How to Thin Herb Seedlings

Don’t skip this important step when growing these edible treasures from seed

Video by Jennifer Benner. Edited by Christine Alexander

Growing herbs from seed is an incredibly rewarding and inexpensive way to savor homegrown flavor fresh from your garden at your table. Getting the seeds to sprout is generally the easiest step. There are a few other essential steps, however, to successfully nurture seedlings into mature and useful plants. This includes providing adequate light and water as the seedlings grow and, one of the most important steps, thinning—reducing the number of seedlings to prevent overcrowding and allow the strongest plants to thrive.

Thinning can be done in a number of different ways. Here are some common approaches.

  1. Pluck. When seedlings are very young and not yet root bound, you can gently pull out and remove less vigorous seedlings from your planting container. Depending on the type of herb you are growing, plan to thin down your containers to anywhere from two to five healthy seedlings.
  1. Snip. Another way to thin is by trimming less vigorous seedlings all the way down to soil level using scissors. This method is especially useful if your seedlings are root bound or heavily intertwined. Snipping the unwanted plants rather than plucking them, prevents damaging the keepers.
  1. Divide. When seedlings have established a healthy root system, they are strong enough to withstand an early division and transplanting. Simply water your seedlings, remove the soil clump from the container, gently split the clump into smaller clumps, and then transplant them to other containers.

For more on how to thin herb seedlings, check out this video on thinning basil seedlings with kitchen garden expert Erin Walrath-Mariano .

Discover 8 Great Herbs Easily Grown from Seed .

—Jennifer Benner is content editor at Fine Gardening .

Photos: Jennifer Benner

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