Square foot garden plants

Yield is the holy grail of cannabis cultivation. So, it’s not surprising that most professional cultivators measure yield in some form. Most — nearly three-fourths (72%) of the cultivators who participated in CBT’s research project — say they measure yield per square foot. However, 38% of those who say they measure this metric didn’t know the actual yield per square foot of their cultivation operation’s most recent harvest, and some respondents who elaborated further on the question indicated they measure this metric somewhat informally.

Joe Romano of The Indoor Garden Shop in Detroit, Mich., who participated in the research project, says that his operation measures yield per square foot “in a roundabout way.” His team looks at “given a particular space, how many harvests can we get in a year,” he says.

Measuring yield per square foot, he believes, is one of the more important stats to track, if even informally, but looking at yield per strain also is important. “I think we spend more time balancing looking at different strains … what they produce,” Romano says. “For example, the majority of what we’ve been growing lately is Gorilla Glue, which yield per square foot is fantastic compared to a number of sativas. Ours have been more of a focus on a variety of plants and marketability than anything else.”

Vince Hanson, cultivation director at Leaf on the Mesa in Pueblo, N.M., another participant in the research, also believes measuring yield per square foot is important (“You can have all these lights in the room, and you can be wasting a tremendous amount of square footage,” he says), but time constraints have not yet enabled his team to do so. “This grow started about a year and a half ago. We just got over all of our weird growing pains,” he says. “And so … the last six months, we’ve been producing steady.”

In the future, he says, Leaf on the Mesa will probably track this metric.

Right now, Hanson says, ‘We look more for our averages. … We have to do a wet plant weight and a dry plant weight, so when I enter everything into the metrics, I can find an average plant weight. So if I find a drop-off in the average plant weight, there’s something going on, wherever they came out of, or something going on with the strain. So I pretty much focus on average yield,” he adds. “I keep logbooks of everything. … I build spreadsheets for all of these and print them off. As they harvest plants, I write down its tag, its wet weight, its waste weight, its bud weight, all those things.”

Research participant Robert Mead of Sound Cannabis in Aberdeen, Wash., says his business does not measure yield per square foot, but, he says, “that’s something we’re going to be looking at specifically. I’m watching the market, and the prices are starting to come down. I see a lot of really cheap concentrates in the market, so I really want to look at my return on investment.”

Yield per square foot ranged among research participants from 60g/sq. ft. or more to less than 20g/sq. ft., but the average yield per square foot, during the most recent harvests, rested just about in the middle at 39.5g.

Another metric that some cultivators feel is even more important to measure than yield per square foot is yield per watt of light; however fewer measure this than yield per square foot. Two-thirds of respondents (66%) say they measure yield per watt of light; but, again, nearly one third (31%) of those cultivators say that their operations measures this, but that they don’t know what the yield per watt of light was during their most recent harvest.

Thirty percent of cultivators say they don’t measure yield per watt of light at all.

Jacob White of R. Greenleaf Organics LLC in Albuquerque, N.M., says, “We track all of our production by grams per watt of lighting. We add up the total yield of all primary and secondary bud and divide by the number of watts illuminating the room.”

This metric is important to measure, he says, because of New Mexico’s canopy limit. “Because of a restrictive plant count (450 plants total), we must grow larger plants. Because of variation in yield between strains, we have varying amounts of plants in each flowering room to compensate. Comparing rooms in terms of grams per watt allows us to compare apples to apples,” Greenleaf says.

“Over an almost two-year period, we have a historic average of .96 grams per watt,” he says. “Our yields are always improving over time, and over the last six months, we are a little higher at 1.02 grams per watt. In the last 10 harvests, we are averaging even higher at 1.08 grams per watt.”

Casey Connell of Contender Gardens in Spokane, Wash., says Contender also measures yield per watt “for the most part. We keep track to see how we are doing.”

Currently, Contender is yielding “very close to 1 gram per watt,” Connell says.

Romano says The Indoor Garden Shop doesn’t exactly track yield per watt, but that metric is important to have a sense of, if even through more of an estimation. “What we’ll do, given a particular set of plants in bloom, they’ll be under anywhere from two to four 1,000-watt lights. We tend to look at, well, this month we got X number of grams from that setup, and last month we got 10 percent more or less. We just don’t do the calculation. It’s more from the production perspective. If we had 4,000 watts of light, how many grams did we get?” he says.

While Mead says Sound Cannabis hasn’t yet measured yield per watt of light (“We have not had a crop come out with the systems we’re installing right now,” he says), he sees this metric as the most important, as it takes into account energy usage and efficiencies. “The power is the biggest consumable cost,” he says. “Is it going to try to mimic the sun inside? Well, it’s going to cost you. I’m really straying away from all-indoor grows. I’m looking at hybrid buildings.”

Yield/watt of light ranged among participants from less than 1g/W to 3g/W or more, but the average yield per watt, for participants’ most recent harvests, fell at 1.6g/W.


How Many Plants per Light?

  • Escrito por : Ciara
  • Tips

How many plants per light? This is sometimes an issue for novice growers and it has a pretty simple solution. The amount of plants per light depends on the type of plants and how you grow them, apart from the space you have and the potency of the plants.

Planting seeds is not the same as planting clones, and autoflowering seeds aren’t the same as seasonal seeds; plants that have more yield on the tips of the branches aren’t the same as plants that have larger yields in the central calyx. In this article we’re going to talk about different kinds of plants and grows and how many plants you should use for each – planting too many can eventually ruin your entire grow.

Practically all bulbs and lights can illuminate the same amount of space, and your plants will adapt to that space and the power of the lights; if you plant four 3 month autoflowering strains with a 600w light, with a 250w light you’ll do the same; the difference is that with a 600w light you can get 400-500g and with a 250w light you can get 120-200g. The second lot will grow slower but you’ll still fit the same amount of plants under the lights.

How many plants per light when cloning:

The best thing you can do to get the best yield out of a squared meter with clones is to place as many as you can fit in 3L flowerpots and set them to flower straight away. This way, you can fit up to 36 of these small babies in a square meter, getting 12-15g per plant as they only grow buds on the main trunk – this makes for an almost even 500g which is the maximum you can get out of a 600w light. If you plant 9, you’ll never get even close to the yield that you would have gotten with 36 and the buds will also grow out much thinner. If you want to get more yield with less clones then you’ll need to grow in a SCRoG system that will increase the yield but also requires more caring to.

How many plants per light when planting seasonal seeds:

When you plant non-autoflowering seasonal seeds then you need to keep a few things in mind; does the strain you’re going to plant have most of its yield on the central cola like Critical+ or Cream Caramel, or do they produce more yield on the branches like Northern Lights or White Widow? Once you know that you can have a general idea of what to do – if they’re tall and you plant too little of them you’ll have extra space, but if they’re wide and you place too many they’ll grow upwards, much too tall, and they’ll end up being of terrible quality.

If you plant wide plants then you’ll need to place around 4 per square meter and top them a week before they begin flowering – you can find out what topping is by reading our article on how to prune your plants. With this set up, your plants will completely fill out your grow space. If you’re going to plant strains that have most of their yield on the central stem then you can plant 9 in a square meter – 16 max. If you plant 9 then you can allow them to grow properly without pruning, although if you plant 16 you’ll need to remove the lower branches so that practically all that’s left are the upper parts of the plant – this will cause heavier and bigger buds to grow.

How many plants per light when planting autoflowering seeds:

When growing autoflowering strains indoors, you can rest assured that they’ll get the perfect climate that they need and that they’ll grow as well as they can, depending on how you treat them. These plants don’t like too much water when they’re just starting out, and if you over-water them you’ll end up with dwarfed plants rather than normal plants. How big they grow really depends on you, so if you’ve never planted autoflowering strains then you should plant a few more than usual in case some end up dwarfed.

They are the perfect option for when you want a quick harvest as there are strains that take just two months to grow from germination until harvesting time; autoflowering plants have an amazing power, aroma and effect. There are two groups of autos; 2 month, and 3 month plants. 2 month plants should give about 40g per plant, so with about 9 you’ll be able to easily fill a square meter and get up to 400g per 600w light. 3 month autoflowering plants grow much bigger, however, so you should only plant 4 per 600w light. If everything goes well and you don’t over-water them or anything like that, then you should have an amazing harvest. If you’re planning on planting autoflowering seeds then you should go check out our article all about auto strains.

Now that you know how many plants you should place per light, it’s time to put it into practice! Many growers think that by using more plants they’ll get more yield, but honestly having too many plants can ruin your entire grow and cause you to get almost nothing from what could have been a productive endeavor.

Author: Javier Chinesta
Translation: Ciara Murphy

News and Best Practices

Determining Plant Density

June 28, 2016

When designing a new indoor garden, some professional growers might be tempted to fill it up with as many plants as they can possibly fit in any given space. However, visions of massive yields can cloud their perception of reality and actually lead to smaller yields. For example, all of the plant’s leaves must be able to receive light before they can process it. If plants are overcrowded, leaves on lower branches won’t receive the maximum amount of light.

Calculating space requirements

How do growers decide just how many plants they can grow in a given space? That depends on the particular variety and strain, and there are size characteristics for each one:

  • Most indica and Afghanica hybrid strains originated in the Hindu Kush Mountains of India and Nepal, where they have a relatively short growing season. Plants with these genetics tend to be physically short with relatively small diameters.
  • Sativa strains originated in tropical and sub-tropical latitudes. They are used to a significantly longer growing season and tend to grow much taller and broader. Sativa-dominant hybrids tend to grow somewhat shorter.
  • Many auto-flowering strains produce short plants. They employ genetics from the cannabis species C. ruderalis to trigger the auto-flowering sequence, which is dependent on the age of the plant rather than the length of the light cycle. In fact, many auto-flowering strains are advertised as “stealth” plants due to their intentionally short height.

Based on these characteristics, it’s practical to assume that auto-flowering plants and small indica varieties need approximately 1 square foot per plant. Larger strains of indicas and sativas need 2 to 3 square feet per plant. However, some strains can require as much as 4 square feet per plant to prevent overcrowding. Consequently, you will need to experiment with the different strains you intend to grow to find the maximum plant density. Knowing this information will provide you with a good idea of how much room each plant will need.

Spacing for light

Conventional wisdom tells us that grow room lights positioned at the optimum height will penetrate about three feet deep into the canopy. But there are two major schools of thought that follow different spacing methods to ensure that all plants receive enough light.

  1. On one hand, some growers say that plants should be positioned with enough space to allow their lower leaves to receive and process all of the light that they can. The more leaves a plant has, the more light and minerals it can process and the more food it can produce for itself. This leads to both optimum yield and optimum quality, as long as sufficient space, light and CO2 are provided. With this method, one plant per 2 to 4 square feet, depending on the strain chosen, is often necessary to ensure optimum yield.
  2. In contrast, others say that plants can be crowded together and their lower branches removed; this forces each plant to concentrate its efforts on the upper branches. The lower branches of most plants often produce the lowest yields of the lowest quality bud, so removing lower branches will increase plant density. With this method, one plant per 1 square foot is often sufficient.
By Bill Bernhardt
Cannabis Cultivation Today articles are for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal guidance or advice on grow practices. You should contact an attorney or a qualified cultivation consultant for specific compliance and cultivation advice.

Edible Landscaping: Grow $700 of Food in 100 Square Feet!

  • Two tomato plants: ‘Better Boy’ and ‘Early Girl’
  • Bell peppers, which are often luxuries at the market when fully colored: two ‘California Wonder,’ two ‘Golden Bell,’ one ‘Orange Bell,’ and one ‘Big Red Beauty’
  • Four zucchinis: two green ‘Raven’ and two ‘Golden Dawn’
  • Four basils (expensive in stores but essential in the kitchen)
  • 18 lettuces: six ‘Crisp Mint’ romaine, six ‘Winter Density’ romaine, and six ‘Sylvestra’ butterhead

The only plants I grew from seed were the zucchinis. Hindsight is always 20/20; I should have thinned each of the zucchini hills to a single seedling, but I left two in each hill. As a result, I needed to come up with creative uses for zucchini, including giving them away as party favors at a dinner I hosted.

It looked a bit barren at first, but the garden flourished — especially the lettuces. Within several weeks, I started picking outer leaves for salads for neighbors and myself. The weather forecast predicted temperatures in the upper 90s. I was heading out of town and feared the lettuces would bolt, so I harvested the entire heads earlier than I normally would. Within about a month of transplanting the lettuces into the garden, I had grown enough for 230 individual servings of salad. And by that time, the tomatoes, zucchinis and pepper plants had nearly filled in the bed.

A Living Spreadsheet

Although I’ve grown hundreds of varieties of vegetables over the years and kept rough notes, this garden was different.

My co-author, Cathy, created spreadsheets for each type of plant, and we kept meticulous records each time we harvested. We recorded the amount — pounds and ounces, as well as number of fruits (for each cultivar of tomato, zucchini and peppers) or handfuls (for lettuces and basil).

The Investment: Time and Money

This 100-square-foot plot took about eight hours to prepare, including digging the area, amending the soil, raking it smooth, placing stepping stones, digging the planting holes, adding organic fertilizer, and setting the plants and seeds in the ground. On planting day, I installed homemade tomato cages (store-bought ones are never tall or sturdy enough) and drip irrigation. And I mulched well — a thick mulch is key to cutting down on weeding, which is the biggest time waste in the garden, in my opinion.

We hand-watered the bed for a few weeks to allow the root systems to grow wide enough to reach the drip system. Three times over the first month we routed out a few weeds, which was only necessary until the plants filled in and shaded the soil.

Tomatoes in my arid climate are susceptible to bronze mites that cut down on the harvest and flavor. To prevent mites, we sprayed sulfur in mid-July and again in mid-August, which took about 30 minutes each time. In rainy climates, gardeners often need to prevent early blight on tomatoes. To do so, rotate tomato plants to a different area of the garden each year and mulch well. After the plants are a few feet tall, remove the lower 18 inches of leafy stems to create good air circulation.

For the rest of the season, we tied the tomatoes and peppers to the stakes as they grew upward, cut off the most rampant branches, and harvested the fruits. The time commitment averaged about an hour and a half each week. (Our harvesting was more time-consuming than average because we counted, weighed and recorded everything we picked.)


The Results

To determine what my harvest would cost in the market, I began checking out equivalent organic produce prices in midsummer. On a single day in late August, I harvested 49 tomatoes, nine peppers, 15 zucchinis of many sizes, and three handfuls of basil — which would have totaled $136 at my market that day.

From April to September, this little organic garden produced 77.5 pounds of tomatoes, 15.5 pounds of bell peppers, 14.3 pounds of lettuce, and 2.5 pounds of basil — plus a whopping 126 pounds of zucchini! Next time I won’t feel bad about pulling out those extra plants.

I figured the total value of my 2008 summer trial garden harvest was $746.52. In order to get a fair picture, I also needed to subtract the cost of seeds, plants and compost (I can’t make enough to keep up with my garden), which added up to $63.09. That leaves $683.43 in savings on fresh vegetables. Of course, prices vary throughout the season and throughout the country. I live in northern California, and for comparison, Cathy, who lives in Iowa, checked out her prices and figured the same amount of organic produce in her area would be worth $975.18.

The Big Picture

I started this garden to see what impact millions of organically grown 100-square-foot gardens would have if they replaced the equivalent acreage of lawns in this country.

According to the Garden Writers Association, 84 million U.S. households gardened in 2009. If just half of them (42 million) planted a 100-square-foot garden, that would total 96,419 acres (about 150 square miles) no longer in lawns, and no need for the tremendous resources that go into keeping them manicured. If folks got even one-half of the yields I got, the national savings on groceries would be stupendous: about $14.35 billion! So, a 100-square-foot food garden can be a big win-win for anyone who creates one — and for our planet.

Looking Forward

I have decided to keep the records from my 100-square-foot garden going indefinitely. Last fall, I planted broccoli, chard, snap peas, cilantro, a stir-fry greens mix, kale and scallions. This took much less time, as the soil preparation was done and the drip system was in place.

In the summer, I planted different tomato varieties, added cucumbers, a tipi of pole beans, chard and collards. Remember, I’m growing all of this in a bed that is just 5-by-20 feet! You can check my website to follow the progress of the garden, and to download easy-to-use spreadsheets to help you track your own garden harvests.

Read More, Share Your Results

My lecture audiences, the media and visiting gardeners are excited to report on data about how much food a gardener can produce. Other organizations seem to be on the same wavelength. In spring of 2008, Burpee started to record harvest amounts; Roger Doiron of Kitchen Gardeners International kept a tally of his family’s summer garden; and MOTHER EARTH NEWS put out a call for readers to share information about their most productive plants.

While you’re here, please share your totals with us and other gardeners by posting a comment in the comments section below. We’re looking forward to hearing about harvests from folks all over the country.

Getting the Most Food from a Small Area

  • Choose indeterminate tomatoes. They keep growing and producing fruit until a killing frost. (Determinate varieties save space but ripen all at once.)
  • In spring, plant cool-season vegetables, including lettuce, mesclun and stir-fry green mixes, arugula, scallions, spinach and radishes. They are ready to harvest in a short time, and they act as space holders until the warm-season veggies fill in.
  • Grow up. Peas, small melons, squash, cucumbers and pole beans have a small footprint when grown vertically. Plus, they yield more over a longer time than bush types.
  • Plants such as broccoli, eggplant, peppers, chard and kale are worth the space they take for a long season. As long as you keep harvesting, they will keep producing until frost

Rosalind Creasy has been growing edibles in her beautiful northern California garden for 40 years. The expanded second edition of her landmark book, Edible Landscaping, will be released in April 2010.

Cathy Wilkinson Barash, author of 13 books, including Edible Flowers: From Garden to Palate, spent parts of the past three years working with Creasy in California . She helped document, harvest and feast from the 100-square-foot garden.

Calculating Plants Per Square Foot: Number Of Plants Per Square Foot Guide

An engineer named Mel Bartholomew invented an entirely new type of gardening in the 1970s: the square foot garden. This new and intensive gardening method uses 80 percent less soil and water and about 90 percent less work than traditional gardens. The concept behind square foot gardening is to plant a certain number of seeds or seedlings in each of a series of foot-square garden sections. There are either 1, 4, 9 or 16 plants in each square, and how many plants per square foot depends on what variety of plant is in the soil.

Plant Spacing in a Square Foot Garden

Square foot garden plots are set up in grids of 4 x 4 squares, or 2 x 4 if set up against a wall. Strings or thin pieces of wood are attached to the frame to divide the plot into equal square foot sections. One type of vegetable plant is planted in each section. If vine plants are grown, they’re generally placed in the back to allow for a straight trellis to be installed at the very back of the bed.

How Many Plants per Square Foot

When calculating plants per square foot, the most important thing to consider is the size of each adult plant. In the initial planning stages, you may want to consult a plant per square foot guide, but this will only give you a general idea of garden plans. You’ll rarely have a garden book or website with you in the yard, so figuring out your own plant spacing in a square foot garden is an essential thing to learn.

Look on the back of the seed packet or on the tab in the seedling pot. You’ll see two different planting distance numbers. These are based on old-school row planting plans and assume you will have a wide space in between rows. You can ignore this larger number in the instructions and simply concentrate on the smaller one. If, for instance, your carrot seeds packet recommends 3 inches apart for the smaller number, this is how close you can get on all sides and still grow healthy carrots.

Divide the number of inches per distance you need into 12 inches, the size of your plot. For carrots, the answer is 4. This number applies to horizontal rows in the square, as well as vertical. This means that you fill the square with four rows of four plants each, or 16 carrot plants.

This method works for any plant. If you find a range of distance, such as from 4 to 6 inches, use the smaller number. If you find the rare fraction in your answer, fudge it a little bit and get as close to the answer as you can. Plant spacing in a square foot garden is art, after all, not science.

How Many Plants To Grow Per Square Meter


Before you get your grow on, you need to have a plan and a timetable. First, you need to establish the size of the available grow space. Grow tents come with exact dimensions on the box. However, if you are building your own grow box, or converting a whole room into a grow-op, you need to first take measurements. Next, you must decide how much light you can put down while still maintaining optimal environmental conditions. We will breakdown the key factors to consider when choosing grow lights a little later.

Perhaps the most important question the grower needs to ask him/herself is; how much time can I commit to cannabis cultivation? Work, family, and social commitments can make growing a difficult balancing act. A large sativa plantation will be far more time-consuming to maintain than a couple of autoflowering plants in a wardrobe.

The genetics you choose and your preferred grow style will ultimately determine how long it takes to bring your crop to harvest. Precisely how many plants to grow is a personal choice. But the following will help you discover your indoor marijuana magic number.


It’s not as simple as purchasing as many of the most powerful grow lamps you can get your hands on. Every grow space is different. But two factors always need to be tightly controlled and constantly monitored. Temperature and relative humidity (RH) are the key environmental conditions the indoor grower regulates. You need the right tools. Invest in intake fans, extractor fans, and if available, air-con or heating.


HID lamps are a great source of illumination for the grow room and still favoured by most professionals. Unfortunately, MH and HPS lamps run hot and will significantly increase your power bills, too. One 400-600W bulb per m² is a good rule of thumb. Although, you may need to scale down to a 250W bulb. Consider improving side reflection with Mylar sheeting if you can’t keep temperature and RH dialled-in. Using high-powered old-school lighting necessitates the use of more powerful fans and possibly air-con, or else the grow-op may run too hot.


Modern LED grow lights run much cooler and more efficiently than HID. The main drawback with next-gen LED is the substantial investment required for a decent high-quality kit. Over the long-term, you can recoup with the savings you make on the power bill. Choose your LED kit carefully as not all LED’s are created equal. At present, 3W diodes and COB appear to be the most promising technologies. Less heat and more usable light per watt can also save you some money when it comes to selecting fans to regulate airflow.


CFL can only take you so far. Sure, they are economic and efficient, but only to a point. In this writer’s opinion, cool white CFL is fine for vegetative growth and rooting clones, but nothing more. Using CFL’s alone for the bloom phase is not recommended. However, adding CFL as a supplement to HPS during bloom can be a winning combination.


The sea of green method (as the name implies) is all about packing all of the available floor space in the grow-op with plants. Typically, photoperiod clones or autoflowering strains are used to achieve a consistent, controlled outcome. This technique is fast and very high-yielding. Rooted cuttings get from 1-2 weeks of vegetative growth before the switch to standard 12/12 flowering of 8-10 weeks. On the other hand, autos can be kept on a consistent 18/6, 20/4, or 24/0 schedule and be ready for harvest in 8-10 weeks from seed. There is no time for pruning or training, nor is it needed.

As plants are not given time to branch out, many short plants with chunky main colas are the objective. Approximately 4-16 plants per m² can be cultivated under 400W HPS, sown in 5-12l containers. Watering by hand can be very time-consuming with such large numbers. Many growers prefer hydroponics kits with automated feeding systems when cultivating many plants. A well-run SOG grow-op can deliver 4-6 500g/m² harvests per year.


If you want to keep the number of cannabis plants to a minimum and still get maximum yield from your grow space, then you need to apply yield-boosting techniques. You have two choices; pruning and training. Of course, you can do both. In fact, we highly recommend combining methods for best results.


The most common pruning-for-yield methods are topping and fimming. By pruning the main stem and breaking the apical dominance, bigger yields can be achieved. This is done either with a clean cut by “topping,” or a pinch leaving 25% of the main tip via the “fimming” method. Plants will bush out and develop multiple main colas instead of just one. Both methods can be applied repeatedly depending on how much lateral space you wish to fill.

Remember, each time you prune marijuana, you must allow recovery time. The cost of these pruning-for-yield methods is indeed time itself. Expect an extended vegetative growth cycle. 6-8 weeks will be required for two well-pruned bushes to fill out 1m².


LST or low stress training is a beginner-friendly training technique that, like the two aforementioned pruning methods, works well with a ScrOG or screen of green technique. By bending or tying stems during vegetative growth, the grower can manipulate the plant to grow more like a bush. 2-4 plants can effectively fill 1m². Recovery time is just a few days and this method even works with autoflowering strains.


If you consider yourself to be an experienced grower, having mastered the other techniques we’ve mentioned, you can optimise your yield further by bringing “screen of green” into the picture. But what is a ScrOG, exactly? Basically, it’s a grid-like screen made of chicken wire (or similar mesh material) through which the shoots of developing cannabis plants are woven to control growth. You’ll want to start this weaving process during the vegetative phase, ending it before the third week of bloom. This keeps exclusively the main colas under the light, focusing the plants’ efforts on bud production. You’ll also want to top your plants early so their branches grow as long as possible, then proceed to train them in multiple directions through the screen. As a result, you can utilise the full surface area of your growing space.

As far as spacing is concerned, if you’re growing one plant per square metre, you’ll want to use 20I pots at least. Those who want to cut down on harvest time, however, can fit four plants, each in a 10I pot, in the same square metre. There’s no strict rule with these limits. However, we’ve found that sticking within these general parameters is the safest approach.

How Many Cannabis Plants Should I Grow? (For the Biggest/Fastest Yields)

by Nebula Haze

Should you grow just one cannabis plant or many to maximize your yields? What’s the best number of plants to grow considering your grow light and the size of your grow space?

How many plants should you grow?

There are a few different schools of thought when it comes to the best number of marijuana plants to grow in an indoor setup. I’ll walk you through the benefits of growing just one plant vs the benefits of growing many, and then give you some real-life examples with specific setups. That way you get the information you need to make the best decision for your garden!

One or Many Cannabis Plants: Costs vs Benefits

Growing Just 1-2 Cannabis Plants at a Time


  • Easier – Easier to care for your garden because you’re able to better focus on each individual plant, and you won’t need to compromise between different plants if they end up having different needs
  • Less Time Daily – Spend less time on a daily basis caring for plants (less time making nutrient water, watering, training plants, etc) and it’s usually easier to reach all the plants
  • May Be Only Legal Choice – Some growers live in areas with limits on the number of plants they can grow (for example in some states you are only allowed to grow 3 mature plants at a time), so these growers don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to how many plants to grow


  • Less Variety – You’ll only be able to grow one or two strains, instead of many strains at once.
  • Longer Vegetative Stage – With just one or two plants, it may take them extra time to fully spread out and fill the grow space in the vegetative stage, which means it can take longer to start flowering and get to harvest

Should you grow just one or two plants at a time and let them get big?

It took just under 2 months in the vegetative stage to train the plant to grow this way

In the flowering stage the grower was rewarded with buds that filled the space where the plant was trained

Growing Many Cannabis Plants at a Time


  • Shorter Vegetative Stage – Especially in a large grow space, several plants can usually fill the space faster during the vegetative stage than just one or two plants. This allows the grower to switch to the flowering stage sooner. A shorter vegetative stage means you can possibly get to harvest sooner.
  • Max Yield for the Time/Electricity – If you are looking to get the biggest yield in the shortest amount of time (which also maximizes your yield for the electricity), this is likely going to be the most effective strategy!
  • More Variety – With a higher number of plants, you’ll have the ability to grow a greater variety of strains at the same time


  • More Daily Care – You will usually spend more time on a daily basis tending your plants, and it’s often more difficult to reach the plants in the back
  • Different Plants Have Different Needs – Each plant might need slightly different levels of nutrients, light intensity, etc. The differences can be especially stark when growing many different strains at once.
  • More Difficult to Train – It can be more difficult to train multiple plants to grow wide and flat since you have to work around all the other plants, and some plants grow much taller/faster than others. In fact, to simplify things some growers choose to avoid training their plants at all when growing many plants at once.
  • May Be Illegal Where You Live – In some cases, even if growing is legal where you live, it may be against the law to grow a large number of plants

Should you grow many smaller plants so they fill your grow space sooner?

It only took 6 weeks for the plants to completely fill up the space. Imagine how long it would have taken for one plant to grow this big!

No Matter How Many Plants You Grow…

  • Similar Yields Per Square Foot – Cannabis yields are based mostly on the size/shape of the canopy in relation to your grow light, not the number of plants. Filling the total surface area of plants under the light with bud sites is what matters, and it doesn’t really matter if you use one plant or many to fill the space before flipping to the flowering stage.

That means even if you can only grow a few plants at a time, you can still get the same yields in your grow space as someone who can grow more plants! It just might take a little bit longer in the vegetative stage.

It doesn’t matter whether this canopy has been created by one plant or many. Whichever way you got here, your yields will be about the same as long as everything else is equal!

Why Growing Many Plants Reduces the Time Needed in the Vegetative Stage

When it comes to getting the best yields as fast as possible, you will often have better luck growing several plants than just one or two. This is because it takes several plants less time to completely fill up a space than it would take one plant to fill up that same space.

However, time might not be the main concern. Many growers don’t mind an extra week or two in the vegetative stage if it makes the growing process easier and more fun!

But in the end, the actual yields will be about the same as long as the space does get filled. Given the same total number of colas and size of plants, it won’t matter much if you have one plant or twenty as far as yields are concerned.

What’s the “Optimal” Number of Cannabis Plants?

If you can legally grow as many marijuana plants as you want and are willing to put in the extra time and effort needed to grow as many plants as necessary, what’s the best number of plants to grow?

Each plant should get plenty of direct light and at least a foot or two of space to itself

The optimum number of plants depends mostly the size of the area under the grow light. A plant generally should get at least a foot of space to itself to really be able to grow and spread out, and it’s often better to give plants a little more space, especially if you have powerful grow lights like HPS’ or LEDs!

Suggestions for Example Grow Spaces

2’x2′ Space – 1-4 Plants

2’x4′ Space – 1-6 Plants

3’x3′ Space – 1-6 Plants

4’x4′ Space – 2-9 Plants

These suggestions definitely aren’t set in stone, but they serve to give you general starting guidelines. It is possible to grow more plants in these spaces successfully, but with more plants you will often start running into difficulty being able to reach the plants in the back and care for them properly, and sometimes it’s more of a pain than it’s worth!

These two plants fill this entire 4’x4′ space, but you could get the same amount of canopy coverage with many smaller plants. It’s up to you to decide how you want to fill your space!

Keep in Mind! Your yields are limited by the size of your grow light, not the number of plants. Light is like food for your plants and has a direct correlation with yields. The more plants you grow, the less each individual plant will get as far as light. Think of your grow light like a pie, with each additional plant getting a smaller slice to eat every day.

It’s tempting to grow a lot of plants, but you don’t want to spread your light out too thin! If you grow too many plants you might get less than an ounce per plant, and your buds will be airy and light!

Your yields are ultimately limited by the size of your grow light, regardless of how many plants you grow!

It can be hard deciding what number of plants to grow in your space, but ultimately the best thing you can do is to pick a number and dive right in to growing. I believe in listening to your gut. When in doubt, always start with more plants than you need so you have the option of ditching any plant that doesn’t germinate, grows poorly or ends up being a male or hermie.

Always start with more plants than you need, just in case! But remember, you may have to throw some of them away…

Each grower has a different style, and as you get more experience, you’ll be able to dial in your grow to what’s best for you and your setup!

For me, I usually end up growing just a few plants (or even just one) because I find that more relaxing and enjoyable. But many other growers prefer growing many plants at once! It all depends on you and your needs.

So unfortunately I can’t give you a “best” number to end all numbers, but I hope you now have a better idea of how many plants to grow in your space!

Jump to…

Simplest Grow Guide Ever!

Beginner Shopping List (What You Need to Start Growing)

How to Increase Your Yields

Diagnose Your Sick Plant!

How Many Cannabis Plants Per Square Metre?

What’s the magic number of marijuana plants per square metre? Whether you are a beginner grower or a veteran cultivator, finding the solution is the key to unlocking the maximum potential of your grow-op. This text breaks down the equation for the most popular cannabis growing styles.


The optimal number of cannabis plants per square metre differs greatly from one grower to another. This is not a question that can be answered in isolation with a perfect number of plants every grower should aim for. Ultimately, the grower’s level of skill and experience is the X-factor. A grand master grower can crop a heavier harvest with one grow light and one female plant than a novice can with 10 grow lamps and 10 female plants. In this blog, we will help you make a customised cultivation assessment. Now, let’s figure out the right number of cannabis plants per square metre for your grow-op.


The best data on indoor cultivation comes from a 2006 study called Yield of Illicit Indoor Cannabis Cultivation in The Netherlands by Marcel Toonen PhD, Simon Ribot B.Sc., Jac Thissen M.SC.

Focussing on 77 illegal indoor hydroponic grow-ops in the Netherlands, they discovered a median plant density of 15 plants/m², using, on average, 510W/m². Moreover, as the study was published in 2006, we can assume the lighting used was exclusively HID. The data confirmed average yields of 505g/m² or close to 1g per watt of HPS light. Using comparable wattage next-gen LED lighting, the g/m² figure could be potentially even higher.


The sea of green (SOG) is a high-volume cultivation style favoured by commercial cannabis growers. Essentially, all the available floor space is filled up with plants. Hydro growers typically pack systems to capacity. Soil/coco growers commonly use smaller 6l square containers to squeeze in as many plants as possible per square metre. Drip irrigation is preferred as watering large numbers of cannabis plants by hand is impractical and time-consuming.

With the exception of feminized autoflowering seeds, high-quality clones of photoperiod varieties are essential to a smooth-running SOG. Cuttings simplify feeding, ensure a uniform crop, and generally help achieve maximum yield—provided you’ve selected a winning mother plant.

A streamlined SOG can be low-maintenance with no plant training or pruning required. Vegetative growth is kept to the minimum. Adopting a 24-0 light cycle can make it as short as 1–2 weeks. Switching to a 12-12 cycle to induce bloom as soon as possible is the goal. This creates an even canopy of squat plants with few side branches. The best SOGs consistently provide quick-turnover harvests of short, fast-flowering plants with fat main colas.


Breaking the apical dominance of a cannabis plant diverts growth hormone to the secondary shoots. This changes the growth pattern of the plant and promotes a bushier profile. By cutting away the tip of the main stem, topping is accomplished. Bushy plants fill out lateral grow space better and are easier to keep in the sweet spot under your grow light than tall, spindly plants. Pruning the main stem causes the pair of branches on the nodes below to become two top colas.

Topping should be applied with sterile scissors during the vegetative growth stage as plants will need up to a week to completely recover. Flowering plants will not benefit from topping, and yields may suffer as a result. On the other hand, topping too soon will stress young plants and may stunt their growth.

It’s best to top cannabis plants sometime after they have developed 6 branches (3 sets) and before the first buds emerge. Photoperiod strains vegged for an extended period can be topped repeatedly. Home-growers popularised this practice to increase the number of top colas and to fill out larger grow spaces with fewer plants. Autoflowering plants can also benefit from early topping, but intensive pruning is discouraged.


Fimming is a similar pruning technique to topping. Most growers prefer to pinch off 75% of the tip from the main stem between the fingers. Accuracy is not terribly important, but the results produced by a sloppy topping are impressive. Typically, the number of top colas is boosted to 3–4 post-fimming. It’s not as neat as topping, but it’s another great alternative to get more bud from fewer, bushier plants. As you would expect, this is a pruning technique to experiment with during the vegetative phase. Topping or fimming 5–10 plants in 10–15l containers will amply fill up one square metre of grow space.


Low stress training (LST) is the technique of choice for microgrowers and autoflower growers looking to boost yields. It’s also common with pro-growers, and deployed with great effect in combination with topping, fimming, and the ScrOG method.

Bending shoots and tying them to stakes, or pushing them down with gardening wire through holes in the lip of pots is all it takes to LST. Manipulating the main stem and branches during vegetative growth to create a bonsai plant, or flatten a sprawling canopy is the power of LST. There is no recovery time associated with LST, but as a hands-on technique, it has its limitations. You can only bend so many shoots. That being said, you only need 2–4 monster cannabis plants in 15l+ pots to get the most from one square metre indoors.


The screen of green method (ScrOG) is arguably the best way any grower can completely utilise a square metre of grow space. Adding a mesh grid or screen to fill up the grow-op with nothing but chunky top colas is grand-master-grower-level cultivation.

Top tier growers really can successfully bend, twist, and weave just one weed tree through a screen to fill the whole grow-op. Below the screen, through a combination of lollipopping and defoliation, the lower growth is stripped away. All plant energy and light are focussed on flowering a mass of budding tops. One or two cannabis plants in 25l+ containers scrogged can match the output per square metre of a 15-plant SOG.

Get Your Garden Schedule Into Shape!

It’s time to think about starting seeds and planting your garden. Once the season gets into full swing, it can be dizzying to keep track of all the dates that you must track to make your garden a success.

Of course, you can (and should) keep a garden journal to help you remember the successes and failures of prior years, but if you are just getting started or are gardening in a new area, you may not know where to go from here.

When should you start your seeds?

What is the time frame for planting outside in YOUR garden?

When will you finally reap the harvest and benefit from all your hard work?

A good garden planner can tell you all that – and more. It will give you planting and growing tips, and even allow you to schedule multiple harvests per year.

Not all of the planners below will do that, but they may all be useful for you as you plan your productive vegetable garden this year.

1. Garden Planner by Small Blue Printer

COST: Free for 15 days; then a one time charge of $38.

PROS: Garden Planner gives you a page with all the plant and objects you have created so you have a record of the things you’ve added in list format.

It is easy to use. You can plan and print your garden within the 15 day trial period.

The free version will allow you to create and print your plan (but all exported images and printouts will bear a watermark).

You can add planters in various sizes, paths and just about any kind of hardscape you can think of.

There is a section for adding individual plants, including vegetables, fruits, and trees.

If you want to save your plan for future reference or modification you must purchase the program.

CONS: It loads onto your browser without giving you the option to do it and I didn’t like that. They give you a free 15-day trial, but it was difficult to find the price of the program after that. You cannot save your plan without purchasing.

Who will best use it? Any gardener that is looking for a complete yard planner should give this free online vegetable garden planner a try.

2. Kitchen Garden Planner by Gardener’s Supply Co.

COST: Free

With this free online garden planning tool from Gardener’s Supply, you can design a super-productive vegetable garden, based on square-foot gardening techniques instead of traditional rows.

Just drag and drop crops to the planting grid and the planner fills in the ideal number of plants.

Or choose from 16 pre-planned gardens. Print out your planting map and you’re ready to go.

PROS: The ability to use this plan for square foot gardening. It lets you choose the area and when you drag a vegetable or herb into the box, it gives you the number you can plant per square foot.

Planting instructions for each variety chosen come with a link to their vegetable encyclopedia for more in-depth info.

You can print and save your designs if you sign up as a member.

You can also save the URL for future reference.

CONS: Does not have the ability to place your garden bed into the context of your yard as a whole. It does not give you a plant list or the number of plants needed in your design.

Who will best use it? Anyone using square foot gardening techniques will find this very helpful. Gardener’s Supply Company is a trusted name in the gardening industry.

3. GrowVeg.com Garden Planner

COST: Free for 7 Days, then $29 per year or $45 per 2 years

Used by both Mother Earth News and the Old Farmers Almanac as their planner of choice, GrowVeg is one of the easiest garden plann
ers to use, in my opinion as well.

It has the most features and allows you to do the widest range of plans.

PROS: GrowVeg lets you create stunning, full yard, garden plans. It gives you the ability to change into square foot gardening mode for raised beds planning.

The planner software shows how much space plants require and how to group them for maximum success, removing the need to look up planting distances and crop families. It takes the guesswork out of the number of plants you can grow for the space you’ve chosen.

It also allows you to schedule spring and fall crop rotation. The tool gives you the ability to print out a planting schedule for seed starting, planting out and harvest. This is based on your specific geographic location.

There is also a mobile app for iPad & iPhone.

CONS: The yearly fee. If you wish to have access to your garden’s “past”, you have to continue to pay every year. But at $29 per year, the cost is not overly burdensome.

Who will best use it? Any gardener looking for an overall enjoyable planner experience. Give it a try for 7 days – it’s free.

You’ll have plenty of time to create your garden plan and print it. Even if you don’t purchase the plan, take the time to sign up for their very informative monthly emails. I always learn something new from them.

4. SmartGardener

COST: Free (minimal cost for upgrades, but not necessary to enjoy the benefits of the program)

PROS: Billing themselves as the easiest way to plan, grow and harvest your own food, there are almost too many good things to mention.

First, you specify how many adults and children in your family. It lets you drill down and get specific about the plants you want to grow.

When you choose a vegetable and variety, it gives you the number of plants you need to feed your family, plus the amount of growing space that will be required.

You have the ability to create a garden with simple raised beds in the dimension of your choosing. Smart Gardener will give you a summary of the plants you have selected and the recommended date for starting your seeds, indoors and/or outdoors.

It also told me that my small garden (at 180 sq ft) was not big enough to grow all the varieties I would need to feed my family.

Use the “create a garden journal” area and keep track of seed start dates and when you should have planted them outside. The tool will send you a weekly garden “to do” list. (Check the full tutorial below.)

SmartGardener even supports purchasing from four different vendors (which is where they make their money.) You can specify one or all – Renee’s Garden, Peaceful Valley, Baker Creek, or Southern Exposure and purchase directly from them through the planner.

CONS: I had to look long and hard for one! The only thing I can come up with is that Smart Gardener does not give you the ability to plan your garden in the whole context of your yard.

No adding decks, pools, or porches to the mix. They do have several add-ons (at a very small cost) but I wouldn’t really call that a con.

Who will best use it? Any gardener that wants a simple, but surprisingly robust, desktop garden planner.

5. Burpee Garden Time Planner (App)

COST: Free for mobile or tablet via Google Play only

PROS: The Garden Time Planner lets you create a garden based on your specific location.

Once you add your zip code there is a place to see your current weather conditions and forecast. It also gives you the average first and last frost dates for your area.

Once you choose the plants you want to grow, the planner will suggest dates to help you with scheduling indoor planting or direct sowing dates.

Most vegetables have videos with growing tips included which you can access through the “How to” tab or under each vegetable.

CONS: You must provide your email address to have access to even the simplest part of the program; however you can opt out from receiving emails.

Vegetable varieties are listed generally (tomatoes), so you cannot choose a specific variety (Tomato, Jersey Boy) to add to your plan.

There is a link to visit the Burpee Mobile Store, but that is for purchasing from them, it does not transfer information over to the app.

Who will best use it? Gardeners that want to have a simple planting schedule on their tablet or phone. It does not provide an area to plan individual garden beds.

Online Garden Planners That Recently Caught Our Attention

Here are two more free garden planners that have impressed us enough to add them to our list.


COST: Free (no strings attached)

Unlike most of the online vegetable garden planners mentioned above, VegPlotter is completely free to use.

There are no limitations to its functionality, features, and design. You’ll just need to sign up and enjoy all the VegPlotter’s goodness completely free of charge.

VegPlotter is a browser-based garden planning tool designed by a U.K. developer with a green thumb and a passion for organic gardening who just wants to help fellow young gardeners with planning their beds, better managing their crops, and keep track of what’s in the garden and what needs to get done on a month by month basis.

PROS: VegPlotter’s user-friendly interface works on a drag-and-drop basis. In fact, the tool is so easy to use that even middle-schoolers now plan and design their vegetable gardens with it.

The tool takes a month-by-month approach, but you can instruct it to plan a vegetable garden years ahead.

Also, you can use the VegPlotter to predict when is the right time to sow, harvest, or complete other gardening tasks. The main idea behind this planner is to help users never forget what they need to plant and when they need to do it.

Another plus of the app is its generous database of plants and the thoroughly researched “GrowGuides” for each type of plant.

There is even a reminder for gardeners who plan to use crop rotations, as VegPlotter will remind them when a crop rotation is complete. There are many other useful features (hardscapes come to mind) in this garden planner, but the biggest bonus is that it is completely free.

You can, however, help the team keep the servers running by making a small donation. It is worth noting that all that data that gets saved on their website needs to be stored on real, physical servers.

CONS: The only downside we could find is that you need to register to use the tool. However, the step is absolutely necessary if you want to save your work and resume the garden planning later on.

Who will best use it? Both beginner and advanced gardeners who want a no-fuss interactive garden planner to help them keep track of what needs to get done or what has already been done in their gardens so that they have more time to enjoy life.

Vegetable Growing Cheatsheet

COST: Free

The Vegetable Growing Cheatsheet by Anglican Home made an online debut as a simple by comprehensive guide for home gardeners to growing the most popular vegetables in a specific area.

But after its huge online success, it was turned into an interactive tool that you can now personalize as you want.

PROS: No registration is required to get access to all the vegetable garden planner’s features and painstakingly detailed info.

Upon accessing the interactive tool, you’ll be asked to pick between three locations (the U.K., the U.S., and Australia) and one of the five types of climates listed by the tool (including temperate, dry/hot, and dry/cool).

You’ll also be asked to choose between various styles of gardening from indoors and greenhouse to patio gardening and plot gardening to learn the best time to plant seeds (marked with green) and the optimal time for harvest (marked with brown).

There are various types of vegetables, legumes, and cereals that you can choose from. Fruits are also on the list, but don’t imagine fruit trees the cheatsheet contains “fruits” that most of us routinely mistake for vegetables, such as tomatoes, zucchini, squash, and cucumbers).

The tool also offers critical information for each type of plant to thrive, including best spacing, direct sunlight or not, time of germination, days to maturation, and more.

But one of the handiest features is the so-called Companion Planting Guide, which shows which plants can make best friends to get the best out of small-space gardens and help deter pests in a completely natural way.

Beside the interactive, personalized tool, which you can access here, you can download the original Vegetable Growing Cheatsheet here.

CONS: The cheatsheet is largely applicable only to gardens in the US, UK, And Australia, but if you are a seasoned gardener you can tailor this garden planner to your exact location’s climate even if it’s outside the said regions.

The tool is purely informative. You don’t have reminders and the possibility to design your garden and plan your plots and beds from scratch as you do with the other tools on our list.

Who will best use it? Beginner gardeners could make a good use of this tool, with the personalized Growing Guide and the Companion Planting Guide being two particularly helpful features.

One More Idea: If you really enjoy paper instead of an online tool, try this downloadable planner from Schneider Peeps. It’s only $12.95

And these are some fun-looking planners available on Amazon today (affiliate links). What garden planners do you use? Share your planning ideas in the comments below.

How to Tweak Your Square Foot Garden for Success

So, how can you benefit from the helpful aspects of square foot gardening while modifying the approach to fit your needs? Try one of these ideas:

Mix and match. Choose multiple plant types from the same category to give you more flexibility over what to grow in the space you have. For example, instead of planting a square with 4 lettuces, plant 2 lettuce plants and 2 marigolds, which not only attract pollinators but also add a pretty accent to the garden. Or, since you can fit 4 strawberry or 4 basil plants in one square foot, combine 2 of each of the plants in each of the outermost squares to create a lovely edible border around the inside perimeter of the bed.

Think small. Rather than planting a large tomato plant that would require more nutrients and water than are available in a single square foot, choose a smaller dwarf or bush variety, like Better Bush, that can flourish in less space.

Grow up. Adding a trellis to your square foot garden is a perfect way to increase available growing space and vines off the ground. Do this for peas, pole beans, cucumbers, melons, and squash. The easiest way is to attach the trellis to the back of the bed and use the back row of squares for the plants to be trellised.

So, no matter whether you appreciate a highly-organized planting plan for your raised bed or prefer a tad more creative approach, a little tweaking to the square foot gardening approach, plus some extra attention when it comes to watering and feeding, can lead to an impressive harvest. Enjoy your planning and planting!

Article and images by Julie Thompson-Adolf.

Using Mulch in a Square Foot Garden

Square foot gardening is a system of gardening for a small or confined space that was developed by Mel Bartholomew and involves using 4 by 4-foot planting plots that are then divided into 1-foot square sections for growing a variety of different vegetables. Square foot gardening is widely considered to be one of the easiest ways to grow vegetables in a confined space and makes it easy for even beginning vegetable gardeners to grow all types of healthy and delicious vegetables. This article will address the ways mulch is used with square foot gardening methods.

Mulching in Square Foot Gardening

As with any other type of gardening, using mulch square foot garden is done to retain moisture in the soil, help protect the root systems of plants and prevent weeds. Using good quality mulch in square-foot gardens will allow you to water your vegetables less and will result in much fewer incidents of wilting and more vigorous growth. Using mulch in square-foot gardens is particularly beneficial if you live in hot and humid areas of the country or need to leave your vegetables unattended for relatively long periods of time.

Although using mulch in any type of garden is always a good idea, the amount of mulch needed in your square foot garden will usually depend upon the watering method that you employ. Many experienced square foot gardeners choose to use soaker hoses or other slow-drip irrigation systems. With this type of watering, you will not need as much mulch as you would if you simply watered with a spray nozzle or water can.

Types of Mulch for Square Foot Gardens

When choosing mulch for your square foot garden, there are many choices available. However, you should always opt for some type of organic mulch rather than types of mulch that don’t break down or degrade as easily. Popular mulches for square foot gardens include: hay or straw, grass clippings, coconut coir, coffee or tea grounds and even dead leaves. Almost any organic material you can think of will work well as mulch in your square-foot gardens and will keep your keep the soil moist and help to prevent weeds as well.

Other Mulch Considerations

While there are many materials you can use as mulch for your square-foot garden, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind. For instance, regardless of the type of mulch you choose, you should always choose mulch that breaks down well and will have the added benefit of acting as a natural fertilizer to your square foot garden vegetables. Also, there are particular types of mulch that work with certain varieties of garden vegetables better than others. If you’re unsure of what type of mulch to use for particular vegetables in your area, you should visit the Internet and search for information on square foot gardening mulches.

Square foot gardening has become very popular, and there are many websites that give many excellent tips on square foot gardening methods and practices. Use your favorite search engine to search for square foot gardening tips, and you will find hundreds of relevant link choices.


Square Foot Gardening Mistakes – our favorite method of managing a garden in a small suburban landscape. But we did make a few mistakes along the way. Learn from our mistakes before you tackle your garden!

The premise is to build a gardening box (in square or rectangle), put down a barrier, build a box, fill it with ‘dirt’, and plant. It’s based on a grid formula that gives you a square foot of planting space in each grid. Whether you build a rectangle or square, you’re using the most of the gardening space for your planting (as opposed to creating a large row-driven garden which isn’t really feasible in small spaces).

Note: While we love this method of planting, we don’t love Mel’s soil mixture as we don’t support the use of peat moss. Firstly, because of how it’s mined and secondly because it’s actually antimicrobial and can kill off the beneficial microbes that you’ve worked so hard to maintain. We use coconut coir, instead. Our #1 rule is to feed the soil. Healthy soil brings healthy gardens and plants. Here are some other alternatives for you.

Here’s Mel Bartholomew, the creator of the Square Foot Gardening Method, with an introduction:

You can read more about his method here.

Our First Square Foot Gardening Bed

When we first began gardening, we were already going in the direction of square foot gardening in our thinking, we just didn’t know it. We knew we couldn’t plant rows and rows of space without taking up our entire yard. We weren’t interested, back then, in planting corn and wheat and other row crops, and we certainly weren’t going to be harvesting with large equipment, nor were we going to have teams of planters and pickers to help. We wanted a small garden space to grow what was basically going to be a lasagna garden for us: tomatoes, peppers, herbs, green beans, and a few more things.

But because we hadn’t discovered that there might be a better way of doing what we really were looking for, we made a few mistakes along the way and wanted you to learn them before you tackled this project yourself.

Mistake #1: We dug up a spot in our yard.

We didn’t build up our square foot gardening area. We went down. (Imagine this space without the wood on the edge. I never took a photo of the original area, but this is the same space, 2 years later as we were celebrating a version of National Naked Gardening Day and rebuilding our bed. What we did do was take our garden soil, mix it with new amendments and had more great soil to add in. There’s just a problem doing this. It’s hard. And unnecessary. And if you have grass that creeps as we do, you spend so much time just keeping the grass out of the bed because there’s no barrier. Go up.

Mistake #2-4: We positioned it badly

#2. We put our square foot gardening area too close to the fence. We couldn’t use the Weedeater in this space, hand pulling was fine when a child did it, but it was hard for me to get in there and do it. Once the crops got tall enough, it was next to impossible to maintain the growing weeds, the invasive vine that’s all over our property, and just keep it all from growing into the bed.

#3 We also ran the bed parallel to the fence. In hindsight, we should’ve done a vertical bed, and had room for a 2nd bed in not much more space than it takes up now. There would also be twice the space in this area to plant. While this size bed is great for square foot gardening, sometimes harvesting from the back was not the easiest, though not impossible. It just could have been positioned much better.

#4. We didn’t put down a weed barrier outside of the bed. It would have been better had we done some kind of formal weed/grass barrier behind it, with weed cloth and mulch or other covering. It would have saved us a ton of time and exertion in trying to keep that stuff cut.

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Mistake #5: Use better materials

Granted, we did this with the least amount of money we could possibly do it with. We also had some old 2×4’s in the garage, we used those to create the frame for the bed. They just don’t last. This is the biggest reason why we dug the bed up from the first photo – the frame had rotted away in a couple of places after just two years and was useless. Use cedar. It’s not that expensive if you follow this advice on how to get it for cheap. There are other materials you can get, but cedar and helps repel some bugs!

*(and because people will ask – the white stuff is sugar. We didn’t have any dry molasses, and sugar is a good substitute if you don’t. The idea is that the sugar helps feed the good microbes in the soil. They multiply and create all sorts of organic matter, and are good to keep the area healthy, and when they die, they become good organic matter. This all creates awesome soil and feeds the plants. But as you’ll see further down, we made another mistake that made this virtually useless for the first two years or so.)

Mistake #6: Don’t overdo your barrier

Again, because we were trying to do this cheaply, we didn’t want to go the weed cloth route. One because we’d read that it may not help that much, especially with the invasive vine we deal with. And because we were trying to keep this as low cost as we could, we opted to go with the cardboard box route. We still use it when building new beds. We like it.

The only problem comes when you use cardboard that is layered too thick or you use cardboard that has been printed on one side fully, like many of the product boxes you can buy in the store. You want plain cardboard with a very little coating on it. Why? Because you’re preventing water from draining properly, so you end up with a wet and soggy mess that doesn’t drain. This invites disease and bugs and leaves you with a garden that may not produce well. Maybe in a drought-ridden area that might be a good thing to help keep moisture in longer, but for the most part, it just causes your roots to rot, your plants to turn yellow and sickly and not produce, and the bugs to invade.

In our case, we used too much cardboard hoping to keep out the vine. And it worked. But it almost ruined our garden in the process. Sometimes less really is more.

• Read more – Release the Ladybugs for Aphid Control

Mistake #7: We didn’t build in drip irrigation

We live in an area that has been on drought alert for years. So watering our garden always felt like we were doing something horribly wrong, even though we hadn’t quite reached the level of “do not water your garden.” Hand-watering is fine, but at dawn or at dusk, I wasn’t a fan of standing out in the yard as a tasty meal for the mosquitoes while I watered. And while we used those cute little circle watering devices, it didn’t always reach the whole area of the garden and NOT water the grass/weeds/vine behind it that we didn’t want to water. The good thing about it is that it was easy to move and took up very little space, and we could turn it on low and it worked almost like a drip sprinkler, though only in a smaller area.

Built-in drip irrigation with a soaker hose (like this one we use now) OR one of those cool PVC frames would’ve been a great addition to the garden the first year. Even all these years later, we still haven’t done it. This tutorial by Rick from Stoney Acres is a great walkthrough on how to build your own PVC watering system, which works really well for those of you with larger garden spaces, and you can configure it any way you need to.

And remember, a timer is really helpful in not over watering your yard. A lot of times people forget to turn the water off because they couldn’t hear it in the house because it’s not running full blast as with traditional watering.

Credit: Hoggar @ Square Foot Gardening Forum.

Or even better Rick has made a 1 1/2 hour video course giving you step by step instructions on how to build a PVC drip system. for more information about the class!

What We’ve Learned from our Square Foot Gardening Mistakes

1. Create smaller beds that are easier to maintain in tight spaces. The next beds going up will be perpendicular to the fence line so we can get more plants in.

2. Build UP! We have fixed that problem, and are even coming up with a new version this year that we want to test out (more on that later).

3. Use the cardboard method we tried, but just use less of it! You want it to be gone after a while to help use that good soil you’ve created underneath, too.

4. If you’re not going to dig up the whole area, use some sort of mulch to line the spaces between your beds. You’ll thank me for it later, I promise! We use cardboard and mulch.

5. Read everything you can about Square Foot Gardening so that you can do a better job next time.

Resources you might find handy

    • Mel Bartholomew’s
    • Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening Book – WELL worth the investment – or check it out from your library!
    • Weed cloth
    • Flat soaker hose
    • Learn to get lumber for less!
    • Learn to build a PVC watering frame from Stoney Acres Farm

YOUR THOUGHTS: What have been some of your greatest gardening blunders or lessons learned?

Get even more gardening ideas here:

I love helping people feel more at ease about their preparedness. Preparedness doesn’t have to overwhelming, scary, or about an upcoming doomsday. Simple everyday preparations can put your mind at ease and help you out in a sticky situation.


Square-Foot Garden

A square-foot garden is an easily managed, low maintenance type of raised bed that is an alternative to traditional row-gardens. They are perfect for gardeners with little space or for beginning gardeners.

Gardening with raised beds has many advantages, such as the ability to plant in areas with poor drainage. The smaller size of the square-foot gardens also makes garden chores more amenable.


The layout of a square-foot garden usually consists of at least one four feet by four feet planting box with six to eight inch tall sides. If the square-foot garden is for children, then the beds should be three feet by three feet. Beds larger than four feet wide can be difficult to access from the side for weeding, planting and harvesting. Many different materials are available for constructing the box—cedar boards and synthetic wood are both popular options that are generally available at a local hardware store. If several beds are being used, a three foot aisle between them is recommended.


A mixture of good quality potting mix and compost, or other organic material, is best for raised beds. Before the mixture of growing media is added, the bottom of the bed should be lined with landscape fabric. Mixture of growing media should be filled to the top of the sides and leveled without compacting.

Square Grids

After the soil is mixed and added, make a square-foot grid on top of the raised bed. This can be done by laying down sticks or strips of wood or by stringing twine across the bed’s frame. The grid should divide the box into one foot by one foot squares for a total of sixteen squares in a four feet by four feet planting box.

The small squares created by the grid are used instead of rows for dividing planting areas. A different flower, vegetable or herb should be planted in each square.


Plants are placed closer together in raised beds. This intensive gardening increases the vegetable yield per square foot. The closer spacing also enhances weed control since the dense canopy shades out weeds. The idea is to have the plants close enough to just touch but not to compete with one another.

Most of the time there will be room for only one plant in each square, but sometimes there is room for more. Sixteen carrots or onions or four leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, or chard can fit in one square foot.

Specific information on plant selection for climate areas and growing seasons can be found at any county Extension office and in our vegetable gardening guide.


Raised bed garden have increased drainage, so it is important to provide adequate irrigation, especially in the winter. Water in the mornings to prevent quick evaporation and disease, which can occur when you water in the heat of the day or in the evening. Winter-grown vegetables should receive a total of one to two inches of water per week from rainfall and irrigation combined. It may be useful to install a basic rain gauge near the garden.

Square-foot gardens provide a great opportunity to implement a simple irrigation system such as a soaker hose or drip tape, although a hand-held watering can will be fine as well.


Mulching the square-foot garden is helpful in retaining soil moisture and suppressing weeds. Add mulch after the seeds have germinated and the plant is three to four inches tall. Organic mulches enrich the soil as the mulch decomposes, improving soil structure and slowly releasing nutrients. Mulch should be maintained at a depth of two to three inches but should not touch the plant stems. As mulch decomposes, it should be replenished.


As soon as a crop is harvested from one square foot, follow these simple steps:

  1. Add a trowel full of compost to the square.
  2. Turn the soil over.
  3. Level out the soil.
  4. Replant a new crop.

For questions about growing vegetables, garden pests and diseases, and more, contact your local Extension agent.

Full-width photo by Edmund Thralls from UF/IFAS Extension Orange County.

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