Number of plants to grow

To plan a garden you’ll love, it’s important to choose the right number of plants to grow so you’ll have an abundant harvest without feeling overwhelmed.

There are a few factors to consider when planning out your numbers, including how much you’d like to harvest and how much room you have to grow your plant groups in. Fortunately, there are some very helpful resources to get it all figured out!

Determining the right number of plants for your garden | home for the harvest

Choosing the right number of plants

To reach your goals for your garden, it’s nice to grow enough plants to feel like your garden has been a success without feeling completely overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to maintain. Choosing the right number of plants/plant species to grow depends on your own unique goals. If you’re trying to grow enough greens for salad every night for four people, you’ll have a different approach than someone who wants to grow enough different flowering plants to always have something in bloom.

If your goal is simply to learn to grow a few plant species or flowering plants and have a relaxing hobby, you may not have to go into great detail to figure out how many plants you’d like to grow. Last year, I just wanted to test out which crops did the best in our local area with limited maintenance, as we were away for several long periods during the summer. It was a year of experimentation. Because I wasn’t relying on a huge harvest, I could just fill up my existing garden space with the number of plants that suited it comfortably.

How to determine the right number of plants for your garden | home for the harvest

Gardening with a specific harvest in mind

This year is a different story. My garden goal is to enjoy the food I’ve grown every single day by growing my own greens, herbs, and tomatoes. I’ll be growing a few other easy crops around our yard (pumpkins, flowers, et cetera), but in terms of my vegetable garden, I’m focusing on just growing a daily helping of delicious greens, herbs, and tomatoes. This type of goal means I have to get serious about planning the number of plants to grow in my garden.

The number of plants species you can grow depends not only on how much you want to harvest but also on how much area you have to grow these plants in. Most seeds have a defined spacing which dictates how much area you need to grow each plant. If you want to grow enough greens to have a salad every night, but only have a few small garden pots on your patio, you may have to scale up early in the season so that you can reach your goals as the year progresses.

How to choose the right number of plants to grow in your garden

If you are planning on growing a portion of what your family eats, the first step is to consider how many plants you’ll need for each person in your household. You can make a guess on your own about how many veggies your family needs, or you can use guidance from a gardening method, such as Square Foot Gardening (from Mel Bartholomew).

Square foot gardening

Unless you’ve got a very good idea about how many vegetables you’d like to grow to produce food, I recommend using an established method such as Square Foot Gardening. This method of organic gardening was developed by Mel Bartholomew, an engineer and talented gardener who put together an effective, easy-to-follow way to plan out the number of plants you’ll need and how to grow them efficiently.

Garden planning - using the square foot gardening book | home for the harvest

In Square-Foot Gardening, one 4’x4′ bed planted with various greens will produce enough salad veggies for one person to have a substantial salad every day of the growing season. Alternatively, that bed could provide a family of four people with a generous salad every fourth night. The Square Foot Gardening book includes lots of guidance on this topic and is very helpful when planning how many plants to grow.

If you don’t yet have the book, there are a lot of great tips about how to create a square-foot garden on Pinterest. I’ve gathered together a bunch of helpful pins on this Square Foot Gardening Board to help you learn how to space out your plants according to the method.

There are also guidance tables online for calculating how many vegetables to grow per person in a household. This table from Gardening Know How will give you a general estimate for an average family garden. This article from The Well-Fed Homestead will give you an idea of how much to plant per person to provide a whole year’s worth of food.

The Square Foot Gardening book should be available from your local library or from a friend. I honestly can’t recommend Mel’s book enough for those who like specific instructions about how many plants to grow, spacing out those plants, and the conditions under which each crop will thrive. You can learn more about Square Foot Gardening in this video, featuring Mel.

How to determine the right number of plants for your garden | home for the harvest

Calculating how much garden space you’ll need

Now that you’ve got an idea of how many plant species you’d like to grow, it’s time to come back to reality and calculate what will actually fit in your garden. You’ll use your desired number of plants for each crop, as well as the required spacing between each plant, to calculate the required garden area for each crop.

If you’re using Square Foot Gardening, this step is easy. The method gives you the required spacing for common crops in handy tables. Just flip to the tables in the book to learn the number of plants that will fit in each square foot of the garden area. All you have to do is divide the number of plants you want to grow by the number that will fit in a square foot. That will give you your required garden area in square feet.

How to determine the right number of plants for your garden | home for the harvest

If you’re not using the square-foot gardening method, use the spacing provided on the seed packet to calculate the required area. You can grow plants in rows beside each other, in accordance with the required row spacing on the packet.

Just remember not to put too many rows together as you may find you can’t reach into the middle. Stepping on the soil in which you’re growing plants is not the best for them, so try to keep your plants within arm’s reach at all times. This is why many raised beds are only 4’ wide…most people don’t want to reach more than 2’ to get at their plants!

Using your garden planner

There are tables available in the free garden planner for both the Square Foot Gardening approach and the seed packet spacing approach. Pick whichever method suits you best and fill in the corresponding table.

How to determine the right number of plants for your garden | home for the harvest

Do you have enough garden space?

Once you’ve calculated the total required growing area that you’ll need to support your crops, compare it to the amount of garden area you have. Hopefully, this area is equal to or smaller than your available garden area!

If you have extra room left in your garden, you can leave it fallow, grow more of the crops you’ve scheduled, or try a few experimental crops. If you don’t have enough room to accommodate the growing area you’ve calculated, you’ll either have to add growing space or reduce your harvest expectations.

Play around with the numbers until your required area fits within your available space. Just make sure to keep your garden goal in mind as you make these adjustments.

Write everything down!

Once you’ve matched up your plant numbers and required garden area to the real amount of space you have, ensure you’ve recorded your final plant volumes, spacing, and crop areas in your garden planner. This info will be incredibly important when you map out and install your garden.

If you’ve decided to adjust your available growing space amount or the crops you’re growing this year, be sure to go back in your planner and adjust any previous sections that need to be updated with this new information. After you’ve determined the right number of plants for your garden, you can go ahead and create your garden layout map!


Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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