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Square Foot Gardening

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Theme Garden/Growing

Subject Area: Math/Science

Standards Met

3.L.2.2 Explain how environmental conditions affect how plants grow and survive

3.MD.5a Measuring area and perimeter and relating to multiplication and addition 

Prep Time:10 minutes

 Time: 60 minutes over two sessions


Paper towel (unbleached) approx. 1 foot square per student

Seeds (radish, beet, carrot, turnip, onion work very well)

School glue or glue sticks*


Square foot garden chart handout (attached)

Space in garden to plant

Learning Objectives

Students will investigate plant spacing to discover the proper spacing for vegetables. They will use their knowledge of area to figure out how many plants can be grown in a given space. Students will create individual 1’ x1’ seed mats to plant in the garden.


Ask students why we cannot plant many seeds in one small space. What problems might those plants have? Vegetable gardeners need to plan their gardens with enough space so that each seed has room to grown into a healthy, mature plant. If plants are too crowded, their growth will become stunted, and they are more susceptible to insects and fungal diseases. Today each one of you is going to plant one square foot of the garden, and you may be surprised how much can fit into a seemingly small space!

Lesson Activities

  1. Each student will receive one 1’ x 1’ paper towel and a planting guide handout.
  2. If students sit in groups, assign each group to a certain vegetable so that they can help each other and share one packet of seeds.
  3. Using the planting guide, each student will determine how many seeds can be fixed onto one square foot of paper. Once determined, student may fold their paper towel into however many seeds they will plant: 4, 9, or 16. If they need help seeing the squares, they may trace them with a marker.
  4. Using a tiny dab of glue or glue stick, each student will attach ONE seed to the center of each small square.
  5. Each student will write his or her name, and the name of the seed planted on the front of the mat.
  6. Lay the mats in a single layer somewhere safe to dry. The seeds will not germinate until they are placed in the soil, so it is possible to wait a week or two to move them outdoors.
  7. In the garden: Make sure you have adequate space so that each student can “plant” his or her seed mat. Use a rake to break up the soil.
  8. Each group of vegetables should be planted beside each other, barely touching but not overlapping. Cover the paper towels with a layer of soil so that the paper is no longer visible. Mark where each group of vegetable will emerge.
  9. Water the area gently. Water will now cause the seeds to germinate. Students may ask why we are “littering” paper into the garden. This is a good time to explain that the elements outside will cause the paper to decompose back into the soil. Will we see any paper left when we harvest these vegetables?
  10. Because each mat represents one square foot of space, this lesson allows them to visualize what they have learned about finding area. You may bring tape measurers or rulers out to have students compare the length x width of the beds, with the number of seed mats planted (they should be equal).

Wrap up

Ask students why it is important for their vegetable plants to have space. Have them explain why their seed mat will prevent their plants from becoming crowded. Ask them some simple math problems involving area. If you have garden beds with different dimensions, ask how many square foot paper towels could fit in a 3’ x 10’ as opposed to a 4’ x 8’ bed. Ask them how they think we might go about planning a garden with vegetables that need more than 1 square foot of space, such as tomatoes and pumpkins. 


Many different word problems can be created using the dimensions of your garden’s beds and the number of different seeds planted within. Get creative, and have students create their own word problems using vegetables for each other. For example, student can figure out how many individual carrots they could grow if they planted their entire garden with carrot seeds. You and the students will be surprise at just how many you can grow!

*Note: If a more natural adhesive is desired, you may make your own paste by combining 1 cup of flour with ½ cup boiling water.

Lesson Resources and/or Credit for Adaption

Adapted from Junior Master Gardener, Level 1 Handbook. “Paper Towel Gardening” page 165-66. Adapted by FoodCorp members.