Thinning seedlings: Tedious, But Neccessary

seedlings in flats

Thinning seedlings is a task that even I don’t enjoy, but if you want to ensure your seedlings the best chances of survival it is a necessary evil.  Why? Because when too many seedlings are growing in the same small container, they are not only competing for space, they are more importantly competing for nutrients, light, and water. Seedlings become weak and spindly if there isn’t ample light, and their root systems compromised when competing for nutrients and water. Furthermore, it’s easier to transplant seedlings into larger pots without damaging their premature root system.  Below are photographs illustrating the process of thinning out seedlings as they germinate and grow:

1. My underground greenhouse (a.k.a. basement residing grow stand) Note the two trash cans, they actually house my germinating and growing-on soil mixes.

grow stand and potting area in basement of house2. Seedlings pre-thinning.

Seedlings pre-thinning3. How do you ‘thin out’ seedlings without disturbing their roots?

thinning seedlings with scissors

I prefer to thin with scissors. You can use what you have on hand or order yourself a pair of Joyce Chen Scissors, commonly used in the cut flower industry. Alternatively, you can pinch them off with your finger nails (if they are long enough and your hands are nimble).

4. Seedlings, thinned out, and ready to grow.

thinned out seedlings

5. Don’t just trash them! Thinned out seedlings can either be composted or fed to your chickens! (They could use some nutritious greens this time of year.)

feeding sprouts to chickensChickens eating sprouts

6. Don’t forget to water your growing seedlings every 3-4 days.

fancy watering apparatus

If you don’t have access to a utility sink in your growing space, there are ways around this. My fancy watering apparatus consists of a large plastic storage bin to catch the water as it drains. I placed an inverted plant tray (with holes) at the base of the tub to keep the seedling tray raised above standing water.

seedlings ready to be wateredAfter the seed flats are watered, the excess water is poured down the sump pump drain and percolates naturally. Additionally, now that a sediment filter is hooked up in the basement, I have access to fresh water without having to go upstairs (both these time saving tips I learned from our plumber). Trekking up the stairs, with an oversized bin of dirty water, and back down again with an overflowing watering can in hand is doable, but more frustrating and time consuming.

Once your seedlings grow big enough, it’s time to transplant. More on that in a future post.

Related Posts:
Need help selecting and sourcing seeds? Seeds Of Inspiration
Want to build a grow stand? Growing Pains: Building A Grow Stand From Scratch.
Searching for soil recipes? Give Your Seeds A Great Start By Using The Right Soil Mixtures.


About The Giving Garden

Shane Morgan is a landscape designer specializing in eco-friendly and edible gardens. A trained ecologist, she understands how to provide clients with beautiful, natural gardens to enjoy all four seasons, installed and maintained with minimal impact on the environment. She is an avid home gardener, committed to sustainable agriculture, native plant gardens, and helping others reduce their Carbon footprint.
This entry was posted in Gardening, Starting Seeds, Vegetable Gardening and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Thinning seedlings: Tedious, But Neccessary

  1. Love the pics! I remember many times as a child helping my mom “cut the little heads off” of the seedlings in her basement as well! Hers wasn’t nearly as organized as yours though:)

    • Hopefully they were fond memories! My kids are always amazed at how fast they grow from seed to plant, and enjoy checking on them. My son even likes to conduct his own taste tests.

  2. Thank you. and WordPress are what I use.

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