Multifamily projects are abundant across the Charlotte region… there isn’t a part of town without townhomes or apartments. Chances are there are more units in development or under construction somewhere in town right now. It’s a side effect of our growing city.

These small spaces pose an issue for people who want a maintenance-free lifestyle, but would still like to take advantage of this area’s Spring growing season.

Spring in the Carolinas is spectacular. The trees are full, the flowers are in bloom, and there is still a little chill at night. There’s something about it that makes us want to drive to the nearest nursery for a trunk full of seedlings. “This year,” you say to yourself, “this year I’m going to have an amazing garden.”

Whether you have a green thumb or you’re just plain green when it comes to gardening, there is a technique that is nearly fool-proof for smaller spaces and one of our agents, Matt Edwards suggested we tell you about it. Several 5 Points agents love to garden. We featured some in a gardening series on this blog. The best part is this style of gardening works on a townhouse patio just as well as it does on a stately estate.

Square Foot Gardening

A retired engineer named Mel Bartholomew came up with the Square Foot Gardening method in the 1970s. Instead of planting in the ground, you use a raised box and divide it into one square foot sections. Your garden can be as big or as small as you want, which makes it ideal for small spaces.

Instead of planting in rows, you use each square for a different crop. A square growing one cabbage could be right next to another square growing 16 radishes. The most common size square foot garden is four by four but it could be as small as two by two or even one square foot.

Mel used his engineering mindset in his gardening approach. He noticed that many gardeners spent hours weeding the empty areas between crops. That’s why he developed the square method, less empty space means less space for weeds. It’s also fairly simple, so it’s great for beginners. There’s also no digging involved.

Ready, set, go!

Let’s walk through the basic steps of creating a square foot garden.

  1. Build (or buy) a box. If you use wood, make sure it is untreated, at least the side that touches the soil. You can also use bricks, cement blocks or upcycled plastic. Make sure to put a weed mat down on the bottom so you don’t get pesky weeks popping up.
  2. Fill the box with 6-12” of Mel’s Mix. Square foot gardeners say this is critical to success. It’s three equal parts: coarse grade vermiculite (a mineral), sphagnum peat moss, and blended organic compost. Lost? Don’t worry. You can find this stuff at your local nursery. 
  3. Mark off your grid. You can use small strips of wood, twine, whatever works. 

Now comes the fun part

It’s time to pick your plants. There are so many helpful hints and suggested grids online. Make sure the plants you pick like each other. There’s a guide to companion planting here. Pay close attention to the seed packaging or the info on seedlings – how much space does your crop need? For example, in one square, you can plant 16 carrots, or you can plant one eggplant. Each square can hold one, four, nine or 16 plants depending on size.

The bottom line is no matter how much space you have, you can have a vegetable garden. The Farmer’s Almanac has a short video that walks you through the basics of square foot gardening. 


If you give it a try send us a picture at We’ll show Matt.