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I bought some young vegetables (maybe 5 inches tall), and some of them were grown in tight bunches of four; mainly the okra and beans.
They came in small containers with a diameter of about 3 inches. While transplanting them to larger containers, I thought they should probably be separated... but they were so close together, I was sure I would destroy all the roots. Thus I left them in bunches for now.

Should they be separated? How important is that?
If so, why would they be grown so darn close together, and how can I separate them without destroying the entire root system?

Young Okra in tight bunch

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Yes, they should be separated, otherwise they will compete and stop growing. You can either wet the soil to separate them easily before transplanting (too late now), or you can cut the unwanted ones just a little bit above the soil. After a few days the roots will loosen enough to be pulled out with less damage to the live ones.

As to why they are grown close together, it's because on a small cell were sown multiple seeds for the eventuality that not all of them will sprout. The seller doesn't separate them because customers usually thin them out by themselves, or they will plant them separately anyway when they reach home.

  • So it seems that it's a compromise: I can either risk damaging all four by cutting into the roots, or just cut three and have one grow. Do you think I could actually separate them? I mean they are only a finger-width apart. – Bort May 12 '18 at 20:07
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    Yes, you can separate them, especially when the soil is moist. If some of the fine roots break, no problem, but try to keep the big roots as much as possible. And even if you break some of the bigger roots, the pants will survive, it will just grow slower. And don't forget to water often with small amounts until they are established. After that, you can water less often with an increased amount. – Alina May 13 '18 at 5:40

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