Thinning/Transplanting Suggestions

Dear Gardeners:

I just loved walking around the gardens last Saturday. Plants are springing out of the ground everywhere! But what I also observed is that we also need to start thinning and transplanting some of the crops, so I’m going to make some suggestions. If I do not cover a type of vegetable that you are growing and you want information, please email me ( and I will get the information on this blog. Also, I’m working on a blog, “Ban the Bugs, Organically”, which I hope to get on this site soon–I’m starting to see a few bug and disease issues on some plants in the garden (all normal stuff), and I’d like to address some of what I’m seeing.

Radishes: At this point I’d thin the almost non-existent radish roots to 1″-2″ apart to let the roots start to form. Then, as the roots grow, thin more to about 2″-3″ apart, but eat the radish roots you have are pulling out (young and tender–yum!). This will then allow the remaining radishes to grow. Radishes appreciate the weather we have been having–not too hot. They get “spicy”, but generally not in what I consider a nice way, if they endure a long hot spell. Radishes are best picked at their prime, then stored in the refrigerator for a few days if need be; that’s better than leaving them in the garden too long where they can get too bitter tasting. If you plant again for the fall (I’ll make suggestions later this summer for when I think it’s reasonable to plant radishes again), I’d like to suggest that rather than planting in rows, plant in a block. Pick an “area” (2’x2′ or whatever) and poke seeds in a grid about 2′-3″ apart in all directions–you get a lot more radishes in a given area this way.

I have never tried transplanting radishes, but if you want to experiment, I’d love to know your results. In general it’s not recommended to transplant root veggies (like carrots, beets, or radishes because the roots can end up stunted, or so I’ve read). I defied conventional wisdom several years ago and started transplanting beets and have found that the transplants work just fine!, but for some reason, I’m more wary of transplanting carrots. I’ve never bothered–I’m usually too busy thinning them to bother with transplanting.

Lettuces: There are two very basic categories of lettuce—cutting (mesclun) lettuces or head lettuces (butter, bib, romaine, iceburg, etc.). The cutting lettuces don’t seem to mind a bit of crowding (2″-3″) apart, because it’s sort of expected that you will come through when the plants are 4″-5″ high and cut off the top few inches (leaving behind about 2″ high for regrowth). If you have head lettuces, however, it pays to transplant them to 4″-5″ apart (I also have a favorite cutting(looseleaf) lettuce, Lolla Rossa, that I transplant this way, so you can transplant looseleaf lettuces as well). The best time to transplant is either late in the day, or on a cloudy day, to stress the plants the least from having the hot sun beating on them after transplant. It’s also helpful to transplant just before it’s supposed to rain. Be sure to water the plants soon after transplanting. These are “the best” times to transplant, but I’ve also transplanted early in the day and just gave the transplants a good drink, knowing that it could be tough on the little plants and that I was more likely to lose some of them from transplant shock. You don’t need to transplant lettuces into rows–can transplant into a “block”–space them 4″-5″ apart in a grid in all directions–you’ll fit more into an area this way. Lettuce heads, when mature, will last in the garden about 10 days. After that, the lettuce may taste more bitter and the heads start to “bolt” (high heat of summer will also promote bolting), meaning that the plants start pushing up in the middle (reaching for the sky). Once bolted, the flavor is bitter and the lettuce head should head to a compost pile.

Most lettuce cultivars like cool temperatures and sulk in the hot weather. Sometimes it pays to transplant some heads into the partial shade–hide them behind taller plants so that they don’t get full sun all day. I’m going to experiment with that this summer, to see if the cucumber tepee in the Seed, Weed and Feed garden will provide enough shade to help lettuce plants under it from bolting.

Beets: Beet “seeds” are really clusters of seeds, so beets will come up in clumps of 2-4 plants. I transplant so that the plants are about 4″-5″ apart in all directions (again, forming a block). Remember, you will be defying conventional wisdom if you do this, but if you have the space, why not try?–you’ll probably end up with more beets (see my comments on radishes)!

Carrots: Thin, thin, thin to about 4″ apart.

Squashes and Pumpkins: Most squash and pumpkin seed packages recommend thinning to 1-3 plants per hill, once you see how many plants have germinated.

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