We know that plants need their space in order to grow efficiently, but this need for elbow room begins at a very early stage in life. Whether started indoors or out, thinning seedlings is a requirement to ensure your plants are strong and productive.
When we plant seeds, we usually plant more than necessary just to overcome the odds of seeds that don’t germinate, insect damage and other problems that can happen along the way. Once seedlings sprout, thinning is a lot like weeding. It reduces competition among plants.
Thinning is a part of gardening life, but it can be difficult when you feel like every seedling is your baby. It may not seem fair to “play God” and choose which of your baby plants live or die. And what if you make the wrong choice?
The thinning process can be a little less heartbreaking if you do it gradually. Seed packets will say how far apart plants should be spaced. Instead of removing extra seedlings to the recommended six inches apart (for example), start gradually. When seedlings are very young, thin them to two inches. When they grow a little more, increase the space to four inches, and so on. Instead of pulling the extra seedlings out of the ground, cut the stems close to ground level so you don’t disturb the root systems of their neighbors.
Not only will this plant thinning practice help you feel better about the task, but the gradually increasing space between plants will allow the survivors to grow stronger, ensuring that the plants you leave behind are the fittest of the bunch.