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While long rows of evenly spaced plants may appeal to a classic sense of what gardening is “supposed to look like,” it isn’t the only way to go … or grow. Row-less gardening offers a number of advantages, especially for small-scale gardeners.
Row-less gardening is a general term for any garden arrangement that doesn’t follow the traditional pattern of planting in continuous lines. While row gardening is great for large farming operations that have lots of land and use heavy equipment to care for it, it isn’t necessarily the best solution for home gardens.
There are several alternatives to row gardening, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Some of these options include:
- Biointensive gardening. Companion plants are grown together, typically in a tight hexagonal pattern after the soil has been double-dug and well-composted, for a remarkably plant-dense gardening space.
- Square foot gardening. Raised beds no larger than 4-feet across are divided into individual square-foot sections, each home to a different kind of crop. One square foot might be home to a single tomato plant right next door to another square foot filled with four lettuce plants.
- Container gardening. Vegetables and other crops are planted in movable containers, making it an ideal solution for apartment dwellers or others who appreciate the convenience and beauty of patio gardens.
No matter which row-less approach you take, deciding not to “tow the line” when it comes to your garden offers a number of benefits.
1. Provides better use of space.
Row gardening leaves lots of room equipment to maneuver through acres of crops, which also means it leaves lots of potential growing areas unused. Especially if you’re strapped for space, switching to a row-less format is an easy way to get more out of the ground by planting things closer together and by avoiding all the empty space between rows.
2. Avoids compaction.
Plants love loose soil. When the ground is light and friable, water is able to move through it freely, transporting nutrients and preventing the roots from becoming waterlogged. Loose soil also allows atmospheric gases to flow back and forth to the roots and is generally easier for new roots to maneuver through. With row gardening, we walk often on large stretches of ground — the area between the rows.
This continual compression of the ground leads to compacted soil, which is difficult to grow in, which is especially problematic as the row sizes and spacing change each year.
3. Allows complete control over the soil.
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Not only does row-less gardening avoid soil compaction, but – depending on which method you choose — it can give you greater control of the soil. Rather than settling for whatever kind of soil is endemic to your backyard, by using raised beds, containers or double-digging, you’re in a position to completely customize the kind of soil your plants encounter. Great soil means great harvests.
4. Wastes less water.
Growing plants in denser configurations makes it easier to deliver necessary moisture and nutrients directly to them without a lot of waste. Unless careful consideration is given to drip irrigation or other custom solutions, row gardening is notoriously inefficient when it comes to water consumption, wasting gallons on the empty spaces between the crops.
5. Is simply beautiful.
While gardening is fundamentally about providing food, it also can be an incredibly satisfying and even artistic endeavor. Freeing yourself from the assumption that gardens are supposed to be planted in rows will allow you to create a garden that perfectly matches your aesthetic interests. With row-less gardening, there’s no reason not to have a square of sunflowers surrounded by readily-ripening tomatoes, or a container of cosmos next to a box of carrots. By letting go of strict rows, you’re in a position to design the type of garden that will maximize your enjoyment while minimizing wasted space.
Row-less gardening is an increasingly popular approach to backyard growing. Especially if you don’t have a lot of extra room to work with, pursuing a less-conventional layout can be a great way to get the garden you really want in a way that makes the best possible use of resources like water, soil and space.
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