I planted some herbs (lavender, basil, cilantro) mid October, almost 6 weeks ago. I started them from seed in an egg carton, transferring them to their current planter box about 2 weeks later. The cilantro plants need immediate attention for obvious reasons but I think I’ll eventually have the same problem with the basil: too many plants and much too close together. But I’m not sure how to go about thinning them out.

I also should mention that they were planted in 4 “pods”. Either I waited too long to transplant and/or didn’t put enough soil but the roots were growing into the bottom of the egg carton. For fear of destroying the roots, I planted the seedlings with the bottom of the egg carton, thus the groups of plants. This goes for all the herbs.

So, what approach should I take in thinning out? How do I choose the stalks to remove? How should I remove them - pull them out of the soil (though they might still be intertwined beneath the soil because of the egg carton issue) or cut them off? If I should cut them down, where should I make the cut?

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2 Answers 2


If the egg carton was cardboard, after 4-6 weeks of being in damp soil it's likely it's degenerated enough to just pull out seedlings in clumps without disturbing the others too much. Even if it wasn't cardboard, roots will likely have already spread outside anyway (assuming you're in the southern hemisphere and it's spring), so try pulling out a few to see how easy or not it is, because the drawback with cutting them down is that might not kill them, they may just regrow.

It's surprising how rough you can be with seedlings of the size I can see in your image - you could just take them out of the soil and pull them apart in clumps, then more carefully extract individual seedlings and replant those. Teasing out individual seedlings for replanting is something I do using the end of a child's small paintbrush, but anything as thin as that with a blunted end will do the job. The soil should be damp before attempting to separate the clumps.

I would just add that the box you've transferred them to doesn't seem to be very deep - if you were intending to keep them in there, something with a depth of 5 or 6 inches would give stronger plants over time.


Use a small pair of scissors and cut all but one plant per each egg carton pot. It's a little late, but it needs to be done. They will start to stand up on their own in a week or so when they get the space, the light and the heat they need to grow.

  • Pulling them apart risk killing them all. Just thin these with shears and replant some more a little thinner so you are not wasting so many seeds. It is physically impossible for basil, cilantro, & lavender seedlings to grow back after cutting them down. That should never be a worry.
    – GardenGems
    Nov 22, 2019 at 17:19

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