What's the best way to thin too many seedlings in the cells of my seed tray?

Q:

I started too many seeds in the cells of my seed trays. What’s the best way to get them into an organized arrangement without sending them into shock?

A:

Normally, growers will put more than one seed in a germination cube or organic medium cell with the expectation that at least one of the seeds will germinate so that all the seeded germination cubes or cells will have one viable plant. If more than one seedling emerges, then the plant number is thinned to one by cutting the top off the unwanted seedlings.

Trying to pull a seedling, or seedlings, from the germination cube or organic rooting medium can damage the root system of the remaining plant. In addition, when trying to extract a seedling for planting into another cube or rooting media cell, the root of the extracted seedling may be significantly damaged, thereby reducing its survival potential as well as its development into a healthy plant. Remember that a seedling’s root system is tender and the emerging root will quickly penetrate into the germination cube or rooting medium.

If more than one seedling emerges, the roots of both seedlings will become entangled, therefore, trying to separate the seedlings will damage the seedling roots of each plant. Letting the seedlings grow together until beyond the early seedling stage before separation will not increase the survival rate or development into a sturdy, healthy plant.

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Written by J. Benton Jones Jr
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Dr. J. Benton Jones, Jr. has 50 years of experience growing plants hydroponically. He is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Georgia, Athens, and has authored eight books and written articles for magazines that deal with hydroponic issues. He currently has his own consulting company, Grosystems, Inc. Dr. Jones lives in Anderson, South Carolina.  Full Bio