Veg Gardening Vocabulary 101

Gardening is full of confusing terminology and we try to use as little of it as possible here at She Grows Veg but there are some terms which are super useful to know.  We’ve put together a veg gardener’s glossary of essential terms to help you along your way.

Buying Seeds

  • Open pollinated – Crop varieties that, unlike hybrids, produce seed that is identical to the parent plant because they are genetically stable, they pollinate as a result of nature; heirloom vegetables are typically open-pollinated, which makes it easier to save and replant their seed
  • Hybrid – A plant cultivar resulting from the intentional man made cross-pollination of two closely related species or varieties and are genetically unstable
  • Heirloom/heritage – seed from a plant that has been passed from one generation to another, carefully grown and saved because it is considered valuable. The value could lie in its flavour, productivity, hardiness or adaptability. A true heirloom must be at least 50 years old otherwise it is a modern heirloom.
  • Germination rate – Germination rate is calculated by dividing the number of seeds that sprout by the total number of seeds started, and then multiplying that number by 100 to get a percentage. E.g. if you were to start ten seeds and 9 of the seeds actually sprouted, you would have a germination rate of 90%.  We germination test all our seeds to make sure they are high quality.
  • Brassica – A brassica is a genus or group of edible plants including cabbage, kale, cauliflower, turnip, broccoli and many more.
  • Growing Season – the part of the year when plants can actually grow, usually mid spring to mid autumn in the UK. You get one growing season per year.
  • Annual – Plants that complete their life cycle within a single growing season, germinating, setting seed and dying within one year.
  • Biennial – Plants That take two growing seasons to complete their life cycle, usually germinating and reaching full size in one year then flowering, setting seed and dying the second year.
  • Perennial – Plants that have a life span of many years.
  • Habit – Manner of growth; examples include upright (tall and narrow), spreading (short and broad), prostrate (growing flat close to the ground), dense (tightly spaced leaves and branches) and open (loosely spaced leaves and branches)

Sowing Seeds

  • Module trays – growing trays with multiple sections or modules to keep seeds apart
  • Pricking out method – Pricking out means separating out seedlings growing together and transferring them into their own plugs or pots.  It’s a delicate operation but easy to do with a plant label in hand. Check out our video on how to do it.
  • Surface sow – ‘Surface sow’ means the seeds need to be on top of the soil, not under it. They still need to be kept moist and warm, (glass helps), but if you bury them, they’ll sit there forever.
  • Under cover – Starting seedlings off under protection of a greenhouse, polytunnel, cold frame or even in the house enables gardeners to get a head start on the growing season. Sowing under cover while conditions outside are still less than ideal means you can raise strong, healthy seedlings safe from chilly winds and pests.
  • Germination – This is simply when a seed sprouts and starts to grow into a plant
  • Sow in place – Sowing seeds where they are to grow, as opposed to sowing them in pots and transplanting them later
  • Succession sowing – Sowing seeds at regular intervals throughout the growing season to ensure a continuous gradual supply.
  • Multi sowing / multi sown – multi-sowing is a simple method of sowing more seeds in one cell when you sow in module trays. You sow a number of seeds in a cell or tray, and you don’t thin out the seedlings after germination.  Some seeds thrive when grown as small clumps in this way such as radishes, onions and beetroots.
  • Propagate / propagation – the process by which new plants grow from various sources, including seeds, cuttings, and other plant parts

Growing General Terms

  • Why peat free compost? The peatlands of the UK are important carbon stores and harvesting them for peat extraction releases carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change. They can also play a key role in soaking up excess rainfall, helping to prevent flooding.  
  • Supplement heat – Some seeds need supplemental heat for germination, and these are almost always seeds for warm-season crops that naturally sprout when the outdoor temperatures heat up.  This can be achieved by growing in your house in a warm place or using heat mats.
  • Supplement light – You can use grow lights as a supplementary sunlight source to get a head start on the season, grow plants through winter or ensure healthy growth on seedlings. Check out our video for more info.  Widely available and inexpensive they’re a great addition for keen veg gardeners.
  • Full sun / Semi shade / Full shade:
    • Full sun – more than 6 hours of direct sun per day. 
    • Part sun – 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day, including some afternoon sun. 
    • Part shade – 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day, mostly before midday. 
    • Full shade – less than 4 hours of direct sun per day.
  • Support – Some crops such as climbing beans, cucumbers, squash and many tomatoes require supports to allow them to grow vertically.  Supports can be homemade using canes to sticks or there are loads of great wooden and metal arches, nets and supports on the market that enhance your veg growing.
  • Hand pollination – Manually fertilising flowers with pollen taken from the anther of a male flower and dabbed onto the stigma of a female flower, typically with a small brush; this technique is often used in breeding new varieties, though it is also required to ensure fruit production in a small number of crops that are not readily pollinated by wind or insects
  • Self pollination – Plants with the ability to pollinate themselves, meaning they can produce fruit with their own pollen (as opposed to those that require the pollen of another flower).
  • Bolt / bolting – Bolting is the term applied to vegetable crops when they prematurely run to seed, usually making them unusable. Hot weather, temperature fluctuations and drought can cause it. It can affect a wide range of veg including lettuce, spinach and fennel.
  • Cross pollination – Cross pollination is when one plant pollinates a plant of another variety. The two plants’ genetic material combines and the resulting seeds from that pollination will often have characteristics of both varieties but not always the good ones.
  • Harden off – The process of gradually exposing indoor grown plants to outdoor conditions; by letting seedlings sit outside for a few hours more each day over the course of a week, they suffer less shock when transplanted into the garden
  • Mulch – Material used to protect the soil, including wood chips, straw, compost and bark; mulch protects the soil from erosion, adds organic matter, conserves moisture and smothers weed seed.

Tomato Terms

  • Indeterminate / cordon – Consisting of most tomato varieties they continue to grow taller and taller until the first frost of fall; these cultivars require support
  • Determinate – Also known as bush tomato, they are low growing, require little to no pruning and all the tomatoes they produce will ripen at the same time, then no more will be produced. Not known for having the best tasting fruit.
  • Dwarf – Tomato varieties that grow to a certain size (usually no more than 5 feet in height) and then stop; these are useful in greenhouses and in other contexts where space is a concern
  • Micro Dwarf – only reaching around 1 foot in height, perfect for containers and winter growing.
  • Side Shoot – The new immature branch that grows where each leaf is attached to the stem of the plant. Should generally be removed.