How to Thin Seedlings

How to Thin Out Crowded SeedlingsUse garden snips or a scissors to thin out crowded seedlings.

Nobody likes to thin seedlings. It's fussy work, and always hard to decide which ones to save and which to toss. Here's and easier way: When the first true leaves appear, snip off the extra seedlings at the soil line. You'll be left with only as many seedlings as you need.

More Tips

  • Don't seed too thickly. Two to three seeds per pot is sufficient.
  • Some gardeners carefully separate the seedlings and replant the extras in other pots. Thrifty, yes, but it's easy to damage the tiny plants. If you decide to transplant any of the seedlings, loosen them carefully from the soil, using a table knife. When handling the seedlings, grasp them by their leaves or roots; avoid holding the stems, which can be damaged easily.
  • If you're thinning a crop of lettuce seedlings, you can actually add the tiny thinnings to your next salad.
Step by Step Thinning of Seedlings Illustrations

Step 1

Plant Your Seeds
Germination rates typically vary from 70 to 90 percent, so you should plant more seeds than you think you'll really need. Cover lightly with soil and water well.

Step 1: Plant Your Seeds

Step 2

Watch for Seeds to Sprout
As soon as the first seedlings pop up, put the tray under bright fluorescent lights for 15 hours per day. Let seedlings grow until they have two sets of "true" leaves.

Watch for seeds to sprout

Step 3

Snip — Don't Rip! — at the Soil Line
Use a scissors to snip out any weak or crowded seedlings. Remaining plants will have room to develop properly, without having their roots disturbed.

Snip at the soil line

Step 4

Feed Your Seedlings
For sturdy plants with strong root systems, start applying a water-soluble fertilizer, such as Plant Health Care, about once a week. Keep lights close to the plants — no more than a couple inches from the leaves.

Feed your seedlings

Last updated: 09/14/2023