How to ‘Thin’ Vegetable Seedlings

Spring is a busy time in the vegetable garden and your vegetable garden may be full of small seedlings as the seeds that you have sown are beginning to grow.

You may notice that your seedlings may look a bit crowded like my young radish plants, above.

When you plant vegetables from seed, you often have to plant more seeds then you will actually grow to maturity because not all seeds will germinate.  However, after the seeds begin to grow, you need to ‘thin’ them out.

So what does ‘thinning’ seedlings mean?  ”Thinning’ is the practice of removing excess seedlings.

Why should you ‘thin’ your extra seedlings?  Isn’t it better to let them grow so you will get more vegetables?  The answer is “no”.  The main reasons for thinning out excess vegetable seedlings are so that your vegetables have room to grow to their full size and they won’t need to compete for limited nutrients and water.

1. You should pull out excess seedlings once they have grown two ‘true’ leaves.  These aren’t the first leaves that appear – those are called ‘seed’ leaves.  True leaves are shaped differently then the seed leaves.

2. Read your seed packet for recommended spacing of vegetables seedlings to determine which seedlings to remove.

3. You can pull out the excess seedlings carefully.  But, this method can disturb the roots of the remaining seedlings.  Instead, I recommend using scissors and simply snipping off excess seedlings.

The roots will simply die once the top is removed.

Thinning vegetable seedlings is one of the simplest of gardening tasks, but it is vital in order to grow healthy, full-sized vegetables.  (You can also use this method when growing flowers from seed.)

What are you growing in your vegetable garden this spring?  Have you had to ‘thin’ your seedlings yet?

  1. E Smith says

    I waited too long to thin my squash and now they are growing together and it’s too late to thin! Lesson learned!

  2. says

    I just planted some white radish seeds. I will use your method of using scissors to thin them out. I planted them in a pot. Should I plant a second crop once these are getting bigger?
    Thanks for the great tips.

  3. says

    I plant 4 to 5 kinds of lettuce in very late winter . Are very first thing in spring….. I love have them. I pull the first time or two because I leave the others and cut at about 3 or as long as my finger….. And cut up to the time the sun is just to much for them….. If the roots keep growing and get to a finger long I will keep them coming…..

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