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How to Thin Out Seedlings
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Wherever you have sown seeds (see Workshops: How to Grow Vegetables by Sowing Seed Outdoors; How to Grow Annuals and Perennials by Sowing Seed Outdoors; and How to Grow Plants by Sowing Seed Indoors), you will notice them sending up fresh green leaves once they have germinated. Once seedlings begin to grow, they'll need to be transplanted into larger, deeper containers. You do this so that they won't get weak from overcrowding. Thinning out is also referred to as pricking out. Itís a time sensitive job that you should do as soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle. This is when they have one or two leaves, and the stems are between 2.5-5cm above the surface of the growing medium. If you don't thin out seedlings early enough, they will become crowded, pale and spindly. In the worst instances they will die. Once they've gone like this, itís almost impossible to rectify the damage: you'll never get really healthy young plants from sickly seedlings.
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you will need
For seeds sown indoors: small pots no more than 6cm diameter, or cellular plastic trays for individual seedlings; a loam based compost such as John Innes; something to level the compost with; a widger or kitchen knife; watering can with rose attachment. Optional: larger pots can be used to grow on several small plants in each propagator. For seeds sown outdoors: space in the seed bed or a final planting space; small hand trowel.
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step1
Seeds sown indoors: fill the new growing container with a thicker type of compost, known as loam-based. Shake the container and finish levelling the compost to remove air pockets. Seeds sown outdoors: thin out young seedlings in stages. This will minimize loss from pests and diseases. Nip the seedlings you are thinning out at ground level, to avoid disturbing the remaining seedlings. Clear these discarded seedlings away. Seedlings of lettuces, cabbages and onions can be lifted at this stage and transplanted to another spot. Firm the soil around the seedlings that remain in their original positions. Water thinned or transplanted seedlings.
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step2
Seeds sown indoors: take the seed tray or pot from its germination position and work at a bench or work surface. Your seedlings should have two leaves making them large enough to handle. Gently tap the seed tray or pot on a hard surface to loosen the compost. Handle your seedlings by their leaves to avoid damaging their root systems. You can use an old knife or a widger to separate them and keep as much compost around their roots as you can.
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step3
Seeds sown indoors: push the widger, knife or old biro into a cell of compost to make a small planting hole. Gently transplant each seedling into place. Firm the compost around each with the dibber or your fingers. Then water the seedlings using a fine rose attachment on your watering can. Special propagators have clear plastic domed lids which help to increase the humidity around your young seedlings. If you have one, place it over the tray, making sure that it does not touch the leaves. Remove after a few days and grow plants on, watering them at intervals to make sure that the compost does not dry out.
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step4
Plants grown from seed sown indoors will need hardening off. This is introducing your young plants to the conditions they'll find outdoors. They need to be acclimatized gradually. This will harden the plants and wean them off the heat and protection they've been used to indoors.
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step5
About 6 weeks before the plants will be planted in their final spots, move them to a cooler protected place for example a closed cold frame, where ventilation is increased until the lid can be removed completely. Alternatively cloches or small polytunnels work just as well. Cloches can be lifted gradually, and the sides of polytunnels can be rolled up. If you have a sheltered spot at the base of a south or west facing wall, fence or building, use this. Protect small plants at night with plastic or fleece held in place over them by temporary wooden or bamboo frameworks. Your young plants should receive maximum light during the day, and be well ventilated in order to thrive and grow. And, you'll have to remember to water them.
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Gently lift seedlings by their leaves and make planting holes for them
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Thin outdoor seedlings in stages to keep losses down
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Plants grown indoors need hardening off gradually

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