My physical therapist and I chatted about spring coming up and my hopes that my back pain wouldn’t hurt my ability to garden last year. As she pulled my leg (literally), she told me how she didn’t have much luck with her garden the season before.
“My tomato plants grew a little but never really produced.”
I prodded further, wondering why she didn’t have much luck.
“I planted all these seeds, and they all sprouted, but then the plants didn’t grow very big.”
“Did you pluck out some seedlings to make room for the remaining ones?” I asked.
“No, we were just so excited that so many came up that we just let them all grow.”
That, I told her, was the problem. Most beginning gardeners will start their gardens by buying seedlings at the local nursery or garden center. I had to give her credit for planting her tomatoes from seed.
But here’s the problem that can occur. You’re so excited about all these beautiful little sprouts that you can’t bear to pluck any out. It’s like choosing your favorite child. You want them all!
What happens, then, is all those little seedlings compete for nutrients, water, and light. The nutrients in the soil meant to sustain one plant is instead among a dozen plants, thus they all suffer.
Plants cannot grow to their potential when they have to compete with other plants. That’s why every seed packet and every blurb of instructions on seedlings give directions on how far to space the seeds or plants. It’s imperative each plant has plenty of space to grow and collect nutrients and water.
So what do you do? If you find that you dropped a little too much seed (which is entirely possible), decide how far apart the remaining plants need to be, and cut any others off at soil level. I know it’s hard. But it has to be done.
With some plants, if they’re not too well-established, you may be able to pluck the seedling out and replant in another place. I’ve had some success in doing this. It usually depends on the plant and how much trauma it has gone through in the transplant.
The bottom line is, to ensure the best harvest for each plant, make sure it has adequate room surrounding it. Otherwise, you’ll have lots of little plants but no harvest. And you certainly don’t want that.
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