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My first effort at growing tomatoes was last year when I was given plants ~20cm tall and it went well. This year I'm having another go, but starting from seed. On the grounds that I have no seed trays, etc and don't really know what I'm doing, I bought a lazy kit type of thing, which provided me a small degradable tray, soil and seeds.

The instructions provided had be filling the pots to ~2cm down adding the seeds and then topping off with ~1cm more soil. I assumed you added lots of seeds because there was an expected failure rate, so used them all (this may have been wrong).

This was only a week ago and I already have over five seedlings growing in the two 4cm pots that took tomato seeds. I suspect if I leave them there they will get entangled and so on?

Should I endeavour to separate the plants? Or maybe remove the weakest? I don't want over 10 tomato plants, two will be plenty, so I'm not adverse to just plucking out those I don't need!

Here's a quick photo:

Photo of Tomato Seedlings in 4cm pots

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Yes, you should thin them. If you wanted to keep them, you could try pricking out -- gently tease apart the roots from the soil and move the plant into a separate container. Always handle the plant by the leaves, not the stem. (The plant can replace a broken leaf, but a broken stem is fatal.)

In your case, since you've got more plants than you need, thin them by snipping the weakest with kitchen scissors. Don't try pulling them out since you may disturb the plants you want to keep. You'll also want to favor the ones in the center of the pots versus the ones growing right on the edge.

Regarding the "failure rate": decent quality tomato seed should germinate at something like a 90% rate. So in the future, you can use two seeds per pot if you want to be sure, but I usually do one per pot and start a few extra pots to make sure I have as many as I want at the beginning of the season.

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You should definitely thin them out. No more than two per spot. If you have two, you will have to make sure they get enough nutrients and water. I snip the stem of the thinnest stalked seedlings with a pair of scissors. If they are the same height I pick the one with more leaves. It does look like your seedlings could use a little more light, but they will be fine. When you plant them, make sure you plant them deep. The bottom leaves should not be touching the soil but be close. This will help the plant grow thicker by producing a better root structure.

Tomato seeds are crazy reliable. I filled up a tray of 50 spots w/2 seeds each. Only 2 were empty by transplant and after that I had some still popping up.

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They are not too crowded, yet. But, they will be soon. You can use all or most of those young seedlings by giving them what I call a "root bath." In the picture above, I see about 10 plants. I do this to avoid dealing with failed seeds and use fewer seeds to get a crop. If you have extras, give them away or trade with a friend. Most warm season crops work well, some cool season crops don't like transplanting. Tomatoes are easy.

For the bath, wait until the plants get to about 1-2 inches tall, then dip the each plant set, with soil, in a cool bowl of water and gently loosen the soil from the roots. Next, gently separate the plants at the root. Keep the plants in the water for a few minutes while preparing new pots for each plant. Gently insert each individual plant into the soil of a new pot, firm them in a little and water well. Keep the roots wet and undamaged and almost every little seedling will stay happy. I regularly turn a 2in x 2in soil cube with seedlings into a full bed of 30 plants this way.

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