Thinning and Spacing in the Vegetable Garden

One of the garden lessons it took me the longest to learn was to rigorously thin my plantings. It has always been hard to kill little plants I so carefully cultivated and I always tended to leave too many. There was then just not enough room for each plant to develop fully.

I also have learned to be more cognizant of spacing plants—seeds as well as stock plants. I have learned to keep the size of the adult plant in mind as I plant. My rule of thumb has become to imagine the adult carrot or beet or onion and space the seeds or bulbs accordingly, so each can grow to its full size. One way to accurately space seeds is to plant seed tapes, strips that already have the seeds embedded. Or you can make your own seed tapes by lightly dampening toilet paper strips, placing the seeds on them and placing another layer of damp TP on top. The paper will break down and the seeds will be spaced correctly.

In addition to imagining the adult carrot or onion or using seed tapes, seed packets are also helpful for determining how far apart to put seeds. I think I have tended to plant them closer together and put in too many, with the idea that they wouldn‘t all germinate and I was hedging my bets that way. But the upshot really was that I had to spend a lot of time thinning!

How to thin? You can get down at plant level and pull the weaker plants, leaving the stronger plants spaced correctly. Do this when true leaves have appeared. Another method is to use small scissors and clip the unwanted seedlings. This works well for squash plants, I found. It’s a bit more challenging for smaller seedlings like carrots and rutabagas. This method leaves organic matter in the soil to feed the microbes while allowing the chosen plants to develop fully.

Don’t wait too long to pull the unwanted seedlings or the process will greatly disturb the remaining plants. And don‘t forget you can generally eat your thinnings, especially from greens and lettuces.

To me this is the least fun part of vegetable gardening but this year, when I forced myself to really thin correctly, I was rewarded with the best carrot crop ever, so it was definitely worth it!

Submitted by Ann Guthals