The best way to thin out lettuce seeds is to use a sharp knife or scissors. You want to cut the plants at least 2 inches deep, but not deeper than that. If you do it too shallowly, you will kill all the young leaves and flowers on your plant.
The idea here is to get rid of all the green foliage so there are no more nutrients available for germination later on.
If you have a big enough space, then you could even leave some of the larger leaves on your plants. That would still allow the seedling to grow up through those leaves and into the soil where they can continue their life cycle.
How Long Does It Take?
It takes anywhere from 3 days to 5 weeks depending upon how much sunlight your area gets and how fast you are able to thin out the seeds. You need to keep cutting the plants every few days until you reach the desired thickness.
You can speed things up by using a fan to blow air over the plants. However, this isn’t necessary since most of us live in areas with bright light throughout the day. A fan doesn’t really work very well because it only moves a small amount of air over time and not in one direction which is directly across from where you’re trying to move it.
Don’t Let The Soil Dry Out
Keep the soil damp at all times, but not sopping wet. It’s very easy to burn the plants if you don’t keep the soil moist enough. It’s also easy to drown them too if you keep watering them excessively.
A good way to tell if you’re doing it right is by using a moisture meter which can be purchased at any home and garden center. These can also help you prevent issues with drainage problems as well. Alternatively, you can just water the plants by hand anytime the soil feels dry when you push a finger into the dirt.
Remember to use clean drinking water for this and not out of stagnant pools or contaminated water sources such as from a nearby stream. The last thing you want is to introduce undesirable bacteria or toxic chemicals into your garden.
Don’t Forget The Supplemental Lighting
If you need to speed things up, then you can always supplement plant growth with additional lighting. You can use special grow lights, or more simply you can use string lights which are designed for indoors use. This isn’t necessary if you live in an area that naturally gets a lot of sunlight throughout the day.
When To Transplant Your Seedlings
Most seedlings should be at least 4 inches tall before you transplant them into your garden. The best way to do this is to dig a small hole in your garden bed and gently lift out the plant as a whole. Gently separate out some of the roots and fill in the hole with some of the surrounding soil you just dug out.
This will provide some immediate stabilization of the plant while it becomes accustomed to its new surroundings.
You can begin planting all your young plants like this at least a few weeks before the average last frost in your area so they have time to become established before more intense weather strikes.
What About The Ones That I Missed?
Any weeds you missed can be easily dug up with a trowel and the roots cut off with a sharp pair of scissors. Don’t leave any portion of these weeds behind or they will just continue to regrow. You can then place them in a black plastic bag and throw them away so they don’t continue to spread into your garden beds.
How Do I Get Replacement Plants?
If for some reason you were not able to save any of your plants, or if you decided to start fresh by buying new seedlings, you can do this at any time as long as you still have at least three months until the first expected frost in your area.
You can always buy replacement plants at any local home and garden store. You just need to make sure that the seedlings are for the type of vegetable you want. For example, if you had planted Broccoli, you couldn’t plant another type of seedling in its place like Cauliflower.
The two just wouldn’t grow as well together in the same garden bed.
Gardening On A Budget
Gardening doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. In fact, you can start out small with just a couple of plants and seeds until you learn more about it. The more you learn, the more you can expand your garden.
Many people have started out with just a few buckets in their backyard and they expanded from there.
If you already have a garden and you’re struggling with the costs of maintaining it, then you might want to consider downsizing and just planting in pots. This will limit the types of vegetables you can grow of course, but it’s better than having your entire garden taken over by weeds or worse, vines that take over everything like String-beans can do if they aren’t kept in check.
Most common vegetables that can be purchased at the grocery store can also be grown in pots as well.
It’s really up to you and how much free time and money you have to devote to the hobby, but one thing is for certain, any and all of it is better than sitting around doing nothing at all!
Sources & references used in this article:
Thinning and chipping small-diameter ponderosa pine changes understory plant communities on the Colorado Front Range by B Wolk, ME Rocca – Forest Ecology and Management, 2009 – Elsevier
Biomechanical constraints on self-thinning in plant populations by TJ Givnish – Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1986 – Elsevier
Effects of fruit thinning agents on apple tree canopy photosynthesis and dark respiration by R Untiedt, M Blanke – Plant Growth Regulation, 2001 – Springer