The traditional method of vegetable gardening is to plant in narrow rows, lining up single plants in long rows separated by 1 to 2 feet of bare soil to provide access for weeding and other maintenance tasks. But this method wastes a lot of garden space in empty paths between rows. For certain vegetables, an increasingly popular method of planting is wide-row gardening. As the name suggests, this method uses much wider rows—up to 4 feet in some situations—with fewer empty paths between rows. Rather than plants lined up single-file, wide-row gardening uses a denser planting style for maximum productivity.
Before Getting Started
Not all vegetables are well-suited for wide-row gardening. Squash, tomato, cucumber, and melons are plants that need space to ramble, and they aren't well suited to any kind of row planting. And vegetables like onions and carrots that don't grow densely enough to block out weeds are not well suited to wide rows, either. But leafy vegetables that fill in space are ideal for wide-row gardening. For various types of lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, and other greens, wide rows can nearly double the amount of produce you harvest. For these vegetables, the advantages of wide-row gardening are many:
- The soil is shaded as the leafy greens fill in the space, lowering soil temperatures and preventing heat-sensitive vegetables from bolting (setting seed) prematurely.
- The dense cover of greenery shields out the sun and reduces the number of weeds that germinate.
- A reduced number of bare pathways means more overall space devoted to growing produce.
- Planting is simpler since seeds can be just broadcast over the wide area rather than meticulously planted in rows.
- Harvesting is often quicker since you can reach a lot of produce from a single spot.
Equipment / Tools
- Watering can or hose sprayer
- Stakes and string
- Soil amendments (as needed)
- Seeds or potted nursery plants
Prepare the Soil
The steps for soil preparation in a wide-row garden are much the same as for any form of vegetable gardening. The work will be a little more demanding if you are starting a garden from scratch, but even for an established garden bed, it is important to thoroughly loosen the soil, remove stones and other debris, break up dirt clods, and smooth the area with a rake before planting the garden.
Established gardens generally have moderately good soil fertility, but now is the time to add any soil amendments that are necessary. At the very least, it's a good idea to dig in some organic matter (compost or peat moss, for example). A soil analysis from your local University Extension Service can tell you if additional amendments are needed, as is sometimes necessary to correct soil pH issues.
Lay Out the Wide Rows
Use stakes with strings stretched taut between them to create boundaries for your wide rows. Most experienced gardeners like to keep wide rows to no more than 3 feet wide to ensure that you can easily reach the center of the row from both sides. Keep at least 18 inches of space between the wide rows to provide access; 2 to 3 feet is even better.
If you will be subdividing the wide rows for planting more than one crop (see below), also mark out the boundaries for interior rows or sections within the wide row.
Plant the Garden
You can now plant your garden—either with purchased nursery seedlings or by direct-sowing seeds in a random pattern over the prepared wide row.
Follow the seed packet's instructions (or the plant's ID tag) for spacing and planting depth. Don't be tempted to sow too densely. As they grow, the plants will still need good air circulation to prevent diseases and other problems. You do, however, want the greenery to completely shade the soil to block the germination of weeds.
Water the Garden
From this point on, maintaining a wide-row garden is just like tending any garden. Keep the seeds or new plants moist until they become well established. This usually means daily watering until seeds sprout—or even twice-daily watering if the weather is especially hot and dry. To avoid washing seeds away or uncovering them, water gently using a fine-mist hose sprayer or watering can with a sprinkler head. Once the seedlings are well established, weekly watering is usually sufficient.
Tend the Plants
If you planted by broadcasting seeds—the preferred method for many leafy vegetables—then you will need to thin the plants as they sprout to ensure they have enough space to grow to mature size. The seed packet will give you the recommended spacing between plants. With lettuces and other leafy greens, the thinned plants can be used in salads and other recipes as you pluck them—young leafy plants are especially tasty.
Follow established recommendations for fertilizing in your wide-row garden. Not all plants require feeding, so do some research on the particular needs of each plant you are growing.
Weeding is important to lessen competition for water and nutrients. Once your wide rows are established, the vegetables should fill in and shield the soil, making weeding duties less troublesome.
Wide Row Variations
Rather than planting the entire wide row with a solid block of a single vegetable, you can subdivide the wide row in various ways.
Within each wide row, you can lay out two or more straight-line rows of vegetables. These interior rows can run parallel to the length of the wide row, or you can plant many short rows across the width of the row. Interior rows are generally planted quite close together, so there is no visible space between the mature plants. Each row can be a different vegetable, or you can use this method to succession plant a single vegetable. For instance, you could designate an entire wide row for beets and plant a single row each week for four weeks so that you wind up with four rows of beets that will mature at different times.
Using interior rows within the wide row also makes it possible to intermingle fast-growing and slow-growing plants. For instance, you could plant small pepper seedlings in the same wide row with radishes or arugula. As the pepper plants start to grow, they will provide cooling shade for the spring vegetables, which will be harvested long before the peppers fully spread out.
Other forms of succession planting are possible with this interior row method. For example, radishes and spinach are fast growers, and you can replant their rows with beets or other vegetables after the early crops have been harvested.
Another idea is to divide your wide rows into blocks, planting 1- to 2-foot stretches of the row with different crops: for instance, a block of onions followed by a block of lettuce followed by a block of chard in the same wide row. This is a good way to succession plant without leaving empty wasted blocks. This kind of companion planting takes some finagling, but it lets you get a maximum yield from a small space.