Plant Care Guide

While mother nature likes to throw curve balls (too much rain, too little rain, too hot, too cold, insects/diseases, etc.) the following are our recommendations based on our years of growing experience to help your plant survive to fruition. We have tried to remain as inclusive as possible to accommodate all garden types and gardener experience levels. If you are an avid gardener or would like to become one and want further resources, check out your state university's or county agricultural extension's website for information, classes, and mailing lists.

The three key aspects to promote healthy, successful plant growth are: Sunlight, Spacing, and Water/Fertilization. 

**For a synthesized snapshot of the following info, scroll to the Crop Care Chart at the bottom of the page**


 First is sunlight.  Seed packets and plant tags usually use the terms "partial sun" (sometimes "partial shade") and "full sun".  "Partial sun" is 3-6 hours of direct sunlight and "full sun" is 6+ hours of direct sunlight.  To explain further, anytime your body cannot cast a shadow on your container or garden because the area is in the shadow of a building or tree is considered "shade" and anytime your body can cast a shadow on the container or garden is considered "direct sunlight".

All of the plants that we grow at Kimballs prefer full sun - if your growing space is in direct sunlight for six hours or more your vegetables or edible flowers should be pretty happy.  Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, zucchini, etc. prefer eight to ten (or more) hours of direct sunlight if you can provide it to them - the more sunlight they have, the better they will grow.  

If you have less than six hours of sun but would still like to grow vegetables it is probably best to stick to leafy produce.  Like we said, all of our plants prefer full sun but veggies such as lettuce, chard, kale, and herbs can handle partial sun if necessary.  The other option is to supplement with a grow light - a special light designed to mimic the sun.  We start our hydroponic tomatoes with one we found on Amazon for $30-$40.  Feel free to email if you want to ask us more about this option.


The second aspect to pay attention to is spacing.  Because some of you are growing in containers on your porch or deck and some of you are growing in an outdoor garden "spacing" refers to both the space in between each plant as well as the volume of soil needed for the roots. 

All plants need a certain distance in between them to spread out.  This allows them not only to create the necessary leaf matter for photosynthesis but also allows for airflow to prevent diseases (the latter is especially important for zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant).  Most seed packets or plant tags communicate spacing with the phrase "on center."  This means the distance from the center of one plant to the center of all the surrounding plants - both vertically and horizontally (see image below).


For the plants that we grow: head lettuce, herbs, edible flowers, leafy greens, and broccoli/cauliflower all need 1 foot on center spacing; tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and cucumbers need 18"-24" on center spacing; and beans, peas, and salad greens (arugula, mizuna etc.) can be planted about 3" apart.

As far as soil volume, as long as the proper distance between the plants is maintained your container really only needs a couple of inches of soil depth for head lettuce, herbs, edible flowers, leafy greens, broccoli/cauliflower, beans, peas, and salad greens as their roots tend to stay fairly close to the surface.  We made planters for Amanda's mom out of shallow Rubbermade totes and multiple lettuce plants coexist happily in them.  Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and cucumbers on the other hand have larger root structures and therefore require more soil.  Each plant prefers 3-5 gallons of soil (but will do okay with 1-2).  To better visualize this volume, think of a 5-gallon bucket from Home Depot or Lowes - each plant wants that bucket to be at least half-filled with soil (in the same way we used the tote as a planter we have used these buckets as planters - just drill a couple of drain holes in any DIY planter you make).  


We assume it's no surprise to you that, just like us, plants need water and nutrients to grow.  Usually, people growing in the ground can get away with watering less frequently than those growing in containers.  In an in-ground garden, as long as the top couple inches of soil are damp you shouldn't have to water.  In a container, if the topsoil looks dry you should water.  On hot, sunny days we water 2-3 times in the greenhouse (smaller containers dry out faster than larger ones).

As far as fertilization, we find the best resource for plant-specific nutrient needs is the New England Vegetable Management Guide (  This is something that we utilize at Kimballs regularly.  There is an online free version but you can purchase a hard copy as well if you prefer the feeling of a book in your hand.

In general, the plants that require more space also require more total fertilizer and the plants that require less space can grow with less fertilizer.  While having compost and/or slow-release fertilizer (like Osmacote) in your growing medium should be enough for leafy greens and edible flowers to grow to an edible size, we highly recommend regularly feeding fruiting plants throughout the season (especially tomatoes, they are nutrient gluttons!).  The easiest way to do this is with a water-soluble fertilizer - these are fertilizers that usually come in liquid or powdered form and are dissolved at pre-determined rates (ALWAYS follow the product label) in water.  The big brand names are Miracle Grow and Neptune's Harvest but any hardware store or plant nursery will have something you can use.  If you have a few containers you can probably use a watering can but for larger gardens it might be helpful to get something that will attach to the end of your hose. We recommend fertilizing all your fruiting plants once a week at a MINIMUM.

How to Read a Fertilizer Label

All fertilizers have three numbers on the bag or container: usually in an x-y-z format.  This is the NPK value or the percentage of N(Nitrogen), P (Phosphorous), and K (Potassium) in the fertilizer.  These are known as the "major nutrients" and are the nutrients that plants need the most of.  While you can pretty quickly read up on soil science with a quick Google search and utilize fertilizers that are higher in one or the other major nutrients at certain stages of the plant's life cycle, the easiest thing to do is buy a fertilizer where all three numbers are the same (ie 10-10-10), your plant will be perfectly happy with this.  For tomatoes, you should find a fertilizer that also contains calcium (a lot of brands have a tomato specific mix).

Crop Care Chart

CHART KEY:  X=Minimal XX=Moderate XXX=Maximum

Beans XX XX 3-4"
XX 12"
Cucumber XXX XXX 18-24"
Edible Flowers
XX X 8-12"
XXX XXX 18-24"
Head Lettuce
X X 12"
X XX 12"
X X 2-3"
XXX XXX 18-24"
Salad Greens
X 2-3"
XXX XXX 18-24"
XXX XXX 18-24"


If you have any other planting questions, ask us at the stand or market or email

Happy planting,

David & Amanda

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