We thrifty folks learn early that raising our own vegetable garden plants from seedlings is ever so much better than buying small plants to transplant into our gardens. The cost savings of growing seeds into seedlings that go into our gardens is quite significant, so if you are serious about gardening you will want to learn all the little tricks about raising them.
One of the hardest parts of raising seedlings is knowing that you do have to thin them out. Usually we plant seedlings in one of two ways, either to transplant or in the bed where they’ll actually have a home. The very notion of getting rid of extra seedlings is a hard one to take, but very necessary for healthy plants to thrive – each seedling needs to have enough room for its leaves and roots to spread out, to gather the necessary nutrients and moisture, and to let air circulate freely around the leaves. Crowded conditions really encourage diseases to take hold and spread, and results in spindly growth. You don’t want that, so you’ve got to thin them out!
When to Thin Seedlings
You will need to thin your little seedlings when you see that they’ve reached a height of two to three inches, that they have either one or two sets of real leaves, (not the little cotelydons) and that these leaves are beginning to touch the leaves of neighboring seedlings. By separating them at this stage you’ll be giving your remaining plants a good opportunity to grow strong little roots and leaves.
How to Thin Seedlings in a Bed
In a directly sown bed, the two best ways to get rid of overcrowded, extra seedlings are to pull them out or cut them off as close to the ground as possible and toss the cut-off part (don’t leave it next to the seedlings as it can encourage fungus to grow). This method applies to beds of onions, turnips, carrots and the like.
When growing seedlings to transplant, we will use another method of thinning. Instead of snipping or pulling the extra seedlings, we’ll just separate and save each individual seedling. All the tools you really need for this are your fingers, although some like to use a little fork .
How to Separate Seedlings to Transplant
Use the fork to pry the root ball out of the cup. Moist soil can be very helpful when separating seedlings, make sure soil is just moist and not dripping wet. Handling gently and being sure to hold the plants by only the leaves – don’t handle the stem or the roots as they are too delicate – gently pry the seedlings apart, so that the roots are not damaged. Yes, this is a delicate operation, but with a wee bit of practice, you will be quite good at it.
Take your separated seedlings, and select the babies that have the biggest root systems to be put into individual pots, since they will have the best chance of thriving. Use your finger to poke a hole in the container’s soil – deep enough to set your seedling in so the soil is about a half inch below the first set of true leaves. Place the seedling into the hole, and push the soil down and around the roots and stem firmly. Water thoroughly, and they’re ready to grow.
Thinning Plants to Make Them Thrive
The whole process of raising vegetable garden plants, such as tomatoes, from seedlings is really such an easy one! Once you get over wanting to raise every seedling to mature plant and learn to thin them, thinning will become second nature – you’ll be able to select the plants most likely to thrive to go into your garden without a second thought.