Are you wondering whether or not you really need to thin out your lettuce seedlings? Or maybe you just want to know the best way to do so. Let me say, it is super easy and a must do garden task.
Sometimes the problem with gardening is that it’s easy to think more is better. If you plant your seeds and everything sprouts, why not let them all grow?
But unfortunately I have learned over the years that the recommended spacing for plants really means something. Which means you’ve got to thin out your plants.
So first, you need to find out how to plant your lettuce. There are two basic types of lettuce plants:
Lettuce head varieties, which can be direct sown or transplanted.
Baby mix lettuce varieties and leaf lettuce, which should always be direct sown.
But you can always find the exact information by referring back to the seed packet.
Then once you know your lettuce variety and how it should be grown, it’s time to plant.
Plant Smarter Not Harder
As I say plant smarter not harder, I sort of giggle because I have never tried to make planting “hard.” But when I don’t always do things the “right” way, it does get hard.
So by smarter I mean a few things. First, sow seeds at their recommended spacing. That saves seeds, plus it saves a lot of time later on when it comes to thinning out the plants.
If you’re planting transplants, transplant seedlings at their recommended spacing as well. If you’re short on space and try planting plants closer they will end up not doing as well in the end.
Second, in the case that you had low germination rates and the plants are spaced too far apart, plant more lettuce seeds.
Most plants germinate within a week and so as long as you’re planting on time, you’ll have time to go back and replant versus over-seeding and having to thin out half of your plants.
Third, grow an amount that is really needed. If you are planting a bunch of lettuce all at one time you are going to get one big harvest.
You can do succession planting which is great, but depending on your growing zone you still may only be able to space out plantings for a few weeks before the weather won’t be suitable anymore.
So if you’re going to get one huge harvest, try to plant a realistic amount. Lettuce is one of the vegetables that can’t really be preserved.
Therefore, you only have a short window to use it up before it spoils.
When to Thin Seedlings
Once your plants have sets of true leaves and have grown a few inches tall you can begin thinning them out.
I don’t like to thin too soon because when the plants grow too closely together it is hard to pull them out without disturbing one another.
It’s also nice to let the seedlings grow at least a few inches tall because then you can tell which plants are weaker and choose to keep the healthier ones.
How Far Apart to Space Lettuce Plants
Depending on which variety of lettuce you planted will depend on the space needed.
Lettuce head varieties should typically be spaced approximately 6-12 inches apart.
Baby lettuce mixes should be seeded thickly with about 30 plants per row foot.
Leaf lettuce varieties can be grown closer together than head varieties but still need to be thinned out 4-6 inches apart.
Although, each variety will vary so be sure to check its seed packet for exact spacing.
How Often You’ll Need to Thin
You should only have to thin your seedlings once, but if I have a lot of extra plants I will usually split it into two occasions.
For example, if my plants need to be 12 inches apart, the first time I’ll thin every 6 inches. Then a week later I will thin them out again to all be 12 inches apart.
The Benefits of Thinning
Thinning out your lettuce plants is important for a few reasons. First off it allows your plants the right amount of air circulation so they don’t rot.
Second, it gives plants the space needed to grow to their full potential.
Third, it will provide you with better tasting lettuce. Leaf lettuce varieties that are too crowded may end up with a bitter flavor. So thinning out your plants will give them the best taste.
How to Use Up Your Thinned Out Plants
There are many times when I don’t want to thin out my plants because it seems like a waste.
But thankfully with lettuce it’s not. Of course the thinned out plants didn’t get to grow to be as big as full grown lettuce plants but you can still eat the lettuce you thin out.
When I thin out my lettuce I pull each plant out of the soil and then wash it off and add it to a salad. This way you are getting a harvest and not just throwing it away.
Quick Overview of How to Thin Lettuce Seedlings
- Learn which variety of lettuce you are planting and know it’s growing needs.
- Sow seeds at correct spacing.
- Replant seeds in areas where plant spacing is too far (if applicable).
- Thin plants to correct spacing once they reach a few inches tall.
- Use the plants that were thinned out to make a salad so they don’t have to go to waste.
Most importantly, have fun gardening!
For more posts related to gardening check out: