How to Thin Root Vegetables

December 15, 2010

Thinning root-vegetable seedlings is important for good growth development. Proper spacing between plants reduces an underground battle for water, nutrients, room to expand, and air circulation. As you can see in the photo above, these carrots are too thick. One can avoid this by spacing seeds correctly when planting, but that is tedious work, especially with fine seeds. Although sowing fine, tiny seeds mixed with sand does help with better distribution and spacing, you will still need to do some thinning.

Here are some tips to make thinning root seedlings easier: 

  • Thin when seedlings have 1-2 sets of true leaves or reach a height of 2-3 inches.
  • Soil should be damp not soggy. Damp soil will make it easier to extract only those seedlings you want to remove. Soggy soil acts like glue making it difficult for roots to separate from one another.
  • Remove the smaller, thinner, weak seedlings.
  • Before thinning, use your thumb and forefinger to secure the good seedling, then gently pull up the undesirable plant.
  • Mound soil around wobbly seedlings to secure them.
  • You can do two thinnings, three or four weeks apart.
  • Work discarded seedlings into the soil or toss into the compost pile. (Lettuce, beets, and spinach can be used in salads.)


Spacing between root vegetables varies according to varieties. Refer to your seed packet or use these basic guidelines:

  • Beets: 3-6″ apart
  • Carrots:  2-3″ apart**
  • Lettuce:  18-24″ apart
  • Onions:  3-5″ apart
  • Parsnips:  3-6″ apart
  • Radishes:  2-3″ apart
  • Rutabagas:  8″ apart
  • Spinach:  2-6″ apart
  • Turnips:  2-4″ apart**


**When thinning carrots and turnips, carefully remove one plant at a time. Disturbing the roots of these vegetables can cause deformities.   Copyright © 2010 Dianne Marie Andre


One comment

  1. Good tips for thinning root vegetables and great pictures. I didn’t realize the spacing needed between each plant for proper growth and development.

    This process in growing a garden, parallels with writing a story, i.e. both the gardener and writer need to ‘thin’ seedings/words to make for a better garden/story.


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