Thinning Seedlings

However carefully one may sow seed outdoors, there is always some thinning out to be done. Do it when the seedlings are small, so there is a minimum of root disturbance to neighboring plants. The best plants should remain in position, while weak and indifferent specimens should be removed.

carefully thinning the seedling

Water the rows lightly some hours before thinning. Refirm the soil after thinning and if the weather is dry, water the rows. Do not do this unless really necessary or the roots will come to the surface and may be scorched by the sun.

With some crops, notably carrots and onions, thinning out is best done twice; the later thinnings being used in salads. Never delay the final thinning or the crop may be harmed by overcrowding.

Never leave unwanted seedlings lying on the ground, for disease spores may gain a hold and spread on to healthy plants. In the case of onions and carrots, flies may lay their eggs on the roots of the plants, attracted by the scent of the discarded seedlings.


Some crops including cabbages, cauliflowers and Brussels sprouts, transplant very easily, as do beans, leeks, tomatoes and celery, especially during showery weather. While all seedlings must be firmly replanted, make sure not to bury them too deeply.

transplanting a tomato plant

This is particularly important with cauliflowers, which if put in too firmly; show a tendency to become blind, producing robust leaves but no curds. The crown should always be clear of the ground, allowing no soil to lodge in the center.

When planting cauliflowers and other brassicas, use organic compost made from grass clippings, leaves and food scraps, or dust the holes with seaweed granules or lime to lessen the risk of club root attacks.

Shallow drills can be drawn out and the plants set in them on high ground or where strong winds are frequently experienced. Cauliflowers need extra support by earthing up firmly round the stem.

The drills will give protection from ground winds, help to prevent the roots from drying out in very dry weather, and aid watering since moisture will penetrate directly to the roots.

When planting out in summer, some protection from strong sunshine must be given to newly moved seedlings, otherwise the young plants may wilt and die. The planting can be done with a trowel or dibber.

The advantage of using a trowel is that holes can be made to receive roots with a ball of soil, which means less disturbance to the finer roots and in turn, a less severe check to growth.

The handle of the trowel can be used to press the soil firmly around the roots. If a slight depression is left around the stem and should watering be necessary, it will ensure that moisture reaches the roots and is not dispersed around them.

Once plants are growing well, the loose soil can be worked towards them, filling in the repressions to encourage sturdy growth.

very useful dibbler

A dibber is a useful little tool, but it is advisable to make sure that air pockets are not left at the bottom of the hole. If this happens, water may drain into the hole and drown the roots.

After withdrawing the dibber, make another hole at an angle to the first hole, levering soil against the stem to anchor it in position, and fill in any air pockets. The second hole can be left for watering the plant.

Wherever possible, members of the cabbage family should always be planted with a dibber, excepting cauliflowers which do best in trowel holes. Cucumbers, sweet corn and tomatoes also do better when planted with a trowel.

When seeds have been sown in boxes or pots of John Innes compost or a peat-based mixture, they will have to be pricked out. Lift them carefully from the box—all of them—and replant them with more space into other receptacles or into their final positions in the garden.

They must be lifted carefully by using a garden label, trowel or some other pointed implement. Transplant them immediately when the soil is nicely moist.

When moving seedlings, take care to hold them by the two leaves brought gently together—never by the stem. Seedlings raised under heated frames or in greenhouses must be gradually hardened off before being moved outdoors.

Particularly in the case of brassica seedlings, a watch must be kept to ensure that nea beetles do not attack the young plants. As a precaution it is a good plan to dust the seedlings with flea beetle powder. This prevents attacks which can ruin a whole batch of plants.