Plant Discipline. It must be done.

Plant Discipline. It must be done.

I root for the underdog. I’m loyal to my team even when they lose. I still make excuses when my twenty year old throws a fit about taking out the trash. “He’s tired, he hasn’t been sleeping well lately.” When it comes down to it, I generally try to avoid the big d word.  Discipline. There, I’ve said it. Now if only that were enough.

Plant discipline. It must be done. What does this entail and, more importantly,  how do I get around it? When it comes down to it, there is no getting around it. Specifically this discipline, thinning seedlings, pruning, training climbers and weeding.

We put all our gardening hopes and dreams in to planting our microscopic seeds. We water them, but don’t over water them. We carefully weigh the pros and cons of the heated seed mats. We turn the peat pots exactly 1/4 of an inch every day so the light can evenly bathe our little beauties. So, what do the books say to do next?

“Rip up the weaker of the three, leaving only the strongest.” Are you kidding me?  They’re all my babies. How can I choose. Flashbacks of Sophie…the room is going dark…. Would I have kept Ryan because he could read when he was four but gotten rid of Patrick because he’s dyslexic? Okay, hold on, reign in the drama.

The simple fact is, if you weed your seedlings, the plant that remains will be stronger and you’ll get better yields from it. I completely understand that in my head. I completely know it is an absolute must to thin seedlings. So, here’s what I do instead.

For some plants, I just suck it up and clip them off at dirt level when the strongest seedling has reached four true leaves. I do this for plants that are easily disturbed. I clip instead of pulling because if you pull, you can disrupt the roots of the strong plant you are intending to keep.

With germination rates of seeds, it is important to plant more seeds than plants you actually want. However, seeds do have a much higher chance for germination than in bygone years.

So, I have a couple of things I do to avoid the brutality of thinning. I swap seedlings with my father in law and a couple of gardener friends. I also sell my seedlings at the local farmer’s market. It brings in a little extra income and keeps me from having to do the dreaded snip.

This works for tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, and almost all herbs.  A word of caution, plants that throw a taproot, are extremely difficult to transplant without disturbing. the roots. Proceed with care when trying to move melons, cucumbers and squash.

A note of comfort, it’s a great idea to compost your seedling sacrifices. In this way, we honor them and they live on as food for their stronger, greener comrades. (Oh brother, simper much!)

Weeding is easier, but not simple. What is a weed after all? A rose is a weed somewhere, right? Seriously, weeds have to go, they rob your plants of nourishment and compete for water. Again, take care when weeding around your plants, especially the young ones. I opt to cut them at dirt level. I also try to avoid the job entirely by growing healthy plants that assert their own dominance in the bed and mulching heavily.


What’s the story morning glory? Training climbers is more than an aesthetic choice. Using a trellis for your plants that vine will allow you to plant them closer than usual and results in much heavier yields. Also, it is much easier to harvest on a trellis than poking around under leaves looking for your vegetable bounty. I must say that when it comes to trellising, I am not the least bit apprehensive about training. I micromanage tendrils with the best of them. I know I can get more from them if they grow where I want them.


Discipline in the garden is essential for strong, healthy, abundant yields. As long as we keep this in mind and are vigilant about it, we will be able to reap the harvest of our toil.

Here are some tools to help you on your way.

Planters paper: I use the black paper that can be composted in the soil for the next year. I have also started putting red paper under my tomatoes and eggplants. This year I am going to experiment with yellow paper around my squash. “Igor…my paper! Mwwhahahahah!”

Pruners are a matter of taste. I really like the Felco pruners but they are very pricey. If you consider that they are a one time buy it softens the blow. Just remember to include them in your will. Your kids will be able to use them when you no longer need them.

I love Gardener’s Supply for many reasons. They have great trellis and staking options.

Gardeners need to discipline the garden just as parents need to discipline their children. I know this because I can see that my 19 and 20 year old children are becoming independent, responsible adults that are a benefit to our society. This is happening because of consistent discipline as they were coming up. My eight year old benefits from this because I have learned when it is necessary, and when it’s okay to let things slide. As we garden we get the same experience. We learn when we over prune to use a lighter hand. We learn to weed and thin when necessary for the health of fruits we hope to harvest.  Go forth and discipline. Have a paisley, pruning day~KeriAnne


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