Row gardening is a style of growing vegetables that people have been using for hundreds of years. It is literally a tried and true traditional method of planting crops and comes with the stamp of approval of generations of successful gardeners. Rows are easier to construct, make reaching all plants a breeze, and can even make watering easier and more efficient - but that doesn't mean it can't be improved upon. Today, gardeners don't usually have access to a large garden plot; in fact, many folks make do with a tiny area off a condo patio or even high atop an apartment building. What makes these smaller spaces functional and fruitful? Square foot gardening. Space issues aren't the only reasons to plant by the foot, however. There are numerous square foot gardening benefits too, and here we will discuss both sides, weighing the pros of row gardening against the square foot gardening method. Pros of Square Foot Gardening Amy's viewpoint: First off, a square foot garden is simply a raised box or bed that is divided into squares. The beds can be 2 feet by 2 feet or 4 x 12, but the most common is a bed that is 4 feet by 4 feet. This allows plants to be situated more closely together. The idea of dividing the planting area into squares makes it more efficient than row planting. It also takes much less room, a boon to those with limited garden space. Accessibility. Another advantage to square foot gardening is its accessibility. Raised beds allow those with difficulty bending to access the garden. The smaller footprint also makes it easier to maneuver around and harvest and is less daunting to the novice gardener. With square foot gardening, the soil doesn't compact since you never walk inside the squares and is useful for those with less than ideal soil. It also drains better. Because you are planting in blocks and plants are situated more closely together than those in rows, the higher density planting allows for higher yields. It is also easier to water a blocked planting than a row garden. Fertilizing is also easier and more efficient. Easy maintenance. Another benefit of densely planted square foot gardens is less weeding! The entirety of the garden is dedicated to crops, leaving little room for weeds. Each area of the square foot garden is destined for a specific use. Build trellises at the north end of the bed for vining plants or those you wish to grow vertically, like summer squash or cucumbers, and you can maximize the space even more. Additionally, it is easier to manage and control pests in a square foot garden. Controlling pests and managing irrigation are key ingredients to combating diseases, thus mitigating the need for extraneous insecticides, herbicides and other chemicals. They look good anywhere. Its decorative aspect is yet another benefit to consider. Planting boxes can be bought or built out of many materials and make lovely additions to the landscape. Plus, they don't require digging up a large garden space and yielding the landscape design to a vegetable garden. They can be placed in areas of full sun that a row garden isn't accessible to. A square foot garden can even be planted on a driveway, parking strip or the aforementioned high rise apartment building. Continuous planting. Lastly, raised gardens warm faster, allowing for earlier planting and harvest. The beauty of planting a square foot bed is that you can have a continuous succession of plantings going from the earliest spring through to the latest cool weather crops in the late fall/early winter. As one square has finished producing, plant another crop so there is a continuous profusion of produce to select from, lengthening the growing season for as long as possible. Of course, it goes without saying that a few downsides of square foot planting exist. It is an investment. The construction price or cost to purchase the boxes combined with buying soil and seeds can seem extravagant, but consider this as an initial cost that you will continue to use for years. Unfortunately, a few years are probably all you have until a box needs to be replaced or repaired and the soil needs to be replenished (ideally annually). Also, not all types of vegetables work well in the confined space of square foot boxes. Big crops such as corn, watermelon and potatoes don't always work well in this smaller space. Reasons to Plant by the Foot Mary Ellen's viewpoint: Sure, there is no arguing that a square foot garden does have its share of benefits to the home gardener with little space. That said, there are just as many reasons to plant in rows. Easily reach everything. With a row of plants, you can easily reach each and every one of them. While you can also reach everything in a square plan, you may struggle to get to those in the middle without crushing the outer edge plants. Being able to reach all your plants means you can keep the garden weeded and harvest more easily too. Grow more, harvest more. If you have the space for it, row gardening allows you to plant more and harvest more vegetables. Squares are limited because if they are too big, you can't reach the plants in the middle. You are also limited in the amount of plants/veggies you can grow in the given space. Get good weed cover with wide rows. Row gardening doesn't have to be narrow. Wide rows are especially good for leafy vegetables, like chard and lettuce. These plants grow quickly to produce a covering that blocks the growth of weeds. Flood or drip irrigate. With row gardening, you can make watering easier by installing a hose along each row for drip irrigation, or by using flood irrigation if that is an option in your garden. Either way, you'll water more quickly and thoroughly than is possible with square gardening. Not all vegetables fit in a box. Gardening in rows gives you more space to grow larger vegetables that won't fit neatly in a square or box. As previously mentioned, this includes corn and watermelon, two popular garden crops. How Do Benefits of Planting in Rows Compare to Square Foot Gardening? If you have limited space, square gardening may be right for you. However, given the freedom of space, most gardeners choose rows. Wide rows and narrow rows alike allow for easier and more efficient growing and harvesting of vegetables. Rows in the garden look nice too, and with so many reasons to go for rows, why wouldn't you? Then again, the initial investment of a square foot garden is a worthwhile cost for easier access and harvest of a more environmentally friendly garden. One that works for today's world where space is at a premium and access to foods we trust are grown as cleanly as possible. With a square foot garden, everyone can have their little piece of heaven, one square foot at a time.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.