What does “thinning” entail?

Let’s talk about thinning. My more experienced gardeners are most likely very familiar with the thinning concept but for anyone who is trying their hand at gardening for the first time there is a good chance that you have read a seed packet that said, “thin to 3-5 inches” and thought…wait, what? Have no fear, dear friends, the gardening community is here to help!

There are a number of reasons you may want to sow your seeds close together. Some seeds are TINY. Don’t believe me? Open a pack of oregano seeds. It would be miserably difficult and time consuming to try putting one seed in each pellet. Some seeds display improved germination rates when seeded in clusters, this is likely the result of a hormone exchange. Some seeds just have a poor germination rate in general and by planting more seeds you increase your odds of obtaining the desired number of seedlings. These are just a few reasons but don’t stress, thinning is a simple process and there are multiple methods to achieve the same result — giving your plants enough space to thrive.

Clipping. If you have planted herbs or flowers in the pot that you would like to keep them in for the duration of their lifespan, then you may want to try clipping. Another scenario in which clipping is preferable would be if you have planted seeds with a root system that cannot be disturbed. i.e. carrots This method is simple. You take a pair of scissors and clip the unwanted seedlings away right at the surface of the soil. That’s it. This gives the plants that you want to keep plenty of room to grow, especially veggies like radishes that form a bulb when fully mature. If they’re too crowded then your yield will be poor because there won’t be room for the bulb to develop. It will be tempting to pull the unwanted sprouts instead of clipping them but you risk disturbing and possibly ruining the root system of the neighboring seedling, so I strongly advise you to clip instead.

Transplanting. Let me guess…you want to keep them all. I get it. You see those little babies pop through the soil and it’s love at first sight. You want to nurture every single one of them. So long as you are not working with root vegetables this should be attainable. Rather than clipping your seedlings off, aka killing them, you can just transplant them into a bigger space. When transplanting I typically replant my seedlings a little deeper, usually up to just below the first set of “true leaves”. This is not the first set of leaves that you see emerge from the soil, it’s the second set. It is advised that you do not transplant until your seedlings have at least one set of true leaves. After you have replanted your seedlings at the suggested distance, whether inside or outside, you should give them a drink. Preferably water. No matter how gentle your transplanting process may be you will inevitably have done some damage to the root system and providing water will help the plants recover and rebuild.

I know there is a lot of jargon associated with gardening but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Sowing seeds can be simple. Thinning can be simple. Transplanting can be simple, and before you know it you have more basil than you know what to do with. Give it a shot and if it doesn’t work try again. Enjoy the process. Cheers, friends!

Dark Opal Basil
Basil seedling
Newly transplanted basil, ready for nurturing.

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