Square Foot vs Container: Things You Should Know Before Building Your Garden

Gardening has been gathering attention recently as more and more people flex their Instagram-worthy gardens all over social media platforms. Most popular of these are square foot and container gardens.

Square foot gardening is a technique developed by Mel Bartholomew who incorporated his engineering skills and ideas to gardening back in the 1980s. His method includes companion planting, intensive spacing, and maximizing the most yield possible out of the given space. For this gardening approach, people use standard 4 feet by 4 feet (sometimes 4 feet by 8 feet) raise beds divided into squares in a grid-like fashion.

an old wheelbarrow with plants, and a barrel with flowers

On the other hand, container gardening is a method where plants are placed on containers such as pots, tubs, gallons, barrels, basically everything that has drainage holes and can hold and sustain both the soil and the plant.

One can easily determine which is which just by looking at them – a square foot garden primarily features raised beds. Plants are cramped together (in a healthy way). A container garden emphasizes the use of individual containers. Nevertheless, both are perfect space-savers and newbie-friendly gardening techniques.

Deciding as to which is better of the two can be very tricky as both are clever approaches in their own right. For the sake of differentiating the two, let’s break them down.


Aesthetics wise, square foot garden looks decent when you are that type of person who loves simplicity, symmetry, and order. Since your plants are properly designated into a grid, the result will surely satisfy you. But, if you are a person who loves to decorate your patios, staircases, balcony, rooftops, driveways, and all other vacant spaces in your home with greenery, then a container garden is right for you. Square foot gardens are neat and simple, while container gardens are colorful and elaborate.


Square foot garden essentially requires a small space to place the 4×4 raised beds. Container gardens can be placed almost anywhere if it is conducive for the plants and do not get in the way. Considering the amount of space that you have before deciding what type of garden you will build is crucial.


Companion planting is one of the best aspects of square foot gardening. This is a technique where plants are placed side-by-side to produce a positive effect that can benefit them both. This promises better gains since a 4×4 or 4×8 raised bed can produce yields the exact amount of seeds you have sown on the grid when successful. Container gardening also entails companion planting but to a limited degree because of space. Typical 10-12-inch containers can only house 3-4 plants, and only 5-8 plants can fit in a 16–20-inch planters. So, if you are more on the product-based garden, square foot gardening can be your thing.


The initial cost of a square foot garden is definitely higher compared to a container garden. A good, raised bed is necessarily costly than containers. Wood is typically your material of choice for raised bed as it is easier to transport. We need a good quality, chemical-free wood for our raised bed so that it stays longer and does not harm the soil and the plant. These types of wood are so hard to come by, which makes them expensive. Of course, you can use other materials but admit it: wood looks way cooler, and it just fits the natural vibe of your garden.

A container garden has lower costing. You can buy cheap pots online, or you can be resourceful and creative to use old tubs, barrels, gallons, and bottles as housing for your green buddies.

Sustainability wise, raised beds made of wood to have a natural tendency to rot compared to plastic containers that take the time or not at all. But these setbacks can easily be countered once you seriously commit and make a profit out of your home-grown produce.


Weeding is not much of a problem in both gardening methods. Accessing the plants can be of no problem for both gardens too. But, since, raised beds are generally a foot or less above the ground, one must bend over to tend to the plants which can be bad for the back in the long run. Considering the height of your raised beds before constructing it can help you avoid this problem in the future.

Not all plants require the same quantity of nutrients. This is fundamentally neglected in a square foot garden where plants are grown in ‘one’ soil. Thus, you can take care of your plants individually in a container garden. Companion planting, however, sort of compensates for this minor setback.

Corruption/soil disease is more difficult to deal with in square foot gardens. If the soil becomes corrupted (due to chemicals from the wood), you need to get rid of the soil altogether, ruining the entire garden. Once the soil becomes toxic in a container garden, you just must change the soil from that specific container.

Watering is vital for the survival of the plants, and this is true to both gardens. Square foot garden tends to dry out more frequently compared to the container, but we can solve this issue by using mulch and clever drip water irrigation systems.

Choosing between the two technique does not necessarily mean that one is better than the other. Gardening is a fun, rewarding activity that can promote healthy living. Deciding upon which method to use is clearly up to you depending on what you have, what you can do, and who you are as a person.