This past week of New England weather has been far from ideal tomato growing conditions. It figures that when I started my seeds and didn't need the sun it was mid 70's and full sun everyday. But, shortly after the seedlings popped and were ready to hit the window for some much needed sunlight, a solid week of overcast, cold, and rain rolled in.
Ample sunlight is essential for your seedlings post germination, and the lack of it for a whole week at one of the most crucial times took its toll on my seedlings. They went into somewhat of a stasis where they didn't grow or do much of anything. Luckily, the last few days have been nothing but sunshine and warm weather so I have moved the seedlings outside during the day to soak up as much sunshine as they can, and help strengthen the stems. The stems are thick and strong without any tapering (which would be a sign of inconsistent watering) or legginess, and on the ones that are further along, the second set of true leaves are coming in.
It is apparent which seedlings are the strongest in each cell and it's officially time to start thinning out the weaker ones so the stronger ones can thrive. Now, honestly I don't like doing this. I hate having to cut out perfectly healthy tomato seedlings because there is another one a little bigger or healthier looking, but I guess that's why you plant so many seeds per cell. You want the best of the best.
How To Thin Tomato Seedlings
Like I said above, thinning seedlings is a necessary evil when starting your own plants. The purpose of planting 2-3 seeds per cell is to ensure that you end up with one strong healthy seedling for each cell. Survival of the fittest in action.
The process of thinning seedlings is quite easy. You pick the strongest seedling in the cell, and then cut the others at the soil level with scissors. This will allow the strongest to grow without any competition. I do not recommend pulling the seedlings out, as at this point the root systems are very fragile and if the roots are connected to the one you're keeping it could pull them up as well. Cutting them off at the soil line is the quickest method and ensures you don't cause any damage to the ones you're sparing.
How To Determine Who Stays and Who Goes
So how do you determine which seedlings are weak and which is the strongest? First you want to just go by general look. If one obviously looks weak or sickly in comparison to the others then snip it. There are some general things to look for however if it isn't immediately obvious:
Everyone has heard the saying "do as I say not as I do". I said that the reason that you plant so many extra seeds is so that you can thin them and get the best of the best. Yes, this is true and although I do not "recommend" separating seedlings because the root systems really are quite fragile and you can end up killing all of the ones you're trying to save... I did it. I had a few that were identical and textbook perfect (and of course all grew in the same cell) that I couldn't bring myself to choose just one.
If you're going to go against what I say, and do what I do, just make sure you thoroughly water the cells first. This will give you the best chance of separating the root systems while keeping them in tact. If the soil is dry forget about it, it will crumble away and you'll destroy the roots. I also recommend (and actually do this) that you do not try to separate more than two seedlings. With the little soil that there is, your chances are not good you will get a clean separation with soil to protect the roots. If you have two perfect seedlings though and feel like chancing it, I can't say anything! Happy thinning!
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