Vegetable Garden

Thinning Vegetables ~ Now’s the Time

June 23, 2014

If you’re new to growing vegetables this year you might have noticed that your veg have grown quickly over the past few weeks thanks to some rain, glorious sunshine and a lovely long stretch in the days. They may be growing so fast in fact that they’re falling over themselves reaching for light and space. If this is the case you will have to start ‘thinning’ your seedlings (if you haven’t done so already), which effectively means pulling some of the plants out of the soil to allow space for the others to grow.

Time to Thin Your Vegetables

Beetroot Plants Waiting to be Thinned

I personally found this a very difficult process when we began growing our own food here at home. I didn’t want to have to make the decision over which plant would be pulled out and which allowed to grow on, after all I had been carefully minding all my seedlings up until that point. All I can say is that the decision-making process gets easier with time as you will quickly see the benefits of giving your vegetables the space to develop properly.

Thinning Beetroot ~ Now's the Time

Baby beetroot leaves ~ delicious lightly steamed or sautéed in butter & garlic

Once thinned the vegetables will have the space to grow, they’ll have better access to soil nutrients and they’ll stand a better chance of withstanding diseases thanks to the increase in air circulation between them.

Depending upon which vegetables you’re about to thin, you can tackle the process in a couple of ways:

Thinning Vegetables ~ Now's the Time

Baby Beetroot ‘Thinnings’

A) Remove the very small and weak seedlings which will allow the larger, stronger ones to grow on.

B) Remove the large seedlings (or baby vegetables by this stage) and eat them, giving the smaller seedlings space to grow.

I’ve found A) most effective with carrot and parsnip seedlings and B) better with cabbage, swede, beetroot and chard. That said, if the carrots are more than a fingernail length (any smaller and they’re too fiddly to bother with) they are delicious washed and added to salads.

Some seedlings can be pulled and replanted elsewhere – lettuce, cabbage, kale, spinach and chard respond will do this. However, root vegetables don’t generally like being disturbed so it’s usually not worth trying to replant beetroot, carrots and parsnips. That said, there are always exceptions, so if sending your seedlings off to the compost heap is a problem, try replanting them and see what happens. Learning by doing is the best way to remember. (Note: never compost carrot thinnings as they can attract the carrot root fly.)

If you’d like to find out more about thinning vegetables, Gardeners World have some fact sheets for plants that you might find helpful.

Was it just me or have you ever had to get over the dilemma about selecting which seedlings stay and which go?



  • Reply Catherine C June 23, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    I know I really need to do this with my carrots, but I feel so bad about killing the lovely little seedlings!! I’ve got to get a tweezers or scissors soon…I feel like a murderer though 🙁

    • Reply greensideupveg June 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm

      It does get easier, promise! Especially if you can let the thinnings get a little bigger and eat them 🙂 It’s also a useful exercise in helping us not to oversow the following year I’ve found.

  • Reply Lorna June 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I hate pulling seedlings – feel like I’m murdering them! Lovely pulling little lettuce leaves though 🙂

    • Reply greensideupveg June 30, 2014 at 11:15 pm

      Think I’ve done it so much have got over it now but still haven’t forgotten how that feels. Sometimes the smaller leaves etc are much tastier, hence the popularity of microgreens 🙂


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