Want to know the trick to maximizing planting space like a pro? Just Say No To Rows and learn how to plant your garden. Yep, I said it. Put the hoe down, the tiller away, and stop with the traditional rows. It is the number one mistake home gardeners make! Why? Because it is labor intensive and more importantly, a waste of useful space that you could be growing food or flowers. Plant spacing is key to maximizing your harvest.
There are a number of techniques out there to plant your veggies and flowers in a non-row method. The biggy you will always hear about is ‘Square Foot Gardening’. I have actually checked the book out of the library and read the whole thing. Personally, I think it was a great guide on spacing plants, but I don’t subscribe to his method of soil creation. Peat is just ick to use most of the time. Not to say I haven’t used it from time to time, but I prefer not to do major applications with peat. ANYWHO, I’ll get off my peat soapbox and continue on to the important stuff. How to plant your garden in a meaningful and efficient use of space. This technique works with raised beds or in ground plots!
How to Calculate Plant Spacing
First thing to do is look at the back of your seed packet. You can read in detail about what you are looking for in my other post Seed Packet 101. Find the information about plant spacing. Ignore the row spacing. I saw you looking at the row spacing! Stop that right now :)
Have you found your number? It could range anywhere from 3″-24″ (3-60 cm) or more! You are going to take that number and divide it in half and place it like spokes on a wheel around your plant. So an eggplant that needs 24 inches would get planted with 12 inches on all sides. I tend to visualize a circle around the plant. Then just lay those circles out in a grid form. Yes, it is that easy!
BUT Wait! There’s More! (Infomercial voice)
There are a couple of things you need to think about before you start planting away. How to weed and how to harvest. Weeds are a fact of gardening life; if you use the above planting method they will be much lighter than traditional rows, but occasionally you are going to need to reach down and pull one out. So guess what that means? Your 6ft X 6ft (2m X 2m) bed? Yeah… You are barely going to be able to reach in the middle. (And yes, I might just have one of those). This is the reason you often see raised beds in 3ft increments. That is the usual distance a human can easily reach from one side. Let us pretend that you ended up with zero weeds again you will need to think about being able to reach and harvest your glorious tomatoes and plots of thick spinach. No one likes that smell of rotting squash in the middle of the patch. Yuck! (sometimes I have been known to get lazy on the harvesting)
Perhaps you have a traditional row garden plot. NO WORRIES! You can still use the same space. Divide the area into three foot sections and leave 2-3 ft (1m) pathways between the planting sections. Bonus points if you throw mulch on the pathways to keep yourself from having to weed and hoe the compacted garden paths. BTW, if you noticed I mentioned not tilling at the beginning. Once you have your happy soil you won’t need to be digging these beds and pathways up all the time. I get into more detail on establishing your soil and beds in other posts.
Grid It Out
Let us assume we have a prepared planting soil/space and we know how much space our plants need. The easiest process is to start plunking those puppies in a nice straight grid. Of course this is assuming you have vegetable or flower starts ready to go. Frankly, I plant a lot of veggies and flowers straight from seed into the ground. It gets a little trickier here to get good germination and clear spacing. Frankly, I am willing to waste a bit of seed, especially when it comes to tiny ones like carrots or cabbage. I am just too lazy to carefully plant out 2-3 seeds in each grid space. So I make mini-rows spaced correctly from each other and lightly spread seed down them. Then I just go back and thin the rows by cutting off the un-needed seedlings when they get 2-3 inches high. So why are we planting like this? We can get so many more vegetables in a smaller space. Let us use an example because we love the maths:
We have a 3 ft by 6ft bed (1m X 2m). We want to plant beets (I am the only one in my house but I freaking LOOOOOVVVVEEE beets) The package says row spacing 12 inches and plant spacing 3 inches.
Standard Row Planting: 72 beets (3 rows of 24 beets)
Grid Planting: 288 beets (plant 12 across and 24 down. Isn’t that number beet-uiful?!)
The thing about numbers is they don’t usually lie. I used to say never and then I worked in Business Intelligence and saw how people massage numbers… But for gardening 288 beets sounds a lot better than 72, well, if you like beets. Additional bonus from planting in this grid method? Whenever the vegetables get bigger their leaves shade the soil cutting off many weeds and maintaining soil quality from erosion. Less weeds = less weeding!
I learned a technique to completely maximize this planting structure. I have used it before but gotten lazy in the last bit and pretty much default to the grid. I often have too many vegetables to use and end up giving loads away so I no longer plant in an offset method. This technique is part of a full biointensive method of planting that is a lot more complicated and involves things like rood depth etc. I’m not going there, it is hella fun to plan out and do, but it takes a lot of calculation and work. BUT this small portion is easy to adopt: instead of gridding off your plants you can use those circles to offest each plant squeezing just a few more inches into each bed. Additionally you can tuck in plantings to really cram those plants in there. That means if you have plants that need a lot of space like tomatoes, you can tuck in basil along the edges of the plantings. Personally I love to shove a few flowers, especially marigolds, in any extra room I have. It just makes the vegetable patches that much more attractive.
So what have we learned today? STOP the rows and plant your vegetables in a efficient layout. Math is on your side and you can get so many more plants in a small place than you can with traditional row crops. Take a grid or offset method to get lots of veggies, but make sure that you remember to leave room for weeding and harvest.