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

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?

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Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.