Why Do Beets Always Need to Be Thinned?

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Robert Pavlis

You sow beet seed in the garden, and they come up too thick. So next year you plant less seed, and what happens? They grow too thick and need thinning again. Why is it that beet seed can’t be sown so that it does not need to be thinned?

I decided to have a close look at beet seed and in this post I’ll explain why beet seed is always planted too thick. I’ll also introduce you to a couple of new cultivars that don’t need to be thinned and tell you about my favorite heirloom beet which I have been growing for 30 years.

Why Do Beets Always Need to Be Thinned? germinating beet seed
Why Do Beets Always Need to Be Thinned?

A Close Look at Beet Seed

The picture above shows some beet seed that was germinated using my baggy method, which is explained in the video below. This method allows you to germinate seed and have a close look at the process. I use this method to germinate most of my perennial, tree and shrub seeds, but I normally sow beets directly in the soil.

You can see that each beet seed has two or three roots coming out. Each root will develop into a separate plant.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis

YouTube video

If the above video does not play, try this link: https://youtu.be/dirz0WIMQi0

Beets Have Multigerm Seeds

The so-called beet “seed” is actually a cluster of seeds inside  a dried fruit. When you plant them, you are actually planting the whole fruit and therefore you automatically plant several seeds in the same spot.

Botanically these are called multigerm seeds – the word germ refers to the embryo which can grow into a new plant. Each beet multigerm can contain 2 to 5 embryos.

Monogerm Beet Seeds

Scientists had discovered some sugar beets that produced only one embryo in a fruit and they have been in cultivation for some time. More recently, some table beets have also been developed which have a single embryo. Two of such cultivars are; Alvro Mono and Moneta.

If you grow monogerm beets, you will not have to thin them, provided you don’t seed too thickly.

My Favorite Beet

'Cylinra' beet, image from West Coast Seeds
‘Cylinra’ beet, image from West Coast Seeds

I have been growing Cylindra for about 30 years. It is an old heirloom that forms a long carrot-like root. As it grows, it tends to stick up above the ground. Some people hill it so that the root is always covered with soil, which tends to keep it from getting woody, but I have never bothered with hilling. I find them to be very tender even if they get old.

Add Thinnings to Your Salad

You can thin beets in one of two ways. Either pull the extra seedlings out completely, or just cut off the leaves. The latter is the preferred method because it results in less root disturbance to the seedlings you keep, but I usually just pull the extras out.

In either case, add the thinnings to your next salad – both roots and top greens are edible.

Planting Seedlings

You can also germinate beet seeds inside, separate the seedlings and plant the seedlings individually. This eliminates the thinning process, but seems like more work to me. This can produce early beets.

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

3 thoughts on “Why Do Beets Always Need to Be Thinned?”

  1. Forgot to thin my Bolthardy beetroot this year and have just harvested a magnificent crop. 40+ large globes in perfect condition. October 19 southern England

  2. There’s a lot of good information here for those who like to grow beets!
    I’ve stopped because of the leaf miner. If I can find some of the Cylindra heirloom seeds I think I should try again. Thanks!

  3. I have been watching You Tube videos by Charles Dowding – he has a market garden in Southern England. He multi sows.a lot of his veg, i.e. beet, leeks, onions, and grows them in clumps. They do very well. I am thinking of trying this.


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