garden thinning

How to Thin Your Plants Guide

Something most people don’t want to do, or they don’t know how to do is thin their plants. Some gardeners (including myself earlier on) like to broadcast their seeds over their garden beds, like fairy dust.

Thinning Your Plants

Something most people don’t want to do, or they don’t know how to do is thin their plants. Some gardeners (including myself earlier on) like to broadcast their seeds over their garden beds, like fairy dust. Hoping that when you walk away and come back in a few weeks, you suddenly have a prosperous garden! Unfortunately that’s not how it works. Thinning allows your plants to have more space and air circulation to thrive so that they’re not fighting each other for water and nutrients. Taking this extra step will produce a healthier and more bountiful garden.

Seeding and Thinning

It takes time and planning when growing your gardens. When thinning, keep in mind the space you want to give them. It will determine how big you want them to grow. With the broadcast method, you’ll have a tightly packed garden where the plants can become choked. Your plants will be more uneven and you might have to thin them more than once. So I would go with the more planned out version. To start, try not to over seed. This will cut your thinning time down. Check the germination time and keep an eye on those seedlings. When they get around 2 to 3 inches tall and have two sets of leaves, you can begin thinning them.

thinning plants

But hold up! There are different ways to thin, especially with different plants. Most plants don’t like their root systems disturbed, especially root vegetables, so snipping the seedlings at soil level with small pruning shears is ideal. Thinning in the evening is best so that it gives the plant time to rejuvenate and not be scorched by the sun. Make sure to water the seedlings beforehand so that they’re nice and juicy. After thinning, you can use most seedlings in salads or smoothies, such as lettuce, spinach or beet greens. If you’re not going to use the tender greens, mix it in the compost. Don’t discard the trimmings around your chosen seedlings. The smell of these baby greens can attract pests.

If you prefer to pull the seedlings out, first water the seedlings to make it easier to thin. With the soil damp, gently pull out the seedling so as not to disturb the rest of the root system. Some people prefer to not waste their precious seedlings and would rather transplant what is thinned. To do this can be tricky, but not a total failure if done carefully. Just make sure you grasp the seedling by the leaves, not the stem when transplanting. After you’ve transplanted your little seedlings inside their dirt beds, tuck them in by gently pressing the soil around them.

After thinning, your plants might look a little sad and droopy. That’s okay. Just give them a light spritz of water and let them recuperate. Those little babies have been through a lot. 

Tips and Tricks

If your seedlings were started in a pot, you don’t have to thin them because you’ll do it when it’s time to transplant them in the ground. When doing this, carefully pull apart the roots with a pen or thin stick. Remember to grasp them by leaf or root, not the stem. This could damage the seedling. 

If you were a patient gardener, and planted each seed individually in your garden bed, you might notice that some took and others didn’t. To even out the space a bit, you can gingerly scoop out the seedlings and transplant them in a more spacious spot. 

transplanting plant

A nice trick when planting carrots, is seeding them a little heavier, then wait a little longer to thin (about 4 to 6 inches high). This will give you two crops. When you thin them, you’ll have these charming baby carrots that will be delicious as a snack or as a side dish. While the remaining carrots will continue to flourish, becoming big and strong.

Surprisingly, not all plants have to be thinned out as much. Peas are one of them. Since they grow up a trellis, having them planted a little close won’t hinder your harvest.

Knowing now how important it is to thin, remember–every plant has a unique character and can have different thinning styles it prefers. Sometimes doing a little personal research on your plants can give you better insight on what they require. Giving you the key to reaping a fruitful reward.

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