inches from the top of the bed. Length is not a factor, but you will need to add side braces for beds 8 feet or longer.

Special considerations: For individuals in wheelchairs, the maximum width is 3 feet.

Construction:

If you are using wood, you can use nails or deck screws. If you are using nails, a power nailer is a handy tool to have available. If you use deck screws, use the screws with square drivers because they are easier to install and remove. Both nails and screws should be galvanized or stainless. If you are using nails, use the Spiral type.

If you are stacking 2 by 6s or 2 by 8s, staple plastic on the inside to prevent soil from escaping. Also, if the soil under the bed is poor, it is a good idea to line the bottom of the raised bed with heavy fabric–do NOT use plastic because it will interfere with drainage.

Corner braces should be a minimum of 2″ wide, preferable 4 x 4’s. Sharpen one end to make it easier to pound the braces into the soil. Trellises can be used, either as a separate narrow bed, or attached to the side of another bed. If a trellis is used, the bed can only be reached from one side, therefore adjust the width. Special Anchor Joints and Stacking Joints can be purchased instead of braces at a cost of about $10 each.

If you have a problem with burrowing animals, install chicken wire on the bottom of the bed and extend about 3 inches up the side of the bed.

Coat the wood with a non-toxic sealer.

Location:

Raised beds should be located in an area of full sun for a minimum of (6) hours when growing vegetables. Some vegetables the leafy ones (lettuce, Spinach, Cabbage, Broccoli etc.) can get by in partial shade followed by root vegetables, (potatoes, carrots, beets). All get love the sun. Flowers can get by with afternoon shade (after 2 pm.) Do not locate you bed near the drip line of trees, and at least 100 feet from Walnut Trees.

The area should be fairly level, adjust beds if necessary. Orient the raised bed in a North/South direction if possible. As a practical matter, locate your beds near a water source.

Site Preparation:

Kill turf if it exists by placing moistened layers of newsprint (not colored) down to smother grass before installing beds or install a heavy fabric cloth. Level the site, or you may have to add additional lumber to the raised bed to make it level. Add sawdust, straw, wood chips, or mulch to the space between beds to prevent weeds and grass from growing.

Soil:

Soil warms up faster in a raised bed so the growing season begins earlier, of course this means it cools down faster in the fall. Get the soil tested, but be aware some testing facilities cannot give a proper test if organic materials such as mushroom compost are used. Soil for most vegetables should have a PH of approximately 6.0 to 6.5 (very slightly acidic). If no soil test is taken, apply 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 square feet of garden area.

To increase the soil PH, use lime. To decrease PH, use sulfur or aluminum sulfate. Follow the instructions on package. Additions of sphagnum peat moss (rather expensive), well rotted manure, leaf mulch, mushroom compost also help the soil fertility. Work in 2 to 3 inch layer. Fill the bed to within 2 to 3 inches from the top.

A mini tiller for mixing the soil in a raised bed works great or if you need the exercise shovels and hoes work great.

Drainage:

As soil is above ground, heavy rains drain off faster, standing water is basically eliminated. Use straw or pine needles mulch to help retain moisture.

Watering:

Be aware that vegetables in raised beds require more watering than those planted in the field. If you have the time, watering by hand is best, and you can also weed at the same time. Watering at the roots is thought to be best because wetting the leaves increases diseases if done late in the day. If you water the leaves, do at a time that they will dry out before nightfall.

It is difficult to water the base only of small plants. Besides what do you do if it rains? If I were a plant I would enjoy being watered in the heat of the day. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation are additional options.

Pest and Insect Control:

Pest control is easier as you have a smaller area to view and control. Some flowers and herbs control pest, including marigolds, garlic. See the list of companion plants (insert link)

Planting/Harvesting:

Some plants do not work well in a raised bed primarily because of their size. These plants include okra, corn, sweet potatoes and squash. Otherwise, you can plant much closer together in a raised bed. The traditional gardening spacing the rows are 24 to 36 inches apart. This spacing is not required in raised beds. The table below shows which plants are compatible in the confined space of raised beds:

Planting storage onions 4 inches apart in a raised bed that is 4 feet by 8 feet will give you 230 storage onions. In a standard garden with only 24 inches between rows will give you 46 storage onions. The average increase in quantity is approximately 2 to 5 times as many vegetables depending upon their size.

Watch for future workshops on constructing raised beds. Raised bed workshops are generally held in the spring of each year before planting season begins.

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In a few weeks, experienced backyard gardeners will be gearing up for the spring vegetable growing season in anticipation of tasty and bountiful crops. What if you want a vegetable garden, but don’t have a large backyard lot to till up for the project? A good way to compensate for the lack of space is by gardening in raised beds. This also helps to overcome a major challenge to most gardeners in our area: less-than-perfect soil, whether it’s gumbo clay that is sticky with poor drainage or extremely sandy soil that dries out quickly.

And, the rewards can be well worth the effort as a well-tended garden can supply you and your family with a variety of nutritious, healthful vegetables to be enjoyed fresh or preserved for later use. When space is limited, a plentiful harvest of such crops as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and okra can be grown on a few properly cared for plants.

SITE SELECTION

Most vegetables do best when planted in a site that receives full exposure to the sun. However, most vegetables can also tolerate some shade but a minimum of eight hours of direct exposure to sun is recommended. Raised beds should also be conveniently located close to a water supply.

MAKE A PLAN

Plan your garden so that the available space can be used wisely. For small areas, select those crops that you like best and that will produce an adequate supply on a few plants. Also, plan to use the space continuously by planting another in-season crop soon after the last harvest is completed. Plant tall-growing plants together on the north or west side of the garden so they will not shade lower-growing plants.

Now comes the hard work.

CREATE A BED AND PREPARE THE SOIL

The success of your raised-bed garden depends on good preparation. Creating a raised bed for vegetables can be as simple as working soil into flat-topped mounds a little higher than the paths through the garden.

Here in Galveston County, most gardeners who utilize flat-topped mounds as the growing bed just work the soil as deeply as they can. (In some areas of the country, gardeners will dig to a 24-inch depth – you’ll soon give up on that notion after you have worked with our gumbo clay soil!) Then you should add fertilizer. Adding compost or other organic matter is absolutely essential to improving our gumbo clay or to hold together the sandy soil along the coastal area.

I highly recommend use of raised beds consisting of landscape timbers or dimension lumber such as 2×4’s or 2×6’s. Use treated lumber or rot-resistant lumber such as cypress or other lumber. Boxed beds are easier to maintain and weed, produce larger yields, and can be an attractive component to the home landscape. When constructing boxed beds, I recommend a minimum height of 8 inches; in fact, the higher you build them, the better – the vegetable beds at the Extension Office are 16 inches in height.

I also recommend use of a high quality garden soil mix to fill the boxes. Remember to add generous amounts of compost, well-rotted manure or other sources of organic matter periodically to maintain good soil structure as well.

A convenient width for most raised beds is 3-4 feet wide (depending on what you plan to grow) and as long as space allows. Create a minimum of 15-inch to 20-inch paths between the beds.

Mulch the paths to keep down weeds and allow a dry surface for walking. Pea-sized gravel, boards, grass clippings or straw make a good path.

BEDS ALLOW MORE SPACE FOR PLANTS

Because the soil is improved and there is no need to walk between plants, you can space vegetables more closely. That means more yield per square foot. Beds three or four feet wide have enough space for two rows of large plants such as corn, bush beans or peppers. Space tomatoes 2.5 to 3 feet apart in staggered rows to permit good light penetration and air circulation.

ADDITIONAL BENEFITS OF RAISED BEDS

Raised beds warm up earlier in the spring and dry out faster after a soaking rain. This allows the soil to be worked and planted earlier, extending the season a week or more. The wide edges of landscape timbers provide handy seats, too, while weeding or harvesting.

Permanent paths can reduce the cost of labor and materials, since they don’t need water, fertilizer or soil amendments. Well-defined beds, such as those boxed with timbers, are less likely to be walked on, so the soil stays loose and porous much longer and is easier to work each year.

Homegrown flavor and the fun of watching things grow can be even easier and more productive in raised beds.

what is row planting and how crops are arranged

Row planting as applied in conventional horizontal farming or gardening is a system of growing crops in linear pattern in at least one direction rather than planting without any distinct arrangement. It is practiced in most crops whether direct seeded, transplanted, or grown from vegetative planting materials, both in monocropping and multiple cropping.

Crops are planted in rows or straight lines, either singly or in multiple rows, mainly to enhance maximum yields as well as for convenience. An east-west row orientation is preferred to maximize light absorption, but this is not always possible. In many cases the topography that includes the shape, terrain and slope of the land, as well as the location of existing vegetation, roads, irrigation lines, buildings and physical barriers, dictate the row orientation.

The advantages of row planting over broadcasting include the following:

  1. Light exposure is maximized. Conversely, the excessive shading effect of other plants is minimized thus favoring more efficient photosynthesis and improved crop yield;
  2. Wind passage along the interrows is enhanced which increases gas exchanges and prevents excessive humidity;
  3. Access through the interrows facilitates cultivation, weeding, and other farm operations including hauling;
  4. Movement within the crop area is more convenient and allows close inspection of individual plants;
  5. Visibility is enhanced; and
  6. It is easy to calculate or count the plant population in a given farm area.

Row Planting Arrangement

Row-planted crops are either arranged in equidistant single rows or in multiple rows. Planting in single rows is most common in monocropping or sole cropping, the growing of a single crop.

Grape vines are planted in linear rows. Straight rows are convenient in trellising.

Different systems of planting arrangement within the row are practiced in both single and multiple row planting, depending on the characteristics and requirement of the crop, particularly its extent of canopy expansion. In the hill method of planting by direct seeding, the crops are arranged, singly or in group, in uniform distances. But in the drill method, the only consideration is a uniform number of plants per linear meter.

In row-planted fruit trees and other perennial crops like coconut, oil palm and rubber, the common types of planting or spatial arrangement are the square, rectangular, quincunx, and triangular or hexagonal.

Multiple Row Planting Arrangement

Multiple row planting is a system of growing crops in blocks or strips of 2 or more rows. The adjacent blocks are separated by a space which may remain vacant or planted to other crops. This planting arrangement is common in multiple cropping in which two or more crops are grown in the same piece of land. It is also employed in monocropping where an alley wide enough to facilitate passage is needed.

Coconut and other perennial crops are often intercropped with multiple rows of annual crops like corn and pineapple. This is a common practice of maximizing the use of vacant interrow spaces when the maincrop has not fully developed thus allowing sufficient light exposure. In some farms, the intercrop consists of multiple rows of such crops as coffee, cacao and banana. In this system, both single row planting (for the maincrop) and multiple row planting (for the intercrop) are combined.

In vegetable production that employs close spacing and where crops should be within easy reach, the common practice is to plant in plots having multiple rows. A space between plots is provided to allow passage.

In banana, both single and multiple row arrangement are practiced. It can be planted in double rows with a spacing of (3.5 + 1.5) m x 2 m which means that the two rows in pair are 1.5 m apart and plants are 2 m apart within each row, with an alley of 3.5 m between double rows. With this planting arrangement, the planting density per hectare will be 2000. For the ‘Singapore Spanish’ pineapple, the spacing may be (90 + 60) cm x 30 cm which will result to a density of 4.4 plants per sq meter. Papaya can also be planted in double rows with a spacing of (3.25 + 1.75) m x 2.4 m or (2.5 + 1.5) m x 2 m (Verheij EWM, Coronel RE (eds.). 1992. Edible fruits and nuts. Plant Resources of South East Asia No. 2. Bogor, Indonesia: PROSEA. 447 p.).

Spatial Arrangement in Intercropping

Spatial arrangement is the systematic apportioning of the farm area or any growing surface for crop production. In multiple cropping by intercropping, the intercrop can be planted in any of the following ways: (1) within the rows of the maincrop, (2) between the rows of the maincrop, and (3) in replacement series (Abellanosa AL, HM Pava. 1987. An Introduction to Crop Science. Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon, Phils.: Publications Office. p. 135-136).

Planting of the intercrop between two adjacent hills within the same row of the main crop allows interrow cultivation but the intercrop has limited exposure to sunlight. This is exemplified by the planting of peanut or mungbean between corn plants within the same row or two coffee plants that are 3 m apart between coconut plants.

Single row planting of the intercrop can also be done between the rows of the maincrop. For example, peanut or mungbean can be dibbled between two adjacent rows of corn. This system of planting arrangement is likewise common in coconut farms where fruit trees like durian, lanzones and mangosteen are grown in single rows between coconut.

In replacement series, one or more rows that are intended for the maincrop are replaced with the intercrop. For example, a 3:2 corn+mungbean intercrop means that for every 4 rows that are intended for sole corn, only 3 rows are planted to corn and one row may be substituted with 2 rows of mungbean. Another practice is in strip intercropping, for example the simultaneous growing of 6 rows corn and 12 rows soybean in alternating strips. These particular examples result to multiple row arrangement.

(Ben G. Bareja April 2011)

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Row Crops by Hand

Once the ground is worked, and you’ve left it long enough to become friable and mellow, it’s time to do some leveling and clod or rock removal. The metal “dirt” rake works well for this task, although some folks pull a couple of steel fence posts or other pieces of scrap across the patch to smooth things out. If you are going to plant your crop in ridges so that you can use gravity to help with flood irrigation, now is the time to mark the rows and hoe or use a middle-buster type attachment on the wheel hoe to cut troughs while forming ridges.

If your soil is quite mellow, light and soft, you can accomplish much the same effect with a piece of 2-by-10 or other lumber of a similar dimension pointed at the front like the prow of a ship, adding sides to it, and some weight inside and pulling it through the garden. Likewise, there are attachments for some rear-tine rotary tillers called hiller-furrowers that will also do the trick. If you plan to simply plant the ground without furrowing so much the easier.

Sowing Your Seed

Early sowing tools included the same sharpened sticks, antler tines, and even flaked rocks that were used to work the ground, much like we use a modern dibble to open holes in the soil to a particular depth, into which we drop a seed — or several seeds. For some crops, those sticks or antler tines were used to open up shallow furrows into which seed was dropped more hastily and heavily to yield thick stands. Both methods work well for planting corn.

If you want corn in nice straight rows, use a stick or hoe to open a straight furrow (use a string as a guide), and drop seed into the furrow at regular. Once the seed is placed you can use a hoe, your feet or drag a length of 2-by-4 or other lumber down the rows to cover the seed and walk along the rows or roll the field in some way to press the soil into contact with the seed. If you want corn planted in hills set on a grid or in rows, mark the rows with the drill or stakes and string, hoe up hills and use a dibble to poke holes for planting the seed. Use your hands or the hoe to cover them and to press the soil firmly into contact with the seed.

Another fun method for placing corn seed in rows or hills is using the old-fashioned stab planter. The stab planter is more complicated than the homemade drill or planting stick or dibble, but it’s quite a bit simpler than walk-behind units in that it consists of an opener/seed delivery tube and some kind of seed-metering capability (sometimes as simple as the operator dropping the individual seeds into the tube). Closing and pressing are generally taken care of by the operator’s foot. Simple as it sounds, much of corn country was planted with such devices shortly after the sod was broken. Generations ago, the Oscar H. Will seed company planted acres of corn in North Dakota using a team of men armed with seed-metering stab planters.

The stab-style planter will save some wear and tear on your knees and back, save seed, and reduce the need for thinning. Antique semi-automatic units can be found at farm sales, junk shops or rustic antique stores. These devices usually consist of a hinged tube made out of wood and metal with a seed box on one side and a perforated slider that takes two to three seeds from the box and drops them down the tube and into the ground. You basically grab the two handles, pull them apart, stab the planter into worked ground, push the handles together, and pull it out of the ground. A light brush and step with your foot seals the deal.

New versions of this planter include the Stand ’N Plant standard seeder, which can be used to plant individual seeds and small plants like onions. You meter the seed or onion plants by hand, but you just need to walk down the row to get them into the ground. The Stand ‘N Plant seeder also is capable of planting in plastic-covered beds with infinite variation in row and seed spacing.

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If you prefer a bit more mechanization and wish to plant in rows, then you may want to upgrade to a walk-behind garden seeder. In today’s terms, a garden seed planter is a precision machine that places individual seeds at a specific spacing along a row. As the planter moves along the row, it opens the soil to a specific depth, places the seed, covers the seed and provides some means for pressing the soil into contact with the seed. Walk-behind planters generally have a wheel in front that drives a seed-metering mechanism that delivers a single seed at precise spacing, an often-hollow wedge-like structure called the shoe opens the soil and helps convey the seed to the soil, a closing device pulls the soil back over the seed — chains, discs, etc. — and a press wheel at the rear that ensures good seed-soil contact, which is needed for efficient germination.

Working with hand planters can be joyous or frustrating, depending on your soil type, soil conditions, garden size and your physical condition. Lighter-duty planters tend to work better in lighter soils or heavy soils under ideal conditions (perfect moisture content, completely mellow, friable crumb, etc.). If soil gums up on the planter’s parts or is so tight that the openers can’t do their job, then it might be best to put off planting to another day and instead work on conditioning the soil.

Earthway’s 1001-B Precision Garden Seeder (about $125, well-equipped) is a good starter planter available new (This garden seed planter has been on the market (in various iterations) for decades. The Earthway is made with lightweight aluminum and plastic components that prove durable under most homestead circumstances. Some folks reinforce the handle structure when rivets loosen up over the years, but overall the planter is simple to adjust, simple to use, and can be had with seed-metering plates that work for just about anything you would direct-sow in rows in the garden — including corn seed of various sizes. If you want to change the spacing, you can simply tape over some of the holes on the plates. These days, you also can order blank plates from the company to create your own custom sizes/spacing. I’ve planted acres over the years with the Earthway; you might choose this planter for gardens or corn patches up to about a quarter-acre in size.

For gardeners with more ground to plant, the Cole Planet Jr. push seeder (about $600, well-equipped) is another good one. This plate-type planter is constructed of steel, cast iron and wood (the seed box is plastic) and is based on a venerable old unit-planter design that is sufficiently stout to mount on a tractor’s toolbar for multi-row medium-scale planting. This planter isn’t ideal for the smallest gardens — you really need to load its hopper with more than a packet of seed for best results, but if you have an eighth of an acre of corn to plant along with mangels, beans, and many other crops, this tool has the heft to get it all done today and come back for more tomorrow. And then you can hand it down to your gardening grandchildren. I’ve used the Cole Planet Jr. extensively to sow corn, fodder beets, and a number of other crops. The machine’s handles are adjustable to suit different-sized people, and its weight offers great momentum once you get it rolling. As you would expect with a professional-grade tool, this planter tracks well, and its row marker doesn’t skip.

The Hoss Tool Company, owned and operated by a pair of passionate gardeners, makes a small-scale garden planter as part of a truly versatile hand-gardening system that includes a wheel hoe with several different plow and cultivator attachments. The planter attachment connects to the wheel hoe using the same mounting holes as the cultivator tines and includes a rear press wheel that also drives the seed-metering plate.

The unit comes with a number of predrilled seed plates. Blank plates are also available for those with custom seed-size and spacing needs. This beautifully crafted unit is a perfect planter option for folks who already own a Hoss wheel hoe, or who intend to add that tool to their shed in the future.

If new isn’t in your budget, look for one of the nearly thousands of models of antique walk-behind planters that still turn up at farm sales and antique stores around the country. The key to working with these tools is that their seed-metering plates or drums or brushes are intact or easily fabricated. Look for names like Cole, Planet Jr., Atlas and a host of others.

Broadcast planting of corn isn’t generally recommended because it is difficult to get the seed deep enough or to keep the patch relatively weed free until the corn canopies. But by all means broadcast your corn seed if that is the only means available — keep in mind that you will save seed and be able to weed more easily if you choose to plant in furrows. I’ve had good luck sowing sorghum, corn’s relative, using the broadcasting method. But even then, drilling or planting with a seeder is more efficient and still plenty of exercise.

Cultivating

Most row crops will require cultivation at least twice between the time that you plant the seed and when the growing crop canopies. Once the crop canopies, the plants will tower above weed seedlings and the shaded darkness beneath the canopy will inhibit further germination and, more importantly, robust weed growth. If you have plenty of mulch, you can cultivate once when the crop is well established — say 20 inches tall in corn — and then lay a heavy straw or hay mulch between the rows. If you go this route, it will be useful to lay the straw and then walk on it to pack the layer into a dense blanket that will allow moisture to percolate down to the soil but will cause weed seedlings to perish while trying to penetrate.

In any case, cultivating row crops by hand can seem daunting, unless you have a few hand tools to help. Pulling weeds is of course the most rudimentary form of cultivating — except when your purpose is to loosen the soil or hill root crops. In those cases, you’ll always need to employ some form of mechanical advantage. Our most primitive ancestors once again relied on the planting stick, bone or stone hoe, and antler-tine cultivators to get this work accomplished in a reasonably efficient manner. Fast forward to the first half of the 20th century and it wasn’t at all uncommon for folks to hoe acre-sized corn or other row crop patches using a steel hoe attached to a long wooden handle. Indeed, gangs of laborers wielding hand hoes cultivated and weeded large acreages of row crops such as cotton and beans in lieu of horse- or tractor-drawn equipment.

I still use hand hoes of various sorts to weed and scratch the top layers of soil — but mostly between plants within the row — while I use the wheel hoe with either knives or spring-tooth tines to keep the space between the rows loose and clear of weeds.

Effective cultivating leaves weeds uprooted and the soil surface loose so that it can dry and create a mulch of sorts that will reduce weed germination near the surface. Although I’ve used a number of antique wheel hoes — found at various farm sales and junk shops — if you go that route, you definitely want to be sure that the wheel and carriage are functional and that you have at least one set of knives or serviceable tines specific to the individual brand and model. If you are a good with metal fabrication, then it goes without saying that you should not hesitate to try and create the attachments you need if you find a wheel hoe sans accessories.

Using a wheel hoe is as easy as grabbing the two handles and pushing the unit between the rows. You’ll find your own rhythm but it invariably consists of a push forward, partial pull backward, step forward, push again and so on. Operating the wheel hoe in non-compacted ground is pure joy because it gets your heart rate moving, it’s quiet and vibration- and fume-free, and is much easier on the soil overall than the rotary tiller.

You can also fit some wheel hoes with reversible moldboard plow blades, which will not only turn soil but also act as hiller/furrowers — really handy for some crops and/or irrigation methods.

I generally use the hogs to work corn ground, dress it up with a wheel hoe wielding tines, plant with the Cole Planet Jr. seeder, cultivate twice with the same wheel hoe setup, and then let what happens happen. Using this method, I wind up with less than 12 person hours in the crop until harvest rolls around. Strange as it may seem, some of our ancestors harvested acres of field corn completely by hand by snapping the dried ears from the stalk, ripping the husk from the ear and tossing the ear into a horse- or tractor-drawn wagon. So important a skill was this style of corn picking that hand picking contests still occur all over North America today. If your corn patch is a couple of acres or less, there’s no reason not to hand pick, unless your people shocked their corn instead.

There are lots of different ways to shock corn. In some cases the stalks are cut by hand with a corn knife; in others, a specially designed corn knife is strapped to the outside of one’s boot. You grab the stalk, give it a kick, and move on to the next stalk. In both instances the stalk cutter continues until they have a nice bundle of stalks — perhaps an armful — which they then bind together about a third of the way down from the top.

Some folks use twine to bind the bundles; others use a flexible piece of corn stalk. Once several bundles are made, they are stacked against one another in a hollow tent-like structure and usually bound at the same height where the individual bundles were tied.

A well-made shock is a great way to store corn for later use, when a corncrib for picked and husked corn isn’t available. Many folks still remember fondly (or not-so-fondly) the wintertime chore of breaking shocks, removing the ears to feed the livestock, and using the leaves and stalks for bedding or roughage. For folks that pick their harvest, winter is the time to turn animals into the harvested patch to glean precious grain, to consume or break down the stover, and prepare the soil for planting again in the spring.

If the corn or other grain in question was grown for human consumption, the exercise associated with using the bounty is far from over. In the case of corn, at some point you’ll want to remove the kernels from the cobs and there’s no better way to accomplish that on a smallish scale than with a hand-crank corn sheller. These devices range in size from the diminutive box-mounted models that you crank with one hand while feeding it with the other, to the larger, hopper-fed models that you crank with both hands — these models generally have a large shelling wheel that acts as a flywheel, which allows you to crank it up and reload the hopper without the shelling coming to a halt. Believe it or not, but some of these hand-powered shellers can deliver many bushels of shelled corn per hour — a bushel of shelled corn is about 56 pounds of kernels, depending on the moisture content.

Most of us aren’t keen on eating flour, flint or field corns whole, but we sure do like our cornmeal. Once you’ve burned the calories to shell the corn, you’ll burn a ton more grinding it into a coarse polenta meal and even more if you grind it into a corn flour. I enjoy growing all of our meal corn using tasty old flint and flour cultivars, such as ‘Painted Mountain,’ ‘Mandan Clay Red,’ ‘Mandan Society,’ and ‘Glass Gems.’ It takes us about 40 minutes of hard cranking to mill roughly 8 pounds using a beautifully crafted Montana-made GrainMaker mill. Grainmaker mills can also be powered with electric motors and they even have everything you need to use your bicycle to power your grain mill.

Oscar H. Will III is the Editor in Chief of Heirloom Gardener.

The way vegetable rows are arranged in the field depends on how much space a crop needs, as well as the seeding, transplanting and cultivation equipment to be used. Row spacings that give the highest yield for particular crops may not be suitable for cultivating weeds or for promoting air circulation to prevent development of disease. They may not be the best when it comes time to harvest, either. Extension publications list a dozen or more different row spacings that optimize the yield of various vegetables, yet many growers use just one system of arranging plants in order to enhance the efficiency of field operations. Ideally, the arrangement of rows conforms not only to tractor wheel spacing, but also to equipment used to form beds, set transplants, control pests, and harvest the crop, resulting in a production system that’s suited to the farm from start to finish. Here are examples of planting systems from 3 different farms.

David Trumble, of Good Earth Farm in Weare, NH, grows 40 species of vegetables on 3 acres of land to supply the 80 families in his Community Supported Agriculture program. In the past he used many different row spacings and a lot of hand labor in an effort to optimize the yield of each crop, but found that this approach actually hurt his yields because without mechanization his weed control wasn’t very effective. Now, using a 2-row transplanter and an Earthway push seeder, he plants everything in double rows, 24 inches apart, on flat ground. Before planting, cover crops are turned in with a heavy disk harrows. Then the seed bed is prepared with a Perfecta II field cultivator, making a pass every 2 weeks, which knocks back weeds until all the crops are planted. A John Deer high clearance tractor with tires on 6 foot center is used to pull the transplanter and to cultivate. Shortly after planting, a belly-mounted basket cultivator is used for the first few passes, then home-made sweeps are used when the crops get bigger. This way weeds are controlled within a few inches of the crops so the only hand hoeing is right in the rows. This system saves David hundreds of hours of planting time and weeding time over his old method. Since he has no irrigation, it also helps that he’s able to plant a lot of crops quickly when the soil moisture is just right, and by getting all the plants in fast he can get started early with cultivation.

Paul Harlow and Dennis Sauer raise 60 acres of vegetables at Harlow Farm in Westminster, Vermont. To enhance the speed and efficiency of field operations in order to meet the demands of wholesale markets, the dozen or so crops they raise are grown on a 2 row/2-bed system. After cover crops and manure are incorporated, raised beds are formed, 2 at a time, using an International Hydro with tires spaced 88 inches on center. Large listers throw up a ridge of soil, which is later run over with sets of Lilliston rolling cultivators to kill weeds and smooth the surface. Then a pair of bed formers press the ridges into beds that are 32 inches wide at the top. The tractor is fitted with narrow tires to avoid breaking down the edges of the beds. Each bed gets planted with 2 rows of crops, 14 inches apart. Direct seeded crops such as carrots, beets, parsnip and turnips are sown with a Stanhay precision seeder. Transplanted cabbage, lettuce, peppers and kale are set using a 4-row Lannen transplanter. Transplants are pulled to the field in large custom-built carts that are parked at either end to reduce travel time back and forth to the greenhouse. Six people can set 5 to 6 thousand plants per hour this way.

Cultivation after planting starts with Lilliston rolling cultivators, mounted on the back of a Kubota high clearance tractor that works one bed at a time. There are 2 gangs in the middle of the rows and one gang on the outside of the rows behind the tractor. Hilling sweeps work the sides of the beds. This combination provides hilling action that leaves a crown of soil which buries weeds around the plants. Once the plants have sized up, a 4-row cultivator is used which covers 2 beds at a time. It has 8 shanks with ‘tender plant hoes’ mounted next to the rows. These hoes have an upright guard to protect the plant, and a knife which is parallel to the soil surface and cuts weeds just below the soil surface. Properly adjusted, this unit can cultivated an acre in one hour.

David and Chris Colson of New Leaf Farm in Durham, Maine, grow 4 acres of vegetables primarily for direct sale to restaurants. After plowing under winter cover crops, the soil is fertilized with mineral nutrients and disk-harrowed before 4-foot wide beds are formed 1 to 2 weeks later. Lettuce and leafy greens are grown in 3 rows per bed, with 16 inches between rows and plants staggered across the bed. Broccoli, peppers, and tomatoes are grown in double rows 24 inches apart on the bed. Summer squash and winter squash are grown in a single row per bed.

Transplanting is done with a homemade unit pulled by the Kubota high-clearance tractor with a creeper gear. The transplanter is set up on a tool bar with 2 seats facing backward, one on each side of the 4-foot bed. Narrow, 1-inch shanks are set on a tool bar to open the appropriate number of furrows per bed into which the seedlings are placed by hand. Transplants are carried on a rack in front of the workers. About 1200 plants per hour can be set this way.

A few weeks after transplanting, a basket weeder cultivates close to the crops grown in multiple row crops. When these crops grow large, and for the single row crops, cultivation is performed with shovels between the rows and half-sweeps next to the rows.

As you see, there isn’t a single recipe for row spacing to enhance efficiency. Have you got a planting system that really works well?

How to Plant a Square-Foot Garden

To help keep up with this, you may want to print out the handy plant spacing chart in the Image Gallery, so you always have it handy. Some people even have it laminated so they can take it outdoors without worrying about the weather destroying it.

Another Plant Spacing Technique

Another way to get the proper spacing and number of plants per square foot is to be a little more scientific and do a little arithmetic, as shown below. You can see that one, four, nine, or 16 plants should be spaced an equivalent number of inches apart. This is the same distance the seed packet will say you should “thin to.” Of course, we don’t have to “thin to” because we don’t plant a whole packet of seeds using this method. So if you’re planting seeds, or even putting in transplants that you purchased or grew from seed, just find the seed packet or planting directions to see what the distance is for thinning. This distance then determines whether you’re going to plant one, four, nine or 16 plants.

Just because we’re talking about measuring in inches doesn’t mean you have to get out your ruler or yardstick, and you don’t have to do any complicated measuring or figuring either. This is when the grid becomes handy. When your square foot is bordered by a grid, it’s much easier to think one, four, nine or 16 plants in each square foot.

All you do is draw lines in the soil with your fingers! For one plant per square foot just poke a hole in the middle of the square with your finger. For four per square foot, draw a vertical and horizontal line dividing the square in half each way. The plants go right in the center of these four smaller squares. You can continue this pattern up to the densest planting of 16 plants per square foot.

How Much to Plant

I recommend, especially at the beginning, that you plant only what you want to eat. Occasionally try something new, of course, but especially at first only grow those vegetables and herbs that you normally eat.

Remember, plant each adjoining square foot with a different crop. Why? Here are several reasons:

1. It prevents you from overplanting any one particular item.
2. It allows you to stagger your harvest by planting one square foot this week and another of the same crop in two weeks or so.
3. It promotes conservation, companion planting, crop rotation, and allows better plant hygiene and reduced pest problems.
4. It automatically helps to improve your growing soil three times a year in very easy, small steps. Remember the saying, “Square by square, you’ll soon be there.”
5. Besides all of the above, it looks pretty.

Just like a patchwork quilt, the different colors, leaf textures, plant densities, shapes and heights, plus the visible grid, will give you a very distinctive, photogenic garden. You’ll just love and admire it every time you see it.

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Some people ask, “Why can’t we plant all 16 squares with leaf lettuce or spinach or Swiss chard or whatever we want to plant?” Oh, that’s going right back to the single-row mentality. Square-foot gardening begins with visualizing the harvest. It’s very difficult to put in four tiny plants of Swiss chard and think that’s going to be enough for the whole family, but one square of red chard and one square of green chard usually is more than most families eat. Proof of the pudding . . . how many bunches of Swiss chard did you buy last week or even last month? The stores have it, it’s fresh, and it looks good, so why didn’t you buy any more than you did? Well, it’s the same answer as to why you shouldn’t plant too much of one thing.

It’s worth repeating here that the biggest problem for single-row gardeners has always been “I planted too much. I can’t take care of it. It’s too much work and I’m sorry now.” All that has changed with square-foot gardening and you now have boundaries (the grid) and the opportunity to ask yourself, “For every single square foot I plant, is that enough? Do I really want more? Would it be better to plant another square foot of the same thing in a week or two or three?”

Time of Year

Keep in mind that you can build a square-foot garden anytime of the year — spring, summer, fall and even winter. For most of the country, you could start planting in any season other than winter. What time of the year is it right now for you and where are you in the sequence of a yearly gardening cycle? Think of it like the movie theater before the main feature. You’re all settled in with your popcorn, ready to devote your full attention to the movie. In the gardening year, this is usually the equivalent of springtime. What if you came in the middle of the picture? For gardening that would be summertime. You can still plant a warm-weather crop even if you missed the spring crop. If it’s now fall, you can still start your square-foot garden with a great cool-weather crop and get some valuable experience before next spring. Start whenever you get the urge to plant.

For convenience, we’ll start with the beginning of the garden year for most of the country, springtime. (Some parts of the country, like Texas and Florida, can grow all year long. You lucky people.)

Seasonal Plants

You can get at least three crops a year in every square foot of your square-foot garden. Every choice is going to be fun, exciting and tasty. Of course, your selection depends on the time of year, and what you and your family need and want. There are two types of crops when you consider weather. The first are called cool-weather crops that do best in the spring and fall, but won’t survive in the hot summer. The second group is the warm- or hot-weather crops that, you guessed it, don’t do well in the cool weather of spring and fall, but thrive in the hot weather of summer.

Plant Hardiness and Protection

Square-foot gardening’s size makes it very easy to protect your new plantings from an extra early or late frost. There’s a lot more you can do, too, if you are interested in extending the season so you can get more from your garden.

Plants aren’t all the same, of course. They are just like people. Some can stand the heat, cold or humidity better than others. We classify these as hardy, and those that can’t handle it as non-hardy. Each of the four seasons has three time periods — the early season, midseason and late season. If you’re thinking about a spring crop, for example, there may be some vegetables that can only grow in the middle of spring while others can tolerate a little more cold in the beginning of the season, but can’t stand any heat at all near the late part of the season. It takes a little while to get used to which is which, and how best they fit in with your planting schedule.

Though the weather is never exactly the same every year, it helps to know a plant’s hardiness. Don’t worry — you’ll learn it in time. This is not an exact science so relax if you’re a beginner and just enjoy the ride. Don’t expect to find a perfect list because how well plants thrive differs in different parts of the country and of course, different years, sometimes for no explainable reason. If you lose a few squares of something one year it’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to be a great gardener.

Frost Dates

Although people like to celebrate the first day of spring (March 20) according to the calendar, plants don’t give a hoot about our calendar — they respond to weather. In the spring we need to know the date of the last frost in our area. That will help us determine when to plant. Each different crop — whether cool-season or warm-season—will need to be planted so many weeks before or after that last day of frost.

For plants, the fall growing season begins not with the first calendar day of fall (Sept. 23), but with the first frost, and continues until the first freeze of the fall. The average dates of your first and last frost depend on where you live in the country and the regional and local variations of weather. All we can do is go by the past and hope it will be similar this year. To help, the government collects dates for your area and calculates the average date from the past 100 years. Of course, the average is only a guide.

How do you find your local frost dates? The Internet is the best resource for detailed information. (Learn more about the frost dates and when to plant different crops in your area with our What to Plant Now pages. —MOTHER.) You can also call your local county extension agent or most area nurseries. To find your local extension agent, look in the Government blue pages for your county in your telephone book, then look for the heading “Extension of University.”

Sequence of Plant Growth

Did you know that plants grow and bloom everywhere in the same sequence? In other words, throughout the country, daffodils bloom in the springtime, then a little later tulips bloom, then it’s time for the lilacs to bloom. (Did I leave out dandelions?) Start noticing the sequence in your location. It would include trees, shrubs, flowers and even weeds.

I read a book once about following spring North. It’s theoretically possible that if you drive fast enough (and eat and sleep quickly), you could see nothing but tulips in bloom all the way from Georgia to Maine.

If you know what kinds of plants are summer crops (the most popular and well-known vegetables), it’s easy to remember that everything else is a spring or fall crop. Summer crops include beans, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes and squash. If you plant these when it’s too early or cool, they’ll either die or their growth will most likely be stunted for that year.

Plan on a Fall Crop

As soon as the summer crop is finished, you’re ready to plant cool-weather crops for the upcoming fall. These crops are frost-hardy, meaning that both young and mature plants withstand frost. The seeds you plant at the end of summer will sprout quickly because the soil is warmer. Transplants can begin outdoors and grow much faster than the same crop planted in spring.

The fall crop gains an extra advantage from late summer weather. The problem with cool-weather plants in the spring is not cool weather but warm weather at harvest time. A plant’s purpose in life is to reproduce seed, and the rising temperatures of an approaching summer make this happen sooner. As it does so, the plant’s whole character changes. Many people don’t realize that plants like lettuce put up a flower stalk, which then goes to seed. If you wait too long to harvest lettuce, the stalk will shoot up, and the same thing happens to other crops like cabbage. The head splits open, a stalk shoots up, develops flowers and then turns to seed. It’s nature’s way of allowing the plant to reproduce, but the plant changes taste when this happens. All the energy goes toward the seed and the plant begins to taste rather tough, coarse, and bitter.

In cooler weather, this process is delayed. The plant feels no urgency to complete the growing cycle. So in the fall, the plant slows its maturation process, allowing it to maintain flavor for a longer length of time as temperatures continue to grow cooler and cooler. If it’s frost-hardy, it doesn’t matter if it is the middle of fall and you start getting frost. Some plants can endure some freezing and still provide a crop for harvesting. Fall is a great time to plant if you put in the right crops.

Soil Temperature

Soil temperatures vastly influence sprouting times. For example, if you plant carrot seeds in summertime when the temperature of the soil is between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the seeds will sprout in less than a week. But if you plant the same seeds in early spring when the ground temperature is perhaps 40 degrees, they will take a month and a half to sprout. Just another 10 degrees warmer and they will sprout in a little over two weeks.

What happens to seeds when they don’t sprout because the ground is cold? They could rot, or fungus could attack them. They could break their dormancy and then go dry. They could be attacked by insects or dug up by animals or birds. So, the quicker you can get them to sprout the better off they will be.

Spring, Summer and Fall Crops

Some crops, like the cabbage family, take so long to grow that there isn’t enough time to plant seeds directly in the garden and wait for the harvest. So you have to buy from nurseries or raise your own transplants indoors ahead of time.

The same situation applies to the warm-weather summer crops like tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. They take so long to produce that you must plant your garden with transplants.

The fall crop is better for raising your own transplants because you will be able to start the seeds in summertime, raise the transplants outdoors in your garden and then move them into their permanent spot in the early fall for late fall harvest.

Starting Seeds and Growing Seedlings

There are plenty of advantages to growing your own transplants and storing the remaining seeds in their packet until next year. First, seeds cost pennies while transplants cost dollars. There are many more varieties offered in seed catalogs than as transplants at the nurseries. The only setback is time because growing your own transplants depends on the time and work you can spare. If you’re a brand new gardener, however, you may want to wait until next year to start your own transplants. Like everything else in life, we tend to go overboard and do too much and then it becomes a chore. Don’t let it happen to you!

How to Store Seeds

If your seeds are stored properly, they will last for many years. Contrary to what the gardening industry would like you to believe, it is not necessary to buy fresh seeds every year or to pour out that whole packet of seeds all at once. Square-foot gardening teaches you to plant just a pinch of seeds, and to then store the rest. By planting just a pinch of seeds instead of a whole packet, you can save a lot of money by saving the excess seeds for next year’s crop, and the next year’s, and so on. Some seeds will last up to five years in storage. Seed companies guarantee that a certain percentage will sprout; this number is always very high, usually up into the ninetieth percentile. Of course the seed industry wants you to buy a fresh packet of seeds every year so they can stay in business. There’s nothing wrong with that! But there’s also nothing wrong with saving money with a more efficient system.

What is the ideal storage condition for seeds? It is just the opposite of the moisture and warmth that make them sprout. You’ll want to store them in a cool, dry place — the driest, coldest place in your home. Some people freeze their seeds. But I find they get moisture even if they are in a zip-lock bag because it never seems to be totally airtight. I prefer refrigerating them in a wide-mouth jar with a screw lid. Label your containers and store them in the refrigerator on a back shelf. In each jar place a desiccant packet from a film container or medicine vial, or add a little powdered milk wrapped in a tissue to soak up any excess moisture in the jar.

Seed Germination Rate

What happens to seeds that are in storage? As they grow older, their germination rate (the percentage that sprouts under ideal conditions) gradually diminishes. But the solution is very simple. Plant a pinch of seeds — just two to three seeds — instead of only one seed to ensure that at least one will sprout. If your seeds are many years old, test the germination rate yourself, or just plant three or five or however many seeds depending on how well they sprouted the year before. If you marked the sprouting rate on the packet, you can reasonably estimate how many to plant the next year.

What Did I Do Wrong?

Knowing that roots sprout first will help your seeds successfully grow. Here’s why. Traditionally, gardeners hoed open a row, planted, covered, watered and then walked away from their garden hoping for the best. If nothing grew, single-row gardeners thought the worst: “Maybe they were bad seeds. Or worse, maybe I’m a terrible gardener!” What all of these gardeners did not realize was that the seed might have already sprouted, perhaps after a week or two, and the root was heading down before the top could come up and break the surface. If the gardener gave up and quit watering, it is possible that their seed did die. Why? Because if the soil dries below the seed — in the root zone only 1 or 2 inches below the surface — the root will wither and die from lack of moisture. But if the gardener had kept the soil moist, then the seeds would have had a good chance to put the root down to support the plant and its new shoot.

Vegetable Garden Planning

Many gardeners keep planting data — when, what and where they plant, how long it takes to sprout, and how well their plants grow. It may sound like a lot of bookkeeping, yet some people enjoy recording their garden data and even set up computerized spreadsheets to make computations from this information. I don’t bother to keep all these details myself, but if you enjoy it, this may help you learn faster and measure the progress more effectively.

(Try the online Vegetable Garden Planner to help you plan the best garden ever! — MOTHER.)

A square-foot garden is small, and I’ve been able to change things around once they were all planted. It doesn’t take much to move and replant something from one square to another if you think it would look better somewhere else. It’s kind of like arranging a room of furniture and pictures on a wall. You can make all kinds of layouts and drawings (even to scale), but I guarantee you once everything is in place, you’ll change your mind.

Drop a Pinch

You can practice planting indoors in the winter before you start your garden. Take different kinds of seeds from the tiniest to the largest and practice picking up and dropping a pinch of seeds onto a piece of white paper to count your results. This is really a lot of fun, almost a family game.

There is a very practical reason for doing this. When I tell people to just plant a pinch of seeds — two or three — I think I have given them all the instructions they need. But I always find so much variation in how many seeds they end up planting. It’s in your finger dexterity, and you may need a little practice. If you are having trouble, you may even want to use a spoon for picking up that pinch of seeds. A white plastic spoon usually works great, especially if you’re using darker colored seeds. If you scoop up too many, you can just shake a few back into the palm of your hand.

How Deep to Plant Seeds

How deep should you plant a seed? This depends a lot on the size of the seed and the soil you plant it in. Generally speaking, a seed’s depth is two to four times the thickness of the seed. It’s important to place your seeds below a moist surface to prevent it from drying out. Too close to the surface and it can dry out from the hot sun. Once a seed receives moisture and begins sprouting (known as “breaking dormancy”), it will die if it dries out so don’t forget to water regularly.

Reprinted with permission from All New Square-Foot Gardening, published by Cool Springs Press, 2005.

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