Planning the Garden: Square Foot Gardening and Companion Planting

Published February 24, 2013 | Updated October 24, 2015
Subject: Math, Science, Art
Season: Winter, Spring
Place of Learning: Garden
Resource Type: Lessons
Grade Level: Grade 1, Grade 2 , Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5, Grade 6
Uploaded by:
Alissa Campbell
Program Affiliations:

In this lesson students create a map of the garden. Using square foot gardening techniques, they learn about companion planting and seed spacing. 


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify plant needs, including space.
  • Recognize that different vegetables need different amounts of space.
  • Understand how various plants can help each other.
  • Problem-solve as a group.

 Students will be able to:

  • Correctly space seeds in their drawing.
  • Correctly identify their companion plant and find an appropriate place in the garden map for their vegetable.
  • Creatively portray their vegetable through visual art.
  • Collaborate with other students to ensure that the map allows for all vegetables to be placed next to their companion plant.
  • GUO Garden Planning Cards
  • Blank paper to cut into 30 cm squares (approximately)
  • Tape
  • Colored pencils, crayons or markers
  • Rulers
  • GUO Garden Planning Calendar

Part 1: Building your garden

Before starting to plan the garden, take some time to discuss with the students and reflect about why we’re planting a school garden. 

  • What is the value of growing our own vegetable garden at the school?
  • What do we mean when we say our garden is organic? (We won’t be using pesticides)
  • Why do you think it might not be a good idea to use pesticides? Where could they end up? (Soil, water, on our food).

To make sure that our garden does well, and we get a big harvest in the spring and the fall, let’s think about what our plants and garden will need. 

  • What are some of the things our plants will need to grow? (nutrients [soil], warmth [sun], water, care, etc.)

Have the students sit very closely together in a circle. Ask the students to pretend to be the tiny seed of their favorite vegetable, and explain that you will be “adding” the things the students identified as necessary for plants to grow. As you “add” these things (“Now the sun is coming out……and now the clouds are coming in to rain…” etc.) tell them to stretch out their legs as their roots grow and then stretch out their arms as their leaves grow…..When they grow up and stretch their arms, ask them “What else do plants need?” – SPACE!

Remind students that plants need different amounts of space.

  • What kinds of vegetables might need a lot of room?
  • Which ones need very little room?

Have the students pick a vegetable they want to plant in the garden and come get a garden planning card. Let them know that these cards will tell them how much space their particular vegetable will need. Each student follows the instructions on the cards to divide their 30cm square paper into appropriate smaller squares (either by folding or measuring). In the middle of each smaller square students should draw their vegetable (be creative and use colour!). At the end have students identify what their vegetable is somewhere on the paper, and put their names on the back.

After the students are done drawing their vegetable square, have them come up to fill in the calendar with information on when to plant and harvest the vegetable.

Part 2: Companion Planting

Plants also act as companions to one another. 

  • What do we think that means?
  • Think of what a friend does for you? How could plants do this for each other?

Ask the students to use their garden planning cards to find out what the companions for their vegetable are and to find someone in the class whose vegetable is one of their companions. Once they have found their companion, invite them to lay out the squares on the ground in the shape of the bed outside (typically: 3 squares by 8 squares) –making sure to place companions next to each other. Tape them together to form a map of the garden.

Companion Planting

There are different types of ways plants can be each other’s companion:

  • Attractors: Some plants (like flowers) attract pollinators (like bees) bringing them close to the garden where they help other plants reproduce. Some plants attract predators (like bugs) so that they stay away from your vegetables. (Examples: Nasturtium, Parlsey)
  • Confusers: These are the masked bewilderers and tricksters! These plants confuse pests away from other vegetables. For example, parsley has the same wispy tops as carrots and confuses white flies away from carrots.
  • Enchanters: These are the good neighbour plants. They help other vegetables grow, and improve their flavor and size. Basil improves the taste and size of tomatoes.
  • Protectors: These plants are the guardians of the garden and protect  others from nature’s havoc, like too much wind or sun. For example, peas and beans climbing up poles and nets provide shade for vegetables like lettuce that don’t like the heat.