Gardening

Plants starting to look a little crowded? Here’s how to thin them out

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: June 28
  • Published June 28

Ah, the first weeks of summer! This is the time of year to thin out those vegetable crops that you started directly from seeds right in the garden. Unless you were exceedingly careful and deliberate, your seedlings are probably surrounded by too-close neighbors. This usually has the effect of stunting growth because of root competition and eventually competition for sunlight.

Thinning is necessary, but it is thankfully easy. Use scissors if possible and simply cut the unwanted plants to ground level. You know how big veggies get, so cut accordingly. Most of what you cut will be edible, and you can toss it into salads. There is some debate regarding carrot greens, but I have never had problems eating them.

Beets are a big exception, not to thinning, but how you thin. Each "seed" you planted was actually a pod with six seeds in it. You only want one of each pod to survive. Be very careful not to disturb the root of the beet plant you decide to keep out of each group.

Some vegetables are already ripe for the picking. Lettuces, spinaches and radishes come to mind. Both radish and spinach can be replanted, as these seeds germinate and mature quickly. If you cut lettuce instead of pulling it, new leaves will generate from the cut area and you will continue to get a crop.

Along with thinning, it is time to stake. Peonies, delphiniums, sunflowers and any other tall growing plants are candidates, as once they flower, they become top heavy, especially when it rains. Take care now and avoid any possible damage later.

It doesn't matter what you use for support when staking plants, be it tomato stakes or downed tree branches. The important thing is to do it and to use "string" that won't cut into the stem of what you are staking up. Thin kite string and the like are what cut through stems and should be avoided at all costs. Broad, staking "tape" is that stretchy plastic stuff that comes in a roll and is sold at nurseries. You could even try sticky masking or painter's tape or soft, thick yarn.

Next, in keeping with last week's warning regarding the planting of annual forget-me-not plants, both mint and horseradish also spread. These should be contained in pots as they spread by roots. Plants in addition to annual annual forget-me-nots to watch out for include Jacob's ladder (Polemonium caeruleum) and the ever-dreaded Campanula rapunculoides. If you don't know what these look like, check them out on the web. The latter, in particularly, is a nasty critter that can't be eliminated once established. I know from experience!

Finally, only once summer is officially here is it the proper time to decide if your lawn needs feeding. Fertilizing in early spring and every year are two huge figments of overly aggressive advertising, not true need. Scotts and the others must know we are suckers when we are confronted by the sight of an early spring lawn, and that must be the reason we have been so easily brainwashed into applying lawn fertilizers automatically as soon as the first robin sings. It is a waste.

Anyhow, now is the time to simply ask yourself: are you satisfied with the color of your lawn? Trust me, most lawns are fine just as they are and only need you to continue to leave clippings as you mow.

In the unusual case that you decide to fertilize, there is only one right way and that is organic. Feed the microbes that feed the grasses. Compost is the very best thing you could apply and it only takes a sprinkle, not an application inches thick. Granulated molasses will give the quickest results. Adding soybean meal will make the resulting change a bit more lasting, so an equal mix of the two is ideal.

How much should you apply? You can't put down too much, unlike synthetic fertilizers, but ideally there should be 50 to 100 granules or so per square inch. Don't worry too much about it as long as you can see grains on the lawn as you apply.

You can find both products locally along with other organic mixes. Under no circumstances should you go chemical and, weed and feed (I will spare you the rant) products shouldn't even be sold in Alaska, so don't buy them.

Jeff's gardening calendar

Alaska state flower: My bad! Myosotis alpestris, the alpine forget-me-not, is the Alaska state flower. It isn't a big spreader. I was referring to the annuals in my column.

Trough making: This is Alaska Botanical Garden's do-not-miss, famous hypertufa-making class where you get to create your own "rock" planting trough. Thursday, July 5, 6-8 p.m. Oh boy is this fun. $55 for members, $65 for non members. Space is limited. Hurry to alaskabg.org. These spots will fill up faster than forget-me-nots spread.

Beer in the garden: Enjoy some brew, food, friends and horticulture out at the Alaska Botanical Garden on Thursday, July 12, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. with local breweries, food vendors and music. Get your friends (and designated driver) and enjoy this unique and pleasurable opportunity to mix two of your passions: good beer and great plants.

Butter and Eggs: What are you waiting for? Pull every one you come across. (Gee, it sure sounds like I am on a nasty plant destruction quest, but someone has to do it!).

Lilacs: If you need to prune, do it immediately after flowering. The reason you may not have flowers this year can be summed up in one word: moose.