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Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

Posted by yrdling (My Page) on
Wed, Jun 4, 08 at 20:32

I'm a first time gardener, not just SFG, but any kind of gardening. I jumped into this without adequate study. I made mistakes. I am now beginning to understand that what I did was likely 100% wrong.

I have two 8 foot by 4 foot SFG planters built from stacked 2x8's, so there is about 14 or 15 inches of planting mix (similar to Mel's, but I didn't find any vermiculite). 32 squares per planter, 64 in all.

I transplanted my tomato seedlings to my SFG a month ago. I devoted 20 squares to tomato plants. I have anywhere from two to eight tomato plants in any given square foot. Is this too many?

I am horrified at the idea of having to kill some of them. Do I really have to? How do I safely remove some of them if I really really have to do it? The plants roots are already all mingled together. The vines are really close to each other.

I don't want to kill any plants if I don't have to. Help?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

I just created a photobucket account. Have never done that before either. You can see my SFG and some close ups of my crowded tomato squares. Also, I recounted and found that I actually have 35 squares devoted to tomatoes, and many of the squares have more than 8 plants. I think I'm doomed to having to commit tomato vine murder. :-(.

The URL is: 2008/

How do I post a URL link or images directly into this message?

Here is a link that might be useful: yrdling sfg 2008

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

Tomatoes that are pruned down to a single vine and trellised are set at 1/SF. Most of us don't ascribe to that and give tomato plants much more room than 1/SF. If you have more than 1/SF that is way too many even using Mel's technique. I'm afraid you may need to transplant out a good majority of your tomato seedlings. I'm no expert but I'd be afraid that leaving them crowded like that would hurt all the plants.

Good luck and I hope you get a chance to regret planting 20 tomato plants, hehe that's enough tomatoes to feed two armies. hehe

Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's gardening adventure

Way too many

Thanks Sinfonian. I like your blog. I think I can learn something from you.

Sadly, as I mentioned, I recounted and found 35 squares devoted to tomatoes and many have more than 8 plants in them. If they could all grow, I guess it'd be enough for four armies.

Ok, if I have to thin them, I'd like some pointers on how to do it safely. My pics on photobucket might help.

Suggestions? Just get the scissors out and start cutting at ground level? I already tried pulling some of them out and it is impossible. The roots are comingled.

Here is a link that might be useful: yrdling sfg 2008

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

i just pull them apart, you don't have to be all gentle, LOL but if it makes you feel better, you could get a sharp knife, and cut them. make sure its clean. and them transplant them where ya want them, that is what i do, they are amazingly resiliant. sp. LOL :')) ummm i winter sowed a bunch of them and the roots on these babies, don't even try to be gentle!! you just pull it and go onto the next and they do great!! i totally loved it!! i am sooooo winter sowing next year!! this was my first!! LOL but that's what i'd do. Knife. LOL

slice or yank

Thanks medontdo. At this point I'm leaning toward just snipping off most of the plans at ground level with a pair of shears. I'll leave the strongest looking stem per SF.

I think I'm going to have to do the same with my okra.

I got little flowers on my tomato and pepper plants in the last couple of days. Bees were buzzing around them. That's really neat. They're alive!

Here is a link that might be useful: yrdling sfg 2008

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

there is a link in your photo bucket under each image, where you got that link, one called hmtl code.. copy in that one, and you get ...

Too many tomato plants?

inline pics, finally

Ah, thank you carsonsig! Now what do you think of my thinning plan? Can I just snip off all but one of those tomato plants with a pair of garden shears? Or should I just unceremoniously yank some of them out as medontdo suggested?

Another typical excessive bunch

Two little tomato vines

First SFG

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?


Not picking on you here, but how did you get this far into SFG without learning about plant spacings? Are you working from the book? (If not, you may also be missing critical information about vertical growing, soil content, etc.)

Essentially, according to the SFG book, if those are determinate plants (bush type) then they want about 4 square feet (The center of a 2-square by 2-square block). If they are indeterminate (vining), then you can plant one per space, but you will need to prune heavily back to a single stem, and grow them vertically - up a garden stake or trellis.

If you have someplace else to plant the transplants, then it may be worthwhile to try and save some. (My experience says no.) But if you don't have any place for them, then I'd cut them off to prevent disturbing the one you want to live.

All that being said, your garden looks well constructed, and your plants look healthy and well established, even if extremely crowded.

Here is a link that might be useful: Plant Spacings in a Square Foot Garden

monkey see, monkey do


Thank you for the link to the spacing info. I don't have the book but I am going to see if I can find it on Amazon. I'm not sure what it's called but I will google for Mel's site. I ran across it a couple of weeks ago and I'm sure I can find it again.

How did I get this far without the book's guidance? Monkey see, monkey do. I saw photos people posted on other (non-gardening) forums, did some googling, found varying amounts of information and pictures about raised bed gardens, then later about square foot gardens. There are plenty of blogs and sites that describe the soil mix. I thought it seemed neat, so I emulated what I saw. Only I was in a hurry and didn't start doing deeper research into the theory and proper practice until after I'd built and planted everything. I realized I needed more information, so I googled for a gardening forum and I found this one.

So now I have a problem of overcrowding. The magnitude of my mistake didn't dawn on me until I started reading in this forum. I'm going to try to fix it today.

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

If it were me, I'd move the tomatoes to the squares adjacent to the wall if possible. It looks like there's going to be a shade problem for the other plants as the season progresses.

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

The book (Well, my book - there are several) is just called "Square Foot Gardening" by Mel Barthelomew. Good luck, and keep us updated.

(By the way, I don't want to give bad advice, and this is terrible advice, but if I was in your shoes, the mad scientist in me would want to see what happened if one of those massively overplanted squares was allowed to grow, and I might give one a chance to show me.)

ordered the book and DVD set

OK, I just ordered Mel's book (plan 1) and the full DVD video set. I should have done that to start with.

Thinning my plants is going to hurt.

moving plants and experimenting

holly-2006, the wall is to the south and I'm in Texas, so the arc of the sun passes ever so slightly to the south of me. That's why I planted the tomatoes on the north side (mostly) of my garden. But if my okra ever grows, I might have a shade problem anyway. I'm playing it by ear. I actually don't know what full size okra or pepper plants look like.

queuetue, that's a good idea. I'm inclined to experiment as well. I'll leave one of the corner clusters of plants without thinning. It should be instructive.

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

What varieties of tomatoes and okra are you growing? I grew Clemson Spineless one year and they got to be 6 feet tall, and it's cold up here.

I understand that both have a tendency to become monsters growing in Texas!

planted varieties of tomato and okra

The okra I planted was Clemson Spineless! I love okra, so I hope they are monsters. I plan to pickle and can them. That said, I am concerned about foliage blocking the sun, so I may relocate some of them.

The tomato varieties I planted were Beefsteak and Rutgers. Both indeterminate heirloom types from organic seed. I also planted a type of grape tomato. They're supposed to be smaller than cherry tomatoes. I lost the seed packet, so I don't recall the variety or whether it is determinant or indeterminant. I presume it is a hybrid, but don't really know that either. I know where I bought the seeds from though, so I will go back and look at another packet to get that info.

Now for another embarrassing admission. I don't know which tomato plants are which variety. I got them mixed up. All I can say is that surprise will be a big part of my first gardening learning experience. And, from now on and in the future, I am recording notes of everything I grow and where I put them. :-)

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

Yes you do need to thin, and I'd do it by cutting with shears (stems are too close for a yank at that size). Now, if you want more tomatoes than the number left in squares of singles (some people make a year's worth of pasta sauce at the end of harvest for example), you can cut off the tip of one of the growing vines you just decapitated (4 inches does it for me), and place it in either peat moss or some spare mel's mix in a pot, let it grow some roots in the shade for a week or so (water daily) and you'll have a new transplant in about a week, ready to plant out.

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

You have lots of options -
Certainly you can let them grow. Last year I did just that with a bunch of volunteers. It does make a mess & I think the hardest part was trying to harvest. Just be prepared to feed them (maybe some compost tea) and keep them watered. Remember the roots will go out for more than 4ft in each direction. So don't just water near the stems. If the nutrients are there they'll be ok.

Another problem with the crowding is if they get any disease, it will spread quickly esp. powdery mildew.
Just be prepared to trellis them and try to keep up with pruning, ha - they WILL grow fast if they like it there.

If I was going to thin them - I would use scissors. Don't forget tomatoes root very easily and you can experiment with some of these just to see if YOU can do it. It is sooo much more fun if you don't care if it takes. You might even try just sticking them in the soil - wet soil - and keeping it watered to see how they do. Try a couple different ways.

Good Luck with whatever you decide,
Gumby_CT - who thinks gardening is one huge experiment, ha!

I did it - more or less

Well, I did it. I used garden shears and scissors, and I mercilessly thinned out my plants. I kept the best looking one or two vines per square. OK, so maybe I wasn't merciless enough, but it was all I could bring myself to do. I also thinned my okra considerably, and some of my pepper plants. And I'm still likely overcrowded.

I left one corner square with a large group of eight or so plants just to see what'll happen. It'll give me some first hand contrast between jungle density and sparse growth.

I stuck a couple of my nicest looking tomato cuttings in a bucket of soil mix to see if they'll root. If they do, I'll transplant them into large containers and try my hand at container gardening.

Thank you all for the advice and encouragement. I'll document my results and take photos periodically so I can report back on my findings later on.

RE: Do I really have to thin my tomatoes?

yrdling, are you still with us? How'd this all turn out?

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