Thin is Beautiful
Thinning vegetables is one of the most important follow-up activities in gardening. Most gardeners use more seed than necessary for a healthy plant stand. This is a good idea since some seeds may not germinate and grow. Extra seeds will insure enough plants. However, having too many plants in an area is just as bad, if not worse, than having too few. Plant thinning or removal is necessary to insure a successful garden. Properly spaced plants also make insect and disease control easier.
It's difficult to destroy plants when you have worked so hard to grow them. But remember, it is for their good as well as yours. To make the job less painful, try periodic thinning. For example, if snap beans are to be thinned to 4 inches between plants, thin the small plants until they are 2 inches apart. Then allow the remaining plants to grow until they start to look crowded. At that stage, complete the thinning process so that plants are the recommended 4 inches apart. This system helps avoid replanting if you initially thinned your plants to 4 inches apart and a cutworm, dog or bird thinned them to 8 or 12 inches apart.
When removing larger plants, use a knife to cut the stem at ground level. This thins the plant population effectively and does not damage root systems of remaining vegetables.
Size of mature vegetables dictates distance between plants. For instance, larger vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, cantaloupe, okra, squash and tomato, require 12 to 24 inches or more between plants. Smaller vegetables, such as beans, beets, carrots, lettuce, onions, southern peas, spinach and turnips, require only 1 to 4 inches between plants. Cultural techniques, such as caging or staking, also influence spacing of larger plants.¶