Gardening is hard work and doing it correctly takes time. As you go along you realize eventually that it’s an endless learning process. Planting vegetables from the seed is a cheaper way to go about gardening. Seedlings are a bit more expensive but take less time to develop. Let’s explore, A Guide to Thinning Seedlings.

To save time individually planting seeds gardeners sometimes sprinkle them into the soil instead of sowing. This is done when the seeds appear to be really small or because some will not germinate. Besides, planting tiny seeds one by one is tedious, so sprinkling them on the soil seems like a viable option.

This is an effortless method but it has consequences. The seeds then sprout and the seedlings are too close together. When this happens it’s time to do some thinning.

Thinning calls for a lot of extra work, and deciding which ones to systematically remove can be difficult. In short, although it is necessary, not many gardeners enjoy doing it.

See, How To Grow Dragon Fruit? How To Grow Avocado From Seed? and How To Grow Pineapple?

seedlings in a box garden

Why Must You Thin Seedlings?

Thinning is a practice done by gardeners to create space so the seedlings can properly spread roots.

This helps them absorb all the required nutrients to grow healthy and increase yields by reducing competition. The more controlled seedlings are in a garden, the better able they’ll be at sharing nutrients and water.

It also improves proper air circulation to limit overcrowding. It may also lead to fungal diseases which further portrays its importance.

When to Thin Seedlings?

Thinning seedlings at the right time are crucial to protecting the main shoots. If you wait too long, the roots of all the plants will develop and during the thinning process may damage the other root systems.

For plants to grow healthy they need adequate space from the beginning. You can start to thin as soon as seedlings have developed one or two sets of true leaves.

This is often visible when plants have reached a height of 2 to 3 inches or a two-finger width. During that time, they are tall enough to be held by the stem and pulled out.

It’s best to do this when the soil is damp to cause less damage. So, consider waiting until there is rainfall and if that takes too long, use a watering can to soften hard soil.

Thinning in the late evening is best as the cool and dark conditions will allow the remaining seedlings to recover from the stress they received during the process.

They will get the chance to adjust before being exposed to the blazing heat and sunlight the following day.

Thinning vegetables in a garden

Things You’ll Need

To begin, the few things you’ll need are not complex materials or equipment.

Kneeling to observe and uproot seedlings can cause quite a strain on your back. If you have a wide outdoor garden then using a kneeling pad or small bench will ease the pressure

. For indoor gardens, this is not necessary because you can simply place the container at a higher level as you work. A pair of garden shears is optional.

If you’ll be snipping the seedlings then you’ll need them but if your intention is to pull from the roots exclude this tool. You’ll be using your fingers. Grab a wastebasket or bag to dispose of the seedlings to be removed.

How to Thin Seedlings

Knowing how to thin plants is difficult. For beginners, it may seem like a simple task. You know, uproot a few plants here and leave a few there, how hard can it be? Yet not every plant handles thinning the same way.

Vegetables like cucumber, squash, melons, and beans have delicate roots. They should be trimmed as early as possible before the roots become entangled with the sprouts you’ll be removing.

Taking late action will disrupt the root system that needs to be formed for the plants to absorb the minerals they need to develop.

First, identify the spacing you need for each plant. The seed packets usually contain instructions on the back for the required spacing.

If there are no details, then the seedlings should be spaced depending on the size they’ll maintain when fully mature. Here are a few suggestions for commonly grown vegetables.

Spinach that has been thinned in the garden

  1. Spinach should be spaced between 2 to 6 inches.
  2. Carrots can be spaced 2 to 4 inches.
  3. Radishes are normally 2 to 3 inches.
  4. Beets 4 to 6 inches apart.
  5. Cauliflower 12 to 18 inches apart.
  6. Bush Beans should be 2 to 3 inches apart.
  7. Eggplant should be 18 to 24 inches spaced.
  8. Kale is to be thinned 10 inches apart.
  9. Peppers must be 10 to 18 inches spaced.
  10. Pumpkins should be 2 to 3 inches apart.
  11. Tomatoes are normally planted 18 to 24 inches apart.
  12. Lettuce is to be thinned 4 to 8 inches apart.
  13. Sweet Potatoes should be 10 to 18 inches apart.
  14. Onions are often planted 4 inches apart.
  15. Celery must be 6 to 10 inches apart.

Secondly, ensure the soil is moist and place your kneeling pad in the section you will first be thinning. Observe and identify the healthier seedlings and save those.

Root vegetables are particularly sensitive to thinning and should be done carefully to prevent deformities.

The others that look weak should be uprooted or snipped. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently wiggle the plant out of the soil. When pulling the seedlings,

if the dirt has been scattered or disrupted use your four fingers and gently press it back into the ground around the healthy plants.

Throw them in the waste bag to be disposed of or you can add them to an existing compost pile. For edible plants, they can be quite useful as microgreens for your salads or garnish.


Thinning plants takes a lot of time but it is necessary. That way your plants can develop and produce the best vegetables. For more interesting posts on gardening and all things vegan, frequent my website for updates.

planting seedlings in the garden

Other Gardening Articles

  1. The Ultimate Guide To Companion Planting
  2. Best vegetables for your kitchen garden.
  3. 12 Essential Gardening Tools for Beginners
  4. Best Fruits to Grow in Pots
  5. Indoor Vegetable Gardens.

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