For plants that have been direct seeded into your garden, you may find that once the seedlings have begun to appear, you’ll need to thin them. This is especially true for root crops, as well as crops that have delicate root systems.
This part of the garden chores should be done as soon as the plants are large enough to pull out of the garden, and before they begin to show the effects of crowding in the garden.
When you’re deciding which plants to thin, you need to keep in mind not only keeping the most healthy plants, but also maintaining proper spacing. Failure to properly thin your garden will usually result in an inferior crop, or one that doesn’t produce to its potential.
Some gardeners are reluctant to thin their plants, and often put it off until it’s too late. Thinnings of carrots, onions and other similar vegetables are often delayed, as the gardener hopes to use the thinnings, as opposed to simply tossing them on the compost heap. Unfortunately this is usually a bad idea. Overcrowded plants take longer to reach maturity, and as they get bigger, the removal of one plant is more likely to seriously disturb its neighbors.
A better solution is to thin in two stages. In the first, or preliminary, thinning, thin as early as possible, but leave the plants about twice as thick as you ultimately want them to grow. In second stage thinning, you can then pull out about every other plant as soon as they reach edible size.
This style of thinning is particularly suited to carrots, beets, lettuce and onions. Parsnips, salsify and other root crops should be thinned once, and to their full distance.
If you are afraid to pull plants to thin the crop, try using kitchen scissors or garden shears. Snip the tops of the plants to be sacrificed. The soil around the plants you want to keep will remain undisturbed, but by removing the leaf structure, you stop the growth of the unwanted plants.
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