Thinning Seedlings

Warming weather inspires many minds to the vegetable garden. This week, Wellfield staff direct sowed the first vegetable crops of 2020: radish, lettuce and spinach. Once these little darlings emerge and begin to grow into late June, it will be time to thin the herd, slice and dice, chop the crop.

At seed sowing time, I make holes at the depth and final spacing recommended on the seed packet. I place two to three seeds per hole, depending upon a couple of factors: age of seed and amount of seed I possess. I do this for several reasons. One, if the seed is older, the seed is less likely to germinate. I am upping the germination percentage. Second, I live by the wisdom another gardener gave me once, “plant one for the bird, one for the root and one for the farmer.” Again, I am upping the chance there will be food for me come harvest time. If I have plenty of seed, I put more in the hole.

If I end up with a forest emerging from each hole, I thin. The reasons for doing this are many:

  • Provide sufficient space for full development
  • Reduce stress from competition
  • Provide air and light 

When to thin? It depends on the plant. Check the seed packet. It will often tell you when to thin. As a general rule, you thin seedlings after the first one or two pairs of true leaves emerge.

Thinning seedlings can be done in a few easy steps:

  1. Choose a nice sharp pair of snippers.
  2. Choose the strongest, healthiest, most robust looking seedling to keep.
  3. Snip the remainder right at ground level. Snip rather than pull. Pulling can bring up your keeper, too. You can thin in stages over a couple of weeks, or do it all at once.
  4. One alternative I have done at times is to carefully pull out a robust seedling (if I have more than one) and transplant it to a spot lacking any germinated seeds. This is risky and many do not survive, but follow all the normal transplanting procedures.

Follow the guidelines this little snippet of information provides and you are set up to make the cut.

Josh Steffen, Horticulture and Facilities Manager

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