Seed sowing glossary

Information sheet

Use this resource to help you understand the 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):

  • To Sow - to place a seed in soil or compost.
  • Well-prepared soil - soil that has been dug over, weeds removed, compost added, raked and levelled.
  • Germinate/Germination - the process of a seed starting to grow, developing a small root and seedling leaves.
  • To Plant - to dig a small hole and place a plant into the hole, bringing soil back around the plant.
  • 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).
  • 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. 
  • 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 not thrive.
  • 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 identify 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. 
  • 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.
  • Seedling - a tiny plant, usually only with its first leaves growing.
  • Thin out seedlings - to remove carefully 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 seedlings, leaving one healthy seedling at the correct spacing. Sometimes you can re-plant the thinned seedlings somewhere else in the garden.
  • 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.
  • 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.
 

Sow under heat or under glass or in a propagator 

Seeds must be sown indoors in pots and given some heat to grow. For example 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.

Preparing to plant out..

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 a couple of weeks – this could be a sheltered sunny spot outside or a cold frame (an unheated greenhouse) and brought inside at night if frost is forecast.      

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’ properly, or that are not able to withstand such low temperatures because they come from warmer climates.

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