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How to Thin Lettuce Seedlings

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 be the first to say, it is super easy and it’s a must-do gardening task.

Lettuce Seedlings Growing in the Vegetable Garden

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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 lettuce plants.

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First Step to Thinning Lettuce Seedlings

The first thing you need to do is find out how to plant your lettuce. There are two basic types of lettuce plants:

Lettuce head varieties, can be direct sown or transplanted.

Baby mix lettuce, also known as loose-leaf lettuce which direct sown.

But you can always find the exact information by referring to the seed packet or planting label.

Plant Lettuce According to Variety Recommendations

I like to say plant smarter not harder, and as I do so I sort of giggle because I have never tried to make planting “hard.” But when you 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. This saves seeds, plus it saves a lot of time later on when it comes to thinning lettuce seedlings.

Or if you’re planting transplants, transplant seedlings at their recommended spacing. If you’re limited on space, spacing plants closer together will only result in poor growth.

Second, in the case that you had low germination rates and your plants are spaced too far apart, you can plant more lettuce seeds in between.

Most lettuce should 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, plant the amount of lettuce that is really needed.

If you plant a huge amount of lettuce at once you are also going to get one huge harvest.

So instead you can try succession planting which means you plant smaller amounts over an extended period of time.

Just keep in mind that 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 for growing lettuce anymore.

And now that we’ve figured how to plant correctly let’s go over how to know when it’s time to thin out seedlings.

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Lettuce Thinning Guidelines

In the next few sections, I will cover when to thin lettuce seedlings, how far apart to space them, how often to do so, the benefits, and how you can make use of the thinned out plants.

When to Thin Lettuce 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 keep the healthier ones.

Lettuce That is Over Crowded Growing in the Garden

How Far Apart to Space Lettuce Plants

Depending on the variety of lettuce you planted will depend on the space needed between each plant when you thin them out.

In general, lettuce head varieties should typically be spaced approximately 6-12 inches apart and baby mix lettuce or loose-leaf varieties should be seeded thickly but then thinned out to about 6 inches apart.

For each variety be sure to check its seed packet or label for exact spacing.

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How Often You’ll Need to Thin Seedlings

You should only have to thin your seedlings once, but if you have a lot of extra plants growing you can split it into two occasions.

For example, if your plants need to be 12 inches apart, the first time you can thin every 6 inches. Then a week later you can thin them out again to all be 12 inches apart.

The Benefits of Thinning Lettuce

Thinning out your lettuce plants is important for a few reasons.

First off it allows your plants the right amount of air circulation which makes them less prone to disease and 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’ don’t get to grow to be as big as full-grown lettuce plants but you can still eat the lettuce you thin out.

When you thin out your lettuce pull each plant out of the soil and then wash it off and add it to a salad. This way you are getting a mini harvest as well!

Quick Overview of How to Thin Lettuce Seedlings

  • Learn which variety of lettuce you are planting and take note of its growing needs.
  • Sow seeds at the 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 thinned-out seedlings to make a salad so they don’t have to go to waste.

Most importantly, have fun gardening!

Get your free Vegetable Planting Schedule!

Sign up and get this planting schedule with all planting dates sent straight to your inbox!!

For more posts related to gardening check out:

Do you want to explore new varieties of lettuce to grow? If so be sure to check out one of my favorite seed suppliers, True Leaf Market. They have an amazing selection!


One Comment

  1. So, I’m standing in my garden wondering when/how to thin my seedlings. I do a Google search and guess who pops up?

    Audrey, of course. I love your business and what you do. I think that I’m your biggest fan.

    Thanks for this informative article, Audrey.

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