How to thin vegetable crops with before and after photos | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Thinning & Cutworms

Photo Credit
Celeste Longacre

How to Thin Vegetable Crops With Before and After Photos

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In late spring, thinning crops is one of the most important aspects of gardening. Each and every plant needs to have plenty of room to grow. While you’re thinning, look out for the cutworm! Here’s how to thin veggies—with my before and after photos!

All your vegetables need to be properly spaced. If you’re starting from small plants, space correcting from the start. But if you started from seed, the seedlings will need to be thinned to their proper established spacing.

While it’s painful to “thin” or pull a plant, it must be done! If you crowd a plant, you’ll slow its grow and affect its quality and yield. 

I thin rather slowly as there is always the possibility that there will be some loss due to insects.

A Word on Cutworms

The cutworm is one of the worst—this particular bug lives under the soil (where you can’t see them) and comes out at night. It then takes one bite right where the plants go into the soil thereby killing the entire plant.

Cutworms feed on most of the vegetables grown in the home garden and mainly go after young tender plants Damage can be reduced by keeping gardens free of weeds before and after vegetables are planted. Bait formulations of some insecticides can also provide control.

You can tell that a cutworm has been at work if you see something like this:

When I do see this kind of damage, I bring out my countermeasures. First, I apply diatomaceous earth and place it all around the injured plant. Cutworms generally work their way down the row so I know that this little bugger is waiting just under one of the still-standing plants for the next night’s meal.

Be careful using this particular tool, though. This stuff can hurt any insects so you don’t want to put it all over the place as it can do damage to bees and other beneficial insects. I then spread a large amount of dried and crushed eggshells on top. This generally takes care of the problem.

To get rid of cut worms, you can also make plant collars. See the Almanac’s page on Cutworm Control.

How to Thin Vegetables

Thin your veggies while they are small. Also, do it when the soil is moist to minimize injury to the remaining plants.

The thinning should go from this:

To this:

Or from this:

To this:

And from this:

To this:

To thin, grasp the plants to be removed right at the soil line, and pull them out gently.

If you find that you are damaging nearby plants, don’t remove plants by pulling; rather, cut them off at the soil line.

I always thin out the weaker-looking plants and leave the stronger plants.

Firm the soil after you’ve finished. Watering after thinning is helpful in resettling the soil around the roots of remaining plants.

Next time, I think we’ll be able to add the thinnings to our meal …

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