How To Thin Seedlings {Herb Garden Series}

First, a quick update on our herb garden. The basil and dill are doing great! They sprouted right up about a week after we planted them and have been thriving since. We also definitely have some chamomile and catnip seedlings that have been growing for a week, and this weekend we saw the first leaves pop up above the soil in the third tray as well! But (explanation below) I managed to mix up all the labels when I planted, so I am not sure if it’s the rosemary or the spearmint that sprouted 🙁 Time will tell!

{How to} Thinning seedlings
If you squint real hard you can see the tiny sprouts in the third tray

One thing I had to do this weekend was thin my seedlings. If you are growing plants from seeds, thinning them out is absolutely necessary. This can definitely be one of the harder parts about starting plants from seeds. You plant a bunch of seeds, nurture them with care, water, love, and maybe a few encouraging stories (“The Little Engine That Could”, or “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”). And finally they sprout! You’re thrilled.

And now you have to kill half of them so the rest have a better chance to survive.

It’s horrible, but you have to do it. So grit your teeth and get on with it. Here’s a few tips on how to thin seedlings.

What is thinning seedlings, and why do I have to do it?

Usually when you grow plants from seed you place two or three seeds in each hole in the ground in case a few don’t grow. But if you have a green thumb and they all grow, then they will be competing with each other for water, soil nutrients, sunlight, and space to grow. “Thinning” just means removing the extra seedlings from each pot or clump so that only one is left.

{How to} Thinning seedlings
Time to thin these dill seedlings; they are growing well but there are too many in each little pod

By thinning your seedlings you give your plants the proper space and nutrients they need to grow larger and faster. They may still grow if you don’t thin them, but they will probably be pretty scraggly. Thinning gives them a chance to flourish!

Ok, so when do I need to thin my seedlings?

You don’t want to thin your seedlings as soon as they’ve germinated because they will still be very young and tender. But you also don’t want to wait until you can see visible signs that some in a pot or clump are struggling to grow. It’s really up to you to decide when to do it, but somewhere in there is recommended.

This past weekend is the three-week mark from when we planted our herbs. I thinned the basil and dill because they’ve been growing like gangbusters for about two weeks now, but I left the others alone because they are only about a week old and still fairly new.

And how do I thin my seedlings?

This is the most important question. Most people are tempted to pull the extra seedlings up out of the ground, like you would with a weed, but DON’T! The root systems of your seedlings are still very fragile and you could severely damage them by doing this.

Instead, take a pair of kitchen scissors or garden shears and cut the seedling’s stem right at the soil level. You can grab the cut seedling and toss it, or it’s fine to just leave it in the pot. It will decompose and become like fertilizer for the surviving seedling.

Cut seedlings with scissors at base of stem to thin them
Cut the seedling at the base of the stem, right above the soil line

Have you ever grown plants from seeds and had to thin them before? Did you feel bad like I did? It was kind of a bummer to cut down seedlings that had been growing so well, but it will be worth it in the end.

*sigh* Sometimes when I get excited I get careless, but thank goodness for Katie who’s keeping me on track! She pointed out in the comments below (very nicely, I might add) that perhaps the dill and basil labels were switched in my original photograph 🙂 And of course, she was right! I don’t have any experience with dill, but I know what basil looks like and I kept thinking to myself “I wonder when these leaves are going to broaden and thicken up a bit…” Well, turns out they aren’t going to. Because they’re dill leaves. Not basil. *facepalm* And, to make it even worse I actually think I switched every single label for all six of our plants! The catnip/chamomile tray was definitely switched as well, but only one plant from the spearmint/rosemary tray has sprouted, so I suppose we’ll wait and see if I switched those labels as well. Duh. Anyways, 20 points to Katie for catching and pointing out my mistake, thanks so much!


This post is part of a series about growing herbs indoors. You can see the rest of the posts in the series here.



I link up at these awesome parties!

Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. Motivated Mommy of two says

    12 years ago

    I grew plants from seeds in a green house kit. I did no thin them out not because I chose not to I just did not know. I transplanted them to pots when they were ready to be transplanted. So far they are growing really good, but my question is what happens if you don't thin them out. You can see from this post how they are doing. Should I thin them out? or just let them continue to grow. Thanks BTW: stopping by from the Home Decor & organizing link party.

  2. Betsy @ Romance on a Dime says

    12 years ago

    These are great tips!! I've been wanting to grow plants from seeds but haven't really done it yet. Thanks so much for linking this up to Romance on a Dime!! Glad you stopped by. 🙂

  3. JULIE says

    12 years ago

    hi, I found your link at under the table…

    THANK YOU for this great post, and great information! This year I started my vegetables from seeds- for the first time- and have been hesitant to thin them out for the exact reasons you listed (I grew those babies!!! lol!). I HAD pulled few out- and I'm glad to learn that I should just clip them. Thank you!!!

  4. Jessi W says

    12 years ago

    I was thoroughly surprised at how many of the seeds I planted had actually sprouted. I was bummed to have to thin them because I was excited stuff was growing, but it's definitely worth it.

  5. Kristen says

    12 years ago

    I found your blog from Sundae Scoop. This is a really helpful post! I started some basil a few weeks ago and I had way more seeds sprout than I thought would. I was just trying to figure out what to do – your post is very helpful.

  6. Anu@My Dream Canvas says

    12 years ago

    What an amazing post! I am visiting you via the Weekend Wrap up party and I hope to see you at My Dream Canvas.

  7. SusanD1408 Crochet Addict says

    12 years ago

    A new follower from the mingle. Thanks for all your tips!

  8. Jessi W says

    12 years ago

    Ha, scratch that… I totally just googled "basil seedling" and "dill seedling" and you're totally correct! Guess I messed it up when I planted. Luckily it doesn't seem to have hurt either plant yet, so far they seem to like the same growing conditions, sun, water, etc.

    I'll switch the labels on the plants and in the photo tonight! Thanks for keeping an eye on me Katie, I get a little distracted sometimes… *facepalm*

  9. Jessi W says

    12 years ago

    Yeah, the basil and dill seedlings are very different from what the grown-up plants should look like… But I labeled them right after planting them, so unless I just totally failed and switched them at that point, I think it's correct! That could easily be the case though, so I guess we'll see as they grow 🙂

  10. Katie says

    12 years ago

    Are they labels backward on the basil and the dill? I forget what they're like as seedlings, but when all growed up (^_^), dill has thin ferny leaves and basil has big round ones, so it seems backwards…but maybe they start out that way.

    Oh thinning! I sort of like it, actually, but that sounds sadistic to admit–that I enjoy choosing who lives and who dies….^_~

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