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When thinning seedlings (salads, beetroots, spinach etc) I will normally pull out the entire plant (root included) of the discarded seedlings. Like it's a weed.

Where my seedlings are densely packed this is nearly impossible to do without disturbing and possibly damaging the remaining "good" seedling.

So is it sufficient to just pinch out the discarded seedlings and leave the root system in there? That way I've given the remaining seedlings the space they need above ground. But presumably they also need the room underground too? Will the left over roots make way and/or die off fast enough?

So is decapitation a valid thinning strategy?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I thin my carrots with kitchen scissors. It avoids the problems you describe with disturbing neighboring roots, and the small plants quickly die -- the leftover root systems aren't big enough to cause a problem. It's also an accurate way to do the thinning without having to get my big clumsy hands in amongst the plants.

I should also add that this is a useful strategy for weeding around the same batch of delicate seedlings. It's tedious, but you only need to snip right near the seedlings, and usually only early in the season -- I do it when I'm thinning.

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I always have the same problem as Tea Drinker when thinning seedlings. This is a really useful tip. Thanks. –  Mancuniensis Jun 24 '11 at 22:53

Everywhere that I've seen this discussed has said to cut the seedlings (presumably with some sort of clean scissors) you don't want to keep as close to the soil level as you can. Otherwise you may uproot or at least disturb the seedlings you want to keep.

I'd never considered the problem of the left-over root system. However, I've noticed that with the seedlings that I have pulled and separated by hand, the root system isn't very large yet at the point of the first thinning. I would expect that this would therefore not be a significant problem.

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I've had bad luck thinning by uprooting, specifically with salad greens. I use an old pair of manicuring scissors while kneeling down at ground level with great success. It's a bit tedious but seems to get the job done well.

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