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How to thin seedlings

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If you’ve ever purchased a packet of seedlings, then you know that there’s more in a package than could actually grow in a small backyard garden. And if you’re not using the square-foot gardening method where you only use several seeds at a time, then you could find yourself with an abundance of seedlings in a small space. (Not familiar with square-foot gardening? Check out all the reasons it’s fantastic!)

seedlings growing in potting soil

This is where knowing how to thin out seedlings is so important. Thinning out seedlings gives the growing plants the room they need to get plenty of sunshine, water, and nutrients from the soil without competing with other plants that are too close to them. Much like pruning, thinning out is great for plants (maybe not the one’s being thinned… but they’re not a total loss!) The process of how to thin seedlings is really quite simple. 

How to thin seedlings

Step one: Go through the seedlings and find the smallest ones. They’re usually hiding underneath the larger seedlings. Pull them up by the roots and set them aside. Depending on the type of seedlings you’re thinning, you can leave 1 to 2 inches of space for smaller plants, or 4 to 5 inches of space for larger plants such as cabbage or kale. The seed package itself is a wealth of information for how far apart the plants should be spaced.affiliate link policy

Step two: Once you finish the initial thinning out, go back after a few weeks and make sure everything has a good amount of space to grow. If the plants need more room, repeat the thinning process. Depending on the kind of crop being thinned out, the small seedlings can usually be used as micro greens in a recipe. Or if the roots are intact,  try replanting them in a different place. See my video at the bottom of this post for a look at thinning out arugula. I thinned once, then came back a week later to pull a few more. 

how to thin seedlings

Video of how to thin seedlings

As you’ll see in my video below, I am thinning out my crop of arugula. I did not adhere to the square-foot method of only using a few seeds where I wanted the plants to grow. Instead, I used most of a package in a long line much like a row garden method. Since arugula can be eaten as a micro green, I’ll be able to use the thinned out seedlings on salads, a sandwich, or in a smoothie. 

And as a general rule, you can always go back in to thin more. But if you thin too much the first time, you may be disappointed in the resulting crop. So thin lightly the first round, and let your plants grow a little bit more. Then come back in another week or so and assess whether you need to thin out any more plants.


I’d love to know what crops you are thinning out this garden season, and I hope you found this helpful. Have a great week and happy gardening!

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