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How To Thin Those Self-Sowing Flowers And Veggies

Small green seedlings grow in dark brown soil
Self-sowing flowers and veggies are germinating right about now. Learn how to thin out the seedlings to make for a more productive flower garden and vegetable patch!

With warm weather settling in, you may step out to your garden or gaze at your raised bed and notice many seeds are germinating! Flowers such as calendula, verbena and poppies, and veggies like arugula, lettuce and mustard, may have self sown from last year. And this is the time to thin them out!

Thinning out self-sown seedlings takes a couple of steps. First, identify the flowers or plant seedlings. You may be familiar with your perennial flowers and immediately recognize calendula, poppy and even lettuce seedlings. These are the most common self-sowing flowers and veggies and produce an abundance of seeds and therefore are quick to self-sow and germinate in your early spring gardens and flower beds.

After you identify your flowers and plants, you'll then need to decide whether you want to keep the seedlings or not. This is the point at which you'll need to be pretty ruthless! These tiny green seedlings may look harmless now, but they are and will continue to overcrowd each other. When thinning them out, remove nearly 99 percent of them!

Thinning out the plant and flower seedlings now ensures proper spacing as the plants grow and that, in turn, will lead to healthier plants. Once you've gone through and removed most of them, you can either compost the thinnings or move the plants to another location.

And if you’re noticing self-sowing lettuces about now, you can use this as a handy indicator that it's the right time to plant lettuces, arugula, mustard and spinach seed.

Take a look now at all those self-sown seedlings, decide what stays and what goes and you'll be on your way to gardening smarter.

Q: I have 10 blueberry bushes and started dumping coffee grounds on them last fall. I dump one pot's worth on one bush each day so each bush is getting the grounds every ten days. Do you think this is okay? And, are daffodils sensitive to road salt? — Ann, in Underhill

Daffodils are not sensitive to road salt! Bunches grow all along roadsides where snow and salt from snow plows accumulate all winter and the flowers do just fine.

As for sprinkling coffee grounds, that is just fine to use around the blueberry bushes. You might mix it in with other materials, like bark mulch. And although coffee grounds are acidic, sprinkling them won’t affect the PH level around the bushes. The grounds can help feed the microbes that make your soil healthy, though!

Q: I'm growing fava beans in my raised beds hoping to increase the nitrogen in the soil. Should I cut down the fava plants and leave the roots to decompose or should I just remove the whole plant? — Marie, in San Jose, CA

As with any kind of overwintering crop like fava beans, you can chop the plants down to ground level in the fall, then leave the dried stalks and leaves to mulch into the topsoil over the winter. This practice will add nitrogen to the soil as it breaks down and it will help prevent weeds and feed the soil, too.

Q: I had an old lilac thinned out two summers ago. Last summer, it produced dozens of finger-sized shoots. How do I thin them? —Kathleen, in White River Junction

When you prune a lilac back severely, you will get those sprouts and water spouts coming up. Choose the wider ones coming off the main trunk and save one or two per trunk. The rest, you should remove. Also, check to make sure they are growing in a direction and into an area with enough light and that they won’t crowd out other branches and stems.

Next week, if you have questions about soil health, send them along!

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All Things Gardening is powered by you, the listener! Send your gardening questions and conundrums and Charlie may answer them in upcoming episodes. You can also leave a voicemail with your gardening question by calling VPR at (802) 655-9451.

Hear All Things Gardening during Weekend Edition Sunday with VPR host Mary Engisch, Sunday mornings at 9:35.

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a messageor get in touch by tweeting us @vprnet.

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Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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