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May 14, 2013 05:01 PM

Spacing plants in a raised-bed garden

We live in a fairly wooded area and until now my gardening has been limited to planting a few herbs in boxes on my deck. Since the deck does get a fair amount of sun, I decided to buy a 2' x 4' raised bed. In trying to decide what and how much to plant in my 8 square feet, I did some Googling and found, on the Williams-Sonoma website, a series of charts referred to as "Plant-a-Grams" for raised beds.

The thing that surprises me about these planting charts is the number of plants that are suggested. For example, in one square foot of a "Culinary Herb Garden, according to the chart, one can plant 4 thyme plants, or 3 verbena, or 4 fernleaf dill or 3 basil plants. Similarly, in one square foot of a "Beginner's Vegetable Garden" you can plant 2 Jalepeno pepper plants, or 3 Rosa Bianca Eggplant, or 4 Italian Flat Leaf Parsley or 1 Black Krim Tomato plant. Before seeing this chart, I didn't even consider that I could plant tomatoes in this bed.

Now, admittedly, I am not a gardener; I would normally space plants according to the recommendations on the tag that comes in the pot. I'd really appreciate some feedbackon this plant spacing from anyone who has done raised-bed gardening. Thanks!

EDIT: Sorry about the image; it's too small to be legible.

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  1. Yep - this is a riff on Square Foot Gardening (which is worth a read, even if you don't drink the kool-aid on the soil mix)

    You don't have to leave paths in a raised bed, so there's no soil things can be far cozier than they'd be in row plantings.

    Here's a website that will do it for free: http://www.vegetable-gardening-online...

    1 Reply
    1. re: sunshine842

      Thanks!!! I had no idea about square foot gardening, and I've reserved the book at my local library.

    2. For bigger stuff it does sort of depend on how deep your box is. I have raised beds on the ground, so i amend/ work the soil to much deeper than just the box.
      Anything will grow as long as it gets enough sun and water, but it may not thrive in what is presumably a shallowish depth box with a bottom...?
      I have been more or less using the square foot/intensely planted method for several years. It's really no different.

      1 Reply
      1. re: splatgirl

        The depth of the soil is about 7". Most of my plants will be herbs, which I'm sure will be fine in the box because I've planted them in small-ish pots in the past. I'm also going to try a Jalepeno pepper plant and see how that does. I'm more concerned about the amount of sun the plants will get than the depth of the soil.

      2. 7" is fine for herbs, and their herb garden plant-a-gram looks reasonable.

        Having used raised beds for many years, I do have some problems with their other recommendations.
        Putting 1 tomato every foot will result in the vines all tangling together, especially if they are indeterminate types. Instead, put 1 tomato im a 4x4 ft box, train it vertically and fill the other squares with other plants. For determinate tomato plants, it is possible to put 2 in opposite corners. You might get by with 4 of the new dwarf tomatoes in the corners. They do mention cages which allow bigger plants than if you prune to a pole, but an 18" diameter cage (a reasonable size) will take up more than 1 square foot.

        Peas do better on a trellis, so I usually plant them along a fence where I will plant tomatoes later. 4 lettuce plants per square is about the closest I would plant them. I've also grown Orach and Kale in raised beds (1 plant per sq. ft.)

        Beans and cukes also do better on a trellis or fence, so if you must do them in a raised garden, put them in the outside squares and train them vertically. 3 eggplants per square also seems too close, and again I like to train them vertically to save space.

        Putting Mint in a raised garden is an invitation to disaster. They spread like mad. Put them in a container instead.

        If you get the Square-Foot gardening book, the 2d edition revises the author's original recommendations a bit. Be sure to read what he recommends for a planting mix to fill the bed.

        1 Reply
        1. re: DonShirer

          I followed the 2nd SFG book, and my best harvest of tomatoes ever in my life came from planting tomatoes two per square foot (one in opposite corners) and training them on spiral stakes. I had eight plants in total and made sauce, salsa, ate tomatoes out of hand, and gave away enough to keep all our friends happy.

          Peas go four per square per the book, and are trained on a pyramid made of four bamboo stakes.

          Lettuce goes nine per square (again per the book) -- and can be harvested seemingly forever by clipping only the outer leaves.

          The 2nd edition recommendations call for peat - which many folks take issue with because of depletion of resources... and I can tell you from experience that if you are having dry weather, the mix will dry out and suck the life out of everything you planted -- no matter how much you water (I was watering heavily twice a day, and stuff just ended up crispy.)

          Other friends in Missouri and Texas had the identical problems.

          Not sure how I'll alter it for Florida (9b), but I loved the small footprint and easy I'll keep gardening raised-bed, but will be tweaking the mix.

        2. Great helpful forum I visit once in awhile:

          Good spacing chart:

          I have 2 square foot beds, much easier than in the ground gardening, it's helpful to prune the suckers off the tomatoes, they take up less space


          1. Hi Cindy,
            I want to plant rosemary, sage, oregano, garlic, and thyme in a 4x4 bed. I was wondering how many plants for each herb, with the exception of rosemary(just one) should i plant. i'm also going to plant cilantro and basil but will put them in a shadier area. the 4x4 is in direct sun.
            thank you, Michelle

            2 Replies
            1. re: michellewoolet

              I'm not Cindy, but I can tell you that rosemary and thyme will get pretty big and will need to be trimmed back at least once a year. I have bushes up to 4ft tall.

              Oregano will shoot up some stalks, but for the most part it's kind of a "sprawler", and stays mostly low to the ground. It can take up a good amount of space, so keep an eye on it and keep it trimmed.

              Sage, you should be good. It'll get bushy, but I've never had it encroach on other plants space. Bees love it.

              Garlic needs to be planted in the Fall for Spring/Summer harvesting. It takes a number of months for the clove to split into multiples and take on some size. I usually plant mine in October to be harvested around May/June.

              To answer your question as to how many of each?
              Just 1 plant of each should produce plenty for you and family.

              Cilantro and Basil? I would plant at least 3-4 of them. Just harvest a little from each when needed, so you don't knock out a full plant in one go.

              1. re: Novelli

                This year you can plant everything in a 4x4 bed except for the garlic which should have been planted last Sept/Oct. I have a sage plant transplanted in 2008 or 2009 which is taking over the area. I'm going to cut it back AGAIN soon. If you live in an area where rosemary is not winter hardy, please consider putting it in a planter that can go inside in the winter. The creeping thyme I planted same time as the sage is now about 3' square mound. You can plant several of each this year but plan on removing some of the plants as they get larger.

                I think basil might be happier in full sun. 6 plants might be plenty for your family.