What Happens if You Don’t Thin Seedlings

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Is is really that big of deal if you don’t thin seedlings?

When you plant garden crops from seed — whether indoors or directly in the garden — you may find yourself in a dilemma that most beginning gardeners face:

LOTS of sprouts!

thinning seedlings when they're planted too close together

Planting Seeds Too Close Together

One one hand, you’re excited. They sprouted! Yay! It certainly does take an act of faith to plant seeds in soil and wait to see if any results will come of your labor.

But many gardeners are so fearful that their seeds won’t grow that they over plant, planting the seeds too close together. The next thing they know, tiny little seedlings cover their planting area.

And then comes the real dilemma: what do you do with all of those sprouts? It seems cruel to pull, pluck, or cut them. But the hard truth is, you have to thin your seedlings.

Why It’s Important to Thin Seedlings

Without the proper amount of spacing between plants, your seedlings will never reach full maturity. All those little sprouts compete for nutrients, water, and light. The nutrients in the soil meant to sustain one plant is instead shared among a dozen plants. Thus, they all suffer.

Even if you do plant to transplant them in the garden, trust me when I tell you, it’s hard to separate those seedlings from one another. Their roots enter-twine and you will cause more damage than if you had culled them in the first place.

tomato seedlings

Plants cannot grow to their potential when they have to compete with other plants. That’s why every seed packet gives 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.

How to Start Thinning Seedlings

So what do you do? If you find that you dropped a little too much seed, determine how far apart each plant needs to be from the next one. Then, choose the strongest seedling and cut any others off at soil level so you don’t disturb the roots of the one that stays.

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.

Or, if we’re talking about broccoli, cabbage, radish, onion, carrots, arugula, lettuce, spinach, and others, clip them off and throw them in your salad — fresh microgreens!

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.

For more detailed steps on how to thin your seedlings, check out this article: How to Thin Seedlings: A Beginner’s Guide

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  1. What if you only planted 3 seeds together and they produce a bunch of seedlings and they are all strong but still a maze of roots together? What would I do as far as transplanting and such?
    Thank you.

    1. Depends on the plant. Tomatoes and peppers can often be separated, but other plants aren’t as adaptable. Usually I snip two of them and leave the strongest one.

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