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Thinning the Seedlings

April 2nd, 2009

I started these broccoli & cabbage seedlings back on March 2, they germinated quickly. Since most of the seedlings had their first set of true leaves I decided it was time to thin them to the strongest seedling in each cell (I typically seed 2-3 seeds per cell).
When they get to this stage I cut all but the strongest best looking seedling. It’s tough to do, as gardeners we want every plant to succeed; but the truth is that the strongest ones will make the best plants and produce the most in the garden.
I really hate cutting down the little seedlings, but since I use the thinnings for a salad, it makes the process a little more bearable. I also like knowing that I will have the strongest plants for the garden and hopefully I will have a bountiful harvest in a few months because of this small effort now.

What’s your strategy for planting/thinning seedlings?

14 Comments to “Thinning the Seedlings”
  1. Mangochild on April 2, 2009 at 7:14 am

    Thinning seedlings is the hardest part of gardening for me. I literally start to cry when I have to pull the smaller ones, especially since I spent so much time hoping they would grow and watching them spring up. Like I’m giving up on them after encouraging them. (Okay, I know, I get too emotionally invested…. Can’t help it!)
    Like you, I use the thinnings for a salad or as filling for a wrap sandwich, so I at least do use them and feel like they weren’t a waste of the time it took to grow them. I try to select the strongest to keep growing, of course, but sometimes its hard when two look similarly hardy. Plus as a newbie, its hard sometimes to pick up on the signs of comparative strength. I’m looking for a resource showing the growth stages of commonly grown veg though, so I can have a sense of when to transplant, when to thin, etc.

    Mangochild’s last blog post.. Local Discoveries – Things Are Out There….

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    • Susy on April 2, 2009 at 8:42 am

      It is tough sometimes to choose the “right” one. I often look for the ones with the thickest sturdiest stems rather than the tallest biggest plants. I find that those seem to be really hardy little plants.

      I usually try to thin mine after they’ve gotten their first set of true leaves, I wait until the leaves are a bit bigger (as you can see above) and then make my choices.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  2. KitsapFG on April 2, 2009 at 8:06 am

    I think my seedlings exactly as you do. I was just looking at my pepper seedlings last night and thinking it was time to thin them down to the one plant per cell this weekend. Same with the celery starts. The micro greens salad that your thinning produced looks pretty yummy.

    Reply to KitsapFG's comment

  3. deborah on April 2, 2009 at 8:10 am

    I definitely need to follow your lead. I can’t seem to force myself to thin in this way. Instead, I’ll plant three or four seeds per cell (just in case) and then move each to its own cell, ending up with four times the number of plants I need! I do have lots of folks who are willing to take my extras, but room under the lights becomes an issue. I need some spine!

    deborah’s last blog post.. April is the cruelest month…

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    • Susy on April 2, 2009 at 8:39 am

      I used to do that as well, but then I realized that the strongest ones make the best final plants and produce the most. And unless they’re tomatoes & broccoli, they often don’t like to be transplanted, it results in shock that hampers growth for a while. This year I’m trying to be really good about thinning.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  4. kristin on April 2, 2009 at 10:06 am

    I haven’t yet thinned anything, since I really just started planting things. Some of my seeds were kind of old, so I planted more seeds in each pot, figuring on a lower germination rate. But you watch, now they’ll ALL germinate, and I’ll have to be ruthless.

    kristin’s last blog post.. The Whys and Wherefores

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  5. Layanee on April 2, 2009 at 10:51 am

    I did just whip out a few radishes but really need to do a more thorough job of that. Love those seedlings!

    Layanee’s last blog post.. After the rain

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  6. Teri on April 2, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I hate to thin. I am dreading picking the blooms off my 2nd year blueberry plants. It makes me cry.

    This is the first year I have started seeds inside and I used my kitchen sheers the other day to thin out my tomatoes. Now I am wondering when I need to transplant them into something bigger.

    Teri’s last blog post.. 91/365

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  7. Dan on April 2, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Your brassica starts look great. I just snip off my thinnings and compost them, so heartless.

    Dan’s last blog post.. coming soon… to a veggie blog near you

    Reply to Dan's comment

  8. […] that some of the seedlings I had grown couldn’t make it to the next stage of life.  Per the advice of Chiot’s Run, I chose ones with the thickest stems and the clearest leaves.  All of the seedlings have their […]

    Reply to Seedling Update: Transplanting and New “Adoptees” « Living In A Local Zone's comment

  9. In the Garden: Inside and Out | Chiot's Run on April 14, 2009 at 7:47 am

    […] above freezing (it was 26 last night) I’m going to harden them off and plant them outside. The cabbage & broccoli seedlings are starting to grow like weeds, they are all about 6 inches tall. They’ll be going outside soon […]

    Reply to In the Garden: Inside and Out | Chiot’s Run's comment

  10. Andrea on January 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm

    I have a silly question. If you just cut the seedlings, they don’t continue to grow again? You don’t thin by pulling out root and all?

    Reply to Andrea's comment

    • Susy on January 30, 2011 at 12:01 am

      Actually since they’re just seedlings and they don’t have a lot of roots developed, they don’t regrow. They don’t have enough energy because they used it all to put up the leaves. This is why you want to thin seedlings when they’re young.

      Reply to Susy's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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