Learn Why Square Foot Gardening Is Perfect For Flower Beds

chives and nasturtiums in garden

One of the great joys of gardening is growing a wide variety of flowers. Unfortunately, many gardeners find themselves limited by space.

If you’re looking for a way to maximize your flower-growing potential, consider using the square foot gardening method.

Flowers can easily be grown with the square foot gardening method, which seeks to maximize garden space by planting in a grid pattern instead of traditional rows. Choose appropriate flowers that don’t sprawl or have particular needs, and you’ll harvest big yields from your garden. 

By carefully choosing the species of flowers you grow in a square foot garden, you can pick colorful, eye-catching bouquets of your homegrown blooms throughout the seasons while keeping your garden easy to manage.

What Is Square Foot Gardening And How To Get Started?

The square foot gardening method helps make the most of a small growing space. This method involves dividing your garden into one-foot sections and planting different types of flowers in each section.

Square foot gardening is usually done in a raised bed because the soil needs to be fertile, light, and fluffy. Rich soil is the key to success with this type of gardening because the plants are spaced closely together and shouldn’t have to compete for resources such as soil nutrients. 

If you read the original square foot gardening book by Mel Bartholomew, you’ll find the preferred soil recipe to be a mix of compost, vermiculite, and peat moss. This is a great recipe, or you can use regular garden soil mixed with high-quality compost to build a healthy planting mix. 

Most gardeners make a 4-foot-by-4-foot plot. This size is highly efficient because you can easily reach every part of the garden without walking down rows or stepping over certain plants to get to others. Weeding and watering are so much easier when all the plants are easy to access. 

You can use a string to mark out an actual grid of 1-foot-by-1-foot squares, or you can drag your finger through the soil to get a rough outline. Each square is planted with anywhere from one to several plants, depending on how big the flower will get. I’ll give you some spacing recommendations shortly!

For a walkthrough of setting up a new bed, check out this video from The Gardening Channel With James Prigioni:

This video is perfect for those who like to see the whole process, not just read about it.

Can you grow flowers in a square foot garden?

Using the square foot garden method is easy to grow annuals, perennials, and bulbs as cut flowers. The intensive spacing means you can fit many plants per bed, and if you plan correctly, you can grow all three elements of a cut bouquet together: focal flowers, filler, and foliage. 

Here are a few tips to make planning your garden bed as successful as possible:

  • Plant tall flower varieties on the back or side of the bed. Sunflowers, foxgloves, and giant zinnias will all shade out smaller plants, so keep them at the edge of the bed. 
  • Stakes and trellises attached to the side of the bed will help keep taller plants upright and prevent them from falling over onto other flowers. 
  • Choose one side of the bed as the “front” and plant shorter flowers such as calendulas, marigolds, or snapdragons. 
  • Keep all your flowers well harvested and deadheaded to avoid becoming too large for their space. 

Generally, the best cut flowers to grow in a square foot raised bed are annuals and perennials with tall, upright growth. Sprawling or very large plants will take up a lot of space and make it harder to plant the raised bed intensively. 

A few planning tips

Bulbs, corms, and rhizomes are another excellent option for raised beds, but keep in mind that even after the flowers and foliage die back, you’ll need to leave the roots in the ground for a while longer so the plant can store enough energy for the following year.

If you don’t want to sacrifice the space for this, you can either plant your bulbs in a separate bed or try mixing some annual flowers in among the dying foliage to

If you’re unsure which are the best flowers to grow or you have limited space, grow the ones you genuinely love. Think about the last time you bought yourself flowers or admired someone else’s garden and replicate the flower selection for your own garden bed. 

Flower selection for a square foot garden

Various textures, colors, and plant heights will make for a very dynamic garden bed and make it easy to harvest everything you need for a bouquet in one pass.

Plant a good combination of annuals and perennials. Perennials keep flowering year after year but have a shorter flowering period, whereas annuals will die after a single season, but they flower for much longer. 

Some perennials will spread and slowly creep into their neighbor’s space, while others will remain tidy. If your flowers are spreading too much, divide them and replant the divisions elsewhere in the garden or give them away.

Spacing considerations for a square foot garden

Using the square foot gardening method, you can grow many plants in a small space. The key is carefully considering spacing when you’re planting so that your flowers have room to mature without crowding each other out. 

For example, if you’re planting annual flowers that will only bloom for a few weeks or months, you can grow them closer together. If you’re planting perennials that will come back year after year, give them a little more room to spread.

Some flower varieties will need a whole square foot for one plant, while others can fit in a few more. Large plants like dahlias and cosmos will need more than one square foot. Here are a few guidelines for spacing.

1 flower/2 sq. feet1 flower/sq. foot2 flowers/sq. foot3 flowers/sq. foot
DahliaCosmosZinniaSweet pea
Branching
sunflower
FoxgloveCalendulaSnapdragon
CosmosBlack eyed SusanMarigoldFeverfew
Bush nasturtiumConeflowerPoppyPansy
Dwarf sunflowerSageSalvia
Daisy

Choose a variety of flower appearances

A good balance of annuals and perennials ensures that you have a steady supply of blooms throughout spring, summer, and fall and that you can experiment with your flower arrangements. 

In a small cutting garden, grow species that produce many flowers on a single plant, and go for species with flowers that last long in a vase. It is essential to be efficient with space, so grow plants with a compact, upright growth form rather than a sprawling one. 

Vary the bloom time

Choose a balance of flowers that will bloom at different times. Early, cool-season bloomers include dianthus, snapdragons, petunias, and pansies. In the summer, the stars of the show will be heat-loving flowers like cosmos, salvia, coneflowers, marigolds, or lemon verbena.

Start from seed or buy seedlings

Another important consideration, especially if you are new to gardening, is how easy plants are to grow from seed. Growing flowers from seeds are the most cost-effective way of gardening, so choose species that germinate easily and are fuss-free to care for. 

If you prefer to get everything planted out at once and avoid the wait to see what will germinate or not, take a trip to your local nursery or hardware store and fill your cart with flower seedlings. Though more expensive, the nice thing about starting with transplants is that it makes spacing out your flowers so easy.

Benefits of growing cut flowers with square foot gardening

  • Grow a large variety of flowers in minimal space – up to 16 different species in just a 4-foot-by-4-foot bed! 
  • Dense planting leads to fewer weeds as the flowers shade out weed seeds.
  • The shaded soil will need to be watered less frequently.
  • Your flower garden will be easy to water, weed, and maintain because of its space-efficient design. This is great if your kids enjoy helping in the garden. 
  • Square foot gardening is a cost-effective and efficient way to grow your own flowers for inside your home. 
  • Perfect for the beginner cut flower gardener to get started with a small space.
  • Avoid being overwhelmed by the planning process. 

Angela from Growing in the Garden has a super video explaining why she loves using the square foot gardening method in her Arizona garden:

YouTube channel Growing in the Garden gives you plenty of chance to see square foot gardening in action!

What Flowers To Grow In A Square Foot Cutting Garden?

On to the flower selection! You can stick with all annuals for a super easy start each year, or mix in a few perennials or bulbs to have some lower-maintenance flowers. Play around and find the right combination for you!

Annuals

The following annuals are an excellent choice for a small but productive cutting garden. Annuals will get you flowers in the shortest amount of time, as quickly as two months after planting. 

  • Ageratum – in shades of pastel blue, pink, lavender, and white, these little pom-pom flowers are easy to grow and look beautiful amongst other flowers. Ageratum has a nice and compact growth form, making it perfect for growing in a square foot garden. 
  • Calendula – this multi-purpose flower is not only beautiful, but it is also edible and has medicinal properties. Calendula comes in shades of orange and yellow and is one of the easiest annual flowers to grow from seed.
  • Dianthus – a classic species of cut flower, carnations, pinks, and Sweet Williams have a long flowering season and add fragrance to bouquets. They are cool-weather flowers, so growing them close to a taller plant will help keep them cool in the shade.
  • Feverfew – this pretty daisy-like flower is a great addition to bouquets and looks charming in the garden. The plant will spread a little, forming a mound of flowers but it won’t invade the rest of the bed.
  • Marigold – these cheerful and bright flowers are available in a wide range of colors, including yellow, gold, orange, and red. Marigolds are tough and resilient, making them ideal for hot and humid climates. They also have the added benefit of deterring pests from other plants in your garden. 
  • Pansies – these little flowers are one of the first to bloom in spring and will continue flowering until the first frost. Pansies are available in a wide range of colors, and some varieties have long stems that are perfect for cutting a small posey of flowers.
  • Phlox – these gorgeous-smelling summer flowers come in many different colors and are great for growing in a cutting garden. Choose a tall, upright-growing cultivar, as more sprawling varieties are not optimal for a square foot garden. 
  • Poppies – Shirley poppies, Iceland poppies, and California poppies are easy-to-grow annuals that make lovely cut flowers. One poppy plant can produce many flowers during a season – perfect for a cutting garden.
  • Snapdragons – these dramatic spires of flowers make an excellent addition to any bouquet. They grow well near tall flowers because, as cool-weather flowers, snapdragons need some shade. 
  • Sunflowers – make sure to choose dwarf or single-stem sunflowers, as branching varieties will quickly outgrow their space. Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and are low-maintenance plants – perfect for beginner gardeners. 
  • Sweet peas – not only are they gorgeous and flower prolifically, but they also come in many different colors, and the blooms have a deliciously sweet aroma. These are an excellent option for the edge of the bed where they can grow up a vertical trellis.
  • Zinnias – are super-easy to cultivate; these colorful flowers add brightness and zest to floral arrangements. One zinnia plant produces lots of blooms. They have long, straight stems, making them great cut flowers. Choose a smaller variety such as the Oklahoma series or Jazzy to avoid overcrowding other plants.

Perennials

Perennial flowers are an excellent choice for the square foot cutting garden as they will come back year after year with very little maintenance.

  • Black eyed Susan – these black and yellow flowers grow easily, and if you keep cutting them back regularly to fill your vase, you can keep the plant small enough to fit in a square foot garden.
  • Delphinium – these flowers are superb for small flower gardens because they have an upright growth, perfect for the bed edge. Their long, straight stems with lots of little flowers look fantastic in a vase. Depending on their height, they may require staking, as their stems are hollow. 
  • Foxglove – these tall plants produce flowering spikes with masses of intricately patterned blooms. They add interest to flower gardens and floral arrangements alike. 
  • Purple coneflower – growing 2 to 5 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide, these plants are at the larger end of what can work in a square foot cutting garden. However, if you take cuttings often and prune the plant to keep it in shape, you can enjoy these gorgeous spiky flowers in floral arrangements and the garden.
  • Lupines – these flowers help the flowers around them to grow by fixing nitrogen in the soil, making it available to other plants. With their upright growth habit, they are perfect for a square foot flower garden and make a striking cut flower.
  • Sage – this plant is most often grown as a culinary herb, but the long purple flowering spikes look charming in a bouquet. Sage is very easy to grow and does well in a confined space if you harvest regularly.
  • Shasta daisies – classic white and yellow daisy flowers are a staple in any flower garden. Shasta daisies will spread out from year to year, so this is one you’ll need to divide regularly.
  • Veronicas – these plants produce tall purple-blue spires of flowers over a long season. At 1-3 feet tall, veronicas are great for adding height to a flower garden, and their long, straight stems make fantastic cut flowers. You’ll probably need to find these flowers as transplants, as they’re fussy to start from seed.

Bulbs, corms, and rhizomes

Some iconic cut flowers grow from bulbs, such as tulips and daffodils. These are perfect flowers to get the earliest blooms in the spring before the rest of the garden wakes up.

  • Tulips – these flowers come in every color imaginable and look fantastic in floral arrangements. In a square foot garden, you can plant these bulbs quite densely to get lots of blooms to fill the vase. Plant 9-12 tulip bulbs per square foot.
  • Daffodils –  these spring-flowering bulbs are easy to grow and will come back yearly with very little maintenance. Plant 8-10 daffodil bulbs per square foot. This is tight spacing for cutting, so if you don’t plan to harvest stems, give them more room.
  • Crocus – these small flowers pack a lot of punch and are one of the earliest blooming bulbs. They make great cut flowers, even if they’re on the short side. Use a small bud vase for any stems you pick. You can fit 9-12 crocus per square foot.
  • Lilies – these plants have an upright growth form, making them ideal for square foot gardening. Lily bulbs are available in an endless range of colors and varieties, so there is ample opportunity to coordinate their color with the other blooms in your cutting garden. Plant one lily per square foot.

More resources

For more on growing raised beds (whether square foot or not), check out this article: Yes, You Can Grow Cut Flowers In Raised Beds!

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