Square Foot Gardening Planting Guide
In this complete square foot gardening planting guide for beginners, we will see when is the best time to start planting outside, what spacing is recommended that you follow, we’ll talk about what to plant together or in other words companion planting and much, much more.
One of the common mistakes I see new and experienced gardeners do year after year is to start planting outside too early and then realizing that a late frost will hit their garden killing every single-one of their plants costing them hundreds of dollars to rebuy and replant them. This happens because the spring weather is deceiving. Sometimes we have worm periods and we can already smell the summer but then in the middle of April like a thunder from the blue sky the temperatures drop to 20 degrees and we have 6 inches of snow. You would think that asking other gardeners when to start planting outside can be helpful but can you imagine a gardener from Texas suggesting to plant tomatoes outside in March to a gardener in Montana? Because every gardener lives in another area with its specific climate, we all have different dates when we can start planting. So, to help ourselves in deciding when to start planting we need to mark only one date on our calendar. That’s the last frost date and plan according to it. To find it, you can simply type in google last frost date and the area you live in and usually the first result will be the date you are looking for. Some of your plants actually prefer to be planted a few weeks before your last frost date and some of them prefer to be planted few weeks after. Heat loving plants like peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and so on will actually perform better when the night temperatures wont fall under 50 degrees. And cold loving plants will grow best in the cooler spring rather than in the hot summer so plant your Brassica family plants, peas, carrots and other cold hardy plants two to four weeks before your last frost date and if a cold snap is coming cover them with some flies to protect them. To find all the timings for when to plant what you can check a beautiful chart in the square foot gardening book and if you don’t have it, I will leave a link in the comments so you can go and check it out.
The next thing we need to figure out if we want to have a successful garden is our planting spacing and did you know that not all the square foot gardening planting spacings from the book are correct? Square foot gardening is an intensive growing method meaning we want to squeeze as many plants as we can in the smallest area possible but this can raise a bigger issue – overcrowding. This will result in smaller crop yields with smaller vegetables the exact opposite of what we want. Also, we don’t want to dedicate too much space to a single plant wasting precious resources. So, we recommend to use 4 common spacings and a bonus one. We start with the smallest plants that are planted 16 per square foot like radishes and carrots. To make this grid you simply divide your square foot in four squares and then poke fore holes in each square giving you a total of 16 holes ready for planting. For medium plants like onions or bush beans we need to plant them 9 per square foot. To make this pattern you simply make a horn gesture and draw four lines. What we are left with is 9 squares in which we can plant our plants. Large vegetables like lettuce and parsnip are planted four per square foot. Here you simply divide the square in four equal quarters and you have your planting layout ready. Extra large plants like tomatoes and peppers are planted one per square foot so we don’t need to draw extra lines in the soil. And all that is left is the bonus section the extra extra-large plants like melons and zucchini.
Now let’s see what is the best way to plant your transplants in to your newly drawn spaces. To plant them obviously first dig a hole slightly bigger than the transplant root bulb is. If you want you can also add any fertilizers now, but over the years, I found that I don’t need them. A healthy soil doesn’t need supplements. A beginner gardener would think that you need to plant them up to the existing soil line. Wrong, to maximize their strength plant them, up until the first true leaves. Lightly press them down in to the native soil and please be gentle because you are risking to crush their fragile stem. So, what’s the trick with tomatoes? You can trim all the leaves except the top crown. And plant them as deep as you can up until the top crown. You can also plant them sideways if your raised bed is too shallow. And in the square foot gardening grid you can plant them from one corner to another of your square foot maximizing the length they are buried. With tomatoes this is good because tomatoes have tiny hairs growing out of their stem which in the end can develop a root system from them. This will increase the intake of water from your soil giving you more time between watering.
Lastly, know what to plant with what or in other words companion plants. Companion plants are basically sorted in two categories plants that can protect each other by repelling pests and plants that don’t steal each other nutrients meaning that one plant will use more nitrogen and the other one will use more phosphorus from the soil. So, by planting them together we can reduce the pest pressure and minimize the nutrients deficiency in our plant that can lead to diseases and poor growth. One of the common companion planting pairs are, cucumbers and basil, tomatoes and radishes and marigolds that can be practically planted with every plant.
Now, you know when to plant, what spacing to use and how to plant you can begin your journey to square foot gardening. Happy gardening!