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Gardening With Laurie: Thin seedlings to grow healthy plants

March 31, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 30, 2011 at 10:31 p.m.

Laurie Garretson

By Laurie Garretson

I have read several publications over the last couple of seasons that report on the increase in numbers of people now growing their own vegetables.

I have definitely seen for myself how popular growing a home vegetable garden has become. And with the current prices of most fruits and vegetables in local food stores, there's no wonder that consumers have to resort to growing their own.

Many of these first-time gardeners are growing their crops from seeds. Seed is the most economical way to grow plants and one of the more enjoyable ways to garden. There's something exciting about sowing your seeds, and in a few days, finding newly born seedlings.

Most gardeners seem to sow more seeds than is necessary to assure good production.

After the seeds have sprouted, and it comes time to thin these seedlings, many gardeners are very apprehensive. After all, why would you want to thin out some of the same seedlings you just planted?

It really is important to thin out seedlings. Experienced gardeners realize that vegetable plants need the right amount of space to grow healthy plants that produce well.

Leaving seedlings in crowded conditions can prevent plants from growing to their normal size. Crowded plants will compete to get the proper light, water and nutrients they require.

There will also be an increase in the probability for insect and disease problems, partly because of poor air movement and increased humidity levels.

Crowded conditions can also inhibit pollen transfer from one plant to another.

When thinning seedlings, remember two things: always moisten the soil before thinning to help prevent damaging the tiny roots of the remaining plants; and water after thinning to settle any disturbed soil and roots.

Most seedlings are thinned when they are 3- to 4-inches tall. If you get busy and forget to thin your crops, it will be best to then pinch or cut off the unwanted seedlings at ground level, rather than pulling them out of the soil.

Clipping off unwanted seedlings will prevent root damage to the remaining plants.

Thinned out seedlings can be a great additions to salads.

Get in the habit of thinning seedlings while they are still young. It will provide you with healthier crops and higher yields come harvest time.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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