Seed sowing glossary

Information sheet

Use this resource to help you understand the gardening terminology on the back of seed packets or from books and other media sources.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Basic terms:

  • to sow: to place a seed in soil or compost
  • to plant: to dig a small hole and place a plant into the hole, bringing soil back around the plant

Common terms (A-Z):

  • annual: a plant that completes its life cycle (germination, flowering, seeding and dying) in one growing season
  • broadcast sowing: a seed sowing technique used for sowing large areas of ground with the same seed e.g wildflowers, green manures or grass seed
  • dibber: a dibber is a professional tool, usually a pointed wooden stick. It is used to make holes in soil or compost and for making drills for direct seed sowing. A dibber is also used for pricking out and transplanting seedlings into larger pots.
  • frost risk has passed: this is the time of year, usually late May to early June, when night-time temperatures no longer fall below 00C and so frost is no longer likely. Frost can damage and kill young plants that have either not been ‘hardened off’ (see below) properly, or that are not able to withstand such low temperatures because they come from warmer climates
  • germinate/germination: the process of a seed starting to grow, developing a small root and seedling leaves
  • harden off: young plants sown in pots indoors have soft delicate leaves and stems. They need to acclimatise to the outside conditions over a period of time before planting them out. So seedlings are put in a half-way house for a couple of weeks – this could be a sheltered sunny spot outside, or in a cold frame (an unheated greenhouse), but brought inside at night if frost is forecast
  • perennial: any plant living for at least three years (annual = one year, biennial = two years)
  • potting on: moving a plant, with its root ball, into a larger pot or container
  • prick out: the careful moving of a very young seedling from the pot it germinated in to a larger pot or module of its own, to grow on into a bigger plant
  • row: seeds are sown in drills to form a row or a line of vegetables or flowers; seeds are sown in a row to help distinguish the sown seedlings from weeds. Also it allows you to give the correct amount of space for the crops to grow well. It is important to know the distance between rows
  • seed drill: a channel or groove made into the soil, to sow the seeds along. The depth of the drill is determined by the size of the seed. Small seeds like carrots and lettuce are sown in drill about 13mm deep ( length of finger nail). Whereas large seeds like a broad bean are sown in deeper drills 5cms deep ( length of second knuckle of index finger)
  • seedling: a tiny plant, usually only with its first leaves growing
  • spacing: the distance between seeds along the drill and also distance between adjacent rows. This is determined by the size of the seed and size of the plant it will grow into. So large plants will need wider spacing between seeds along the drill and between adjacent rows. Smaller seeds may need closer spacing along the seed drill
  • sow direct: to sow seeds into the soil, usually outside in beds or large containers
  • sow thinly: small seeds are sown by sprinkling the seeds sparingly, so that there is visible space between each seed. Remember each seed will grow into a plant so if you sow seeds too closely together they will be crowded and will not thrive
  • sow under glass or in a propagator: some seeds must be sown indoors in pots and given some heat to grow e.g. tomatoes need 18 – 210C until germination. The heat can then be reduced to a cooler temperature but seedlings must be kept out of harmful low temperatures
  • station sowing: a seed sowing technique for sowing large seeds directly into the ground by using a dibber to make a hole for seeds to be sown in
  • thin out seedlings: to carefully remove seedlings that are growing too close together – often the result of sowing too many small seeds and so too many grow up together. Water the row of seedlings well and then simply pull out the excess seedlings, leaving a row of single healthy seedlings at the correct spacing from one another. Sometimes you can re-plant the thinned seedlings somewhere else in the garden
  • transplant: the planting of a small plant, usually from a pot into the final position in the garden, where it will grow on to flower or harvest
  • well-prepared soil: soil that has been dug over, weeds removed, compost added, raked and levelled
  • wide bottomed drill: a channel that is wide as a hand (usually at least 10cms wide), and flat bottomed – not V shaped. Peas are sown in flat-bottomed drills, in a zigzag pattern

Extension activities for teachers:

Use this resource alongside the seed packet jargon activity. This will help your pupils understand common gardening terms. Also use the seed packet jargon pupil sheet so that your pupils can fill in the new facts they learn. 

How many new gardening terms can you learn? 
Have a lesson in the garden and see how many pupils have remembered the new words when carrying out practical gardening tasks.