Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
May, 2007
Regional Report

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This spinach desperately needs thinning for the healthiest production.

Thin, Thin, Thin!

The gardening season is upon us, with tiny seedlings popping up all over. As those seedlings appear, there is something that we all must do, as hard as it is. We must show our fortitude and thin, thin, thin!

I seeded spinach last fall, and the plants got an early start in November before the garden shut down. I was so thrilled to see them coming along well this spring until I realized that they were really growing fast and were crowded.

As much as it hurt, I settled down in the garden to thin them out. I filled my basket with the spinach thinnings, and that evening my family celebrated the first harvest of the season with a delightful salad of baby spinach, young sorrel leaves, and chives.

It sometimes seems such a waste to thin out seedlings, and it's not a particularly pleasant job because you are working with such tiny plants. But it is an absolute necessity in order to have good-sized onions, lettuce, greens of any sort, carrots, beets, and Swiss chard, just to name a few.

Follow Spacing Recommendations
When you are given the spacing recommendations on a seed packet, they are usually pretty close to the mark as to the best growing conditions for the plants. You can sometimes push the spacing a bit if you have excellent soil, but otherwise, those plant roots need the recommended room to grow.

For example, unthinned carrots will just not grow well. If they are crowded, you get a cluster of many small plants that never make good roots. If you thin appropriately, you will have fewer plants, but they will be strong and sturdy with tasty roots.

Beets and Swiss chard also must be thinned because those bumpy little "seeds" you plant are actually little balls of seeds. Check out your beets as they emerge, and even if you space those little balls apart appropriately, you will find multiple seedlings at each spot. You need to choose the strongest and pinch off the rest so that the strong one will produce a good-sized beet.

Saving Thinned Seedlings
In some circumstances you can transplant the seedlings you remove, but it's very tedious work and usually only half successful. Instead, just plan to put more seed down in the first place and sacrifice the weaker ones when they come up.

In order not to disturb the roots of the one you are leaving behind, try to pinch off the others instead of pulling them. I was able to pull my spinach since I waited so long and they had all already formed sturdy crowns. But if I had thinned last fall, I would have only pinched. I didn't thin then because I just didn't know how many would make it through the winter.

So, even though it may be painful to pull out all the extra plants, it is certainly worth it in the long run.

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