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 grown 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 apart. 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 but also works well. This method leaves organic matter in the soil to feed the microbes while allowing the chosen plants to develop fully and leaves the roots of the chosen plants undisturbed.

If pulling rather than snipping, 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. It was definitely worth it!

Written and Submitted by Ann Guthals



The Zen of Gardening by David Wann

I marvel at the lush gardens I see on gardening shows and admit to a bit of
“green” envy. Unfortunately, those shows and gardening books for the humid
eastern U.S. do not help me much here in Montana. Instead I seek out advice
from gardeners who create successful gardens in our challenging conditions out

David Wann is one such gardener. David began gardening at 7000 feet outside
Denver in the early 1980s. He has faced the same drought, wind, heat, cold, hail,
poor soils and short growing seasons that we cope with here in Montana. He
has distilled decades of experimental gardening and many lessons from masterful
gardeners that he has interviewed and worked with into this book.

Mr. Wann covers a very wide range of topics from mulching, choosing natives,
starting seeds, growing garlic, producing food in the winter to planting trees,
shrubs and perennial flowers. The novice and the seasoned gardener alike will
find great information here. As I read the book, I started a list of useful tips that
I plan to implement in my garden, such as mulching potato plants with pine needles, feeding my strawberries with compost and bone meal, using different methods of seed-starting to meet the varying needs of seeds, growing hairy vetch as a cover crop and companion plant to tomatoes, and trying the adage “When cottonwoods bud, plant the spuds.”

This book is not a story that you can read through like a novel. It is more a reference book and can be read gradually or used as a go-to source for specific help. One philosophical approach I particularly like about Mr. Wann’s gardening is that
there are lessons in failures—gardens are an experiment that we learn from every year. That is one of the things I love about gardening—there is always something new and useful to learn. And I definitely learned a lot reading The Zen of Gardening.

Reviewed by Ann Guthals

May Master Gardeners at the Greenhouse

On May 24, Master Gardeners on the Town was hosted by Amy at the Metra Greenhouse Ed Center. Mary Davis and Amy planned on having a crackling fire to welcome all with, but winds and rain made that option impossible. Lucky for us the greenhouse became the perfect location for serving up some refreshing root beer floats to about 14 takers.

Things are coming along out there, especially the disappearance of the weeds, thanks to Greg T, Sherry D, Mary D, Gloria E, Marilyn L, Joann and Corry G.

Inside the greenhouse the Tumbleweed Teens have planted up 5 4×4 square foot beds, which are coming along nicely. Still looking for volunteers to adopt a garden patch or two out there, so if you are interested, just let Amy know.

May at the Greenhouse 2

Article and pictures by Amy Grandpre


On May 23, a dozen Master Gardeners embarked on the grand adventure of finding the Delane Langton home to tour incredible iris beds he’s cultivated. Last year we were about a week too late…and this year porbably a week too early, but there were still plenty of blooms to enjoy even though, it was a beautiful evening for a tour.

Delane has quite the location. His home is perched on a hill, with gardens cascading over the top and shoulders of the hill. Then he points out another acre over the side that more iris are nestled into. Delane (now retired), is expanding his hilltop garden even more. He explains that the different slope orientations provide for an extended blooming period, the south side blooming first and then the north side blooming later.

The colors and variations were quite impressive, complete with some heirloom varieties. He also has a Moss Mansion iris bed, cultivated when an iris bed at the Moss was removed because the tree’s shade was too intense for iris growing. He took the pathetic looking rhizomes, planted them, gave them some TLC and now has iris plants he proudly claims are Moss Mansion originals.

Also, we learned that when he divides his iris, he doesn’t dig up the whole clump. He usually digs up the mother (or the one that bloomed last year), with the daughters that are on one side, leaving the other daughters in place. He’s had the unfortunate experience of digging all, dividing, and losing all.

I know I’m planning to divide my iris differently than before…and am going to plant the extras on our dry, rocky hillside surrounding our property. I’ve always  marveled at the iris growing on the rims going up to the airport. I now understand and appreciate even more how hardy and tough these beauties really are.

Iris Tour 2 2017

Photos and submission by Amy Grandpre