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Getting Started,  Green Living,  Vegetables

Gardening Glossary: Terms & Definitions Every Gardener Should Know

Propagation, germination, crop rotation… hugel-who? What does this all MEAN? Whether you’re new to gardening or simply want to brush up on your garden vocabulary, read along to learn what the most common gardening terms mean. Then you’ll be able to dazzle your friends at the next garden party, or better follow along with with all of the awesome gardening tutorials we share here!

These are words that every organic gardener should get to know. Yet this is not your average boring garden glossary! In addition to a basic definition, you’ll also glean a few fun or helpful tidbits about each gardening term.

Jump to: A-C, D-H, I-P, R-Z


Loosening soil to introduce air and improve drainage. Can refer to the act of tilling, turning or physically aerating soil (including compost piles), or used in reference to the condition of existing soil, like: “this soil has great aeration!”. We add small (⅜”) volcanic rock to our raised garden bed soil mix to increase aeration, so that we don’t need to routinely till the soil thereafter. Perlite, pumice, sand, and earthworm activity also increase aeration in soil. 


A plant that completes its entire lifecycle (sprouts, fruits and/or flowers, and produces seed) in one year or less. Annuals must be re-planted each year. Most vegetable crops are annuals. If allowed, many annual flowers will self-seed and come back as volunteers the following year. 


A plant that is sold in a dormant state with its roots exposed (typically wrapped in burlap) as opposed to in a pot with soil. Bareroot fruit trees are a common sight at nurseries in the late fall or early spring.

Beneficial Insects

Insects that play a helpful role in the garden, such as acting as pollinators or eating pest insects. Common examples include bees, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, green lacewings, and praying mantis. Encouraging or releasing beneficial insects is common practice in organic gardening or part of an integrated pest management strategy. 

A ladybug is on the flowering tip of a bolting brassica plant. There are aphid also on the flowering tips which the aphid will gladly eat.
A ladybug is a prime example of a beneficial insect. Adult ladybugs can eat 20 to 25 aphids per day, and up to 10 times as many in their larval stage!


A material that will eventually break down or naturally decompose under the right conditions – such as with the help of bacteria, fungi, and oxygen. Organic matter is biodegradable. Not to be confused with ‘compostable’, because not all biodegradable materials are ideal for a home compost pile – such as treated wood scraps, noxious weeds, animal carcasses, or pet waste.


A gardening term for when plants “go to seed”. When a plant begins to flower and eventually develop seeds. This typically happens at the end of the season, but environmental stress (such as extreme heat, inadequate sunlight) can cause plants to bolt early. Once they do, the eating quality, flavor, texture, and lifespan rapidly declines. 


A type of composting method. Bokashi means “fermented organic matter” in Japanese. As opposed to a classic compost recipe involving browns, greens, oxygen, and time, the Bokashi method rapidly ferments food waste in an air-tight container with the aid of a specialized inoculant. 

Botanical Teas

A type of homemade natural liquid fertilizer that is made by ‘brewing’ or steeping soil amendments such as alfalfa meal, kelp meal, and/or neem meal in water. The result is a nutrient-rich solution used to water and feed plants. Botanical teas may be passively steeped, or actively aerated (bubbled) to increase enzyme activity and potency. You can also use sprouted seeds, referred to as ‘sprouted seed tea’. 


A plant that lives for two years. Typically, biennials focus on establishing a strong root system and leafy growth in the first year of life, followed by fruiting/flowering, and going to seed the second year. 


The cabbage plant family, also known as ‘cole crops’. This includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, mustard greens, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, radish, turnips, and others. Brassicas are generally grown as cool season crops, though many varieties are heat tolerant and can be grown in summer in the right conditions. 

A birds eye view of a fall harvest of green, white, and purple cauliflower, bok choy, daikon radish, mustard greens, chard, passion fruit, and tangerines arranged in an artistic manner.
So many beautiful brassicas! (minus the tangerines and passionfruit)

Chill Hours

The number of hours that a plant or seed needs to be exposed to temperatures between 32F to 45°F in order to break dormancy and either sprout, flower, or bear fruit. For instance, certain fruit trees need a range of 200-400 chill hours (more or less depending on variety) each winter in order to successfully bear fruit the following year. Also known as Vernalization. 


Yellowing plant leaves due to insufficient chlorophyll. Chlorosis can be caused by a number of issues, including disease, damaged or bound plant roots, highly alkaline soil, inadequate drainage, and/or nutrient deficiencies.

Cold Frame

A gardening term for a small structure that covers plants, protecting them from very cold or freezing conditions. Like a greenhouse, cold frames have transparent roofs to allow sunlight in (e.g. glass or plastic) but are built low to ground, more closely shrouding the plants.

Companion Planting

The practice of using specific combinations of plants growing near one another to provide various benefits, including but not limited to attracting pollinators, deterring pests, encouraging healthy growth, or providing shade/support for one another. Learn more about companion planting here. A free printable companion planting chart is included!


In the simplest terms, compost is decomposed organic matter. It is considered a premium organic soil amendment, and offers numerous benefits to soil and plant health. Home gardeners may either buy compost, or create homemade compost from things like collected leaves, straw, kitchen scraps, and garden waste. With the right balance of biodegradable materials, a little time, and the aid of decomposers (microorganisms, fungi, worms, insects, etc) raw materials break down into a nutrient-rich, soil-like material – finished compost. 

Compost Tea

A form of natural liquid fertilizer that is made by ‘brewing’ or steeping finished compost (described above) or worm castings in water. The result is a mild but nutrient-rich solution used to water and feed plants. Compost tea may be passively steeped, or actively aerated (bubbled) to increase microbial activity.  See our actively aerated compost tea tutorial here!

DeannaCat is watering a newly sprouted raised garden bed of radish seedlings with worm compost tea. There are three five gallon buckets that have been used to create an AACT. If you're unfamiliar with these gardening terms, review the gardening glossary for more information.
I’m pretty stoked about feeding our garden a batch of freshly brewed Actively Aerated Compost Tea. Ha!

Cool Season Crops

Vegetable crops that prefer cooler soil and air temperatures to thrive, between 40 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Most are very cold hardy and frost-tolerant. Cool season crops include the brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower), leafy greens, and root vegetables (radishes, carrots, beets, turnips). These are best suited for the early spring or fall garden. Some cool season crops can tolerate temporary hot conditions, while others may bolt in heat. In places with mild winters, fall-planted cool season crops can continue to grow right through winter into spring.

Cover Crops

Plants that are grown with the primary purpose to protect or rejuvenate the soil between seasons or other edible crops. Cover crops may feed the soil by fixing nitrogen, and act as a living mulch by reducing erosion, compaction, and runoff.  Ryegrass, fava beans, oats, clover, barley, alfalfa, and other legumes or cereal grains are common cover crops.

Crop Rotation

The practice of routinely rotating the types of crops that are grown in each plot or garden bed. Good crop rotation can improve soil health and biodiversity, reduce the demand for fertilizer, and lessen disease and pest pressure by avoiding growing the same crops in the same location year after year.

Cut and Come Again

A method used to continually harvest from a single plant over an extended period of time, rather than harvesting the entire plant at one time (which kills the plant). Most applicable to leafy greens, such as kale, romaine lettuce, or swiss chard. Pick a few of the oldest, outermost leaves each week instead of cutting out the whole head. See a demonstration video on the cut and come again method here.


Another name for a specific ‘variety’ of plant, selected or bred by humans for particular characteristics. For instance, Dazzling Blue, Madeley, and Curly Scotch are all different cultivars (varieties) of kale

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Damping Off

A gardening term for when seedlings suddenly wilt and die. Their stems typically become very thin near the soil line, causing them to topple. Damping off can be attributed to a number of different fungal diseases, and is most common when seedlings are overwatered, have inadequate air flow, or when old diseased garden soil is used to start new seeds.

Days to Maturity

The time from when seeds are sown until the plant should be ready to harvest. A plant description or seed packet will usually outline the specific varieties’ expected growth timeline (also including days to germinate/sprout), though different care and growing conditions can lead to some variation. 


The practice of removing spent or dying flowers from plants once the blooms are past their prime. Regular deadheading creates a tidy appearance, reduces seed scatter, and also encourages more new flowers to bloom. However, if you intend to save seeds from annual flowers, it is best to allow the flower to become fully brown and dry while it is still on the plant before deadheading it.

DeannaCat is holding a handful of dried zinnia blooms. The petals have browned and withered, putting their energy into the flower seeds that lie within. In the background is a zinnia plant with large fluffy purple flowers from which the brown flowers came from. When you choose to save flower seeds from plants with large flower heads, there are usually many seeds that are contained within. There is also a fig tree along the fence line immediately behind the zinnia plant.
Deadheaded zinnia blooms, nice and dry for successful seed-saving.


Plants that lose their leaves during the fall to winter months, and regrow in spring. A gardening term that is opposite of ‘evergreen’. 


Determinate means ‘of limited time’, and also a growth habit where a plant’s main stem and branches will slow or halt growth once it begins to flower and bear fruit. A garden term that is most often used to distinguish between types of tomatoes (determinate versus indeterminate), but also used to describe the growth habits of beans plants and others. Determinate tomatoes and bush bean plants stay more compact, and bear all of their fruit over a shorter period of time. Indeterminate tomatoes and pole beans continue to grow and bear fruit on larger plants over a prolonged period of time. Learn more about how to train or prune determinate vs indeterminate plants here.

Direct Sow

To plant seeds directly in the soil outdoors in their final growing location, as opposed to starting seeds in small containers (inside or in a greenhouse) and transplanting them as seedlings later.  


Don’t call your precious garden soil ‘dirt’! It is not the same thing! Dirt is devoid of the living organisms, nutrients, and well-balanced composition present in healthy soil; the things needed to successfully grow plants.

Dynamic Accumulators

A permaculture concept for certain plants that are reported to have an exceptional ability at drawing up nutrients from the soil and storing them in their tissues. Popularly used as green mulch, in compost, compost tea, homemade fertilizers, natural medicine or natural body care products. Examples of dynamic accumulators include comfrey, borage, yarrow, horsetail, lambsquarter, and dandelion. Most are deep-rooted or have a taproot. Sometimes also referred to as ‘biodynamic accumulators’.


A plant pruning and training technique that creates a wide, flat structure.  Commonly used for fruit trees. Great for small spaces and against structures, fences or walls for a unique visual impact.

Foliar Feeding (Foliar Spray)

The process of spraying plants, trees or shrubs with a fine mist of liquid fertilizer (or other liquid amendment) from a sprayer. Plants have the ability to absorb nutrients more quickly through their leaves and vascular system than through their roots in the soil. Pesticides may also be applied through a foliar spray.

Frost Date

A gardening term used to describe either the average first date (fall) or last date (spring) that your area receives frost. The days between are your most robust growing season. Planting instructions commonly refer to these dates, such as “sow seeds outdoors 2 weeks before your last spring frost date”. Or, “transplant seedlings 6 weeks before the first fall frost date.” 

A planting calendar for Zone 7, it has many different vegetables lined up on the left side of the chart and all of the months of the year listed on the top of the chart. Each vegetable has different colored lines that correspond with when to start seeds inside, transplant outdoors, and plant seeds outside, along with corresponding last frost date and first frost date where applicable. The lines start left to right, showing what months you should do each particular task depending on the season and where you live. Another gardening term found in the gardening glossary.
The vertical blue and red lines represent the average last and first frost date of the year, shown for Zone 7 in this example. This planting calendar is from the Homestead and Chill free garden planning toolkit, which includes calendars for every zone. Get yours here!

Full Sun

Generally refers to a minimum of 6 hours or more of direct sunlight


When a seed breaks dormancy and sprouts its first growth; the emergence of a new seedling from a seed.


Stands for ‘genetically modified organism’. Some plants and seeds are genetically modified by humans in a lab setting for select qualities, such as pesticide resistance. GMO “Roundup ready” corn and soy are prime examples. Generally frowned upon (and thought to be dangerous) in the organic farming and natural health communities. You can find a full list of the places we buy garden seeds from here – all of which have taken the Safe Seed Pledge against GMOs.

Grafting or Grafted

A horticulture technique when a cut portion of a plant is joined or fused to another – to grow together as one plant. A common practice where a strong, disease-resistant, or otherwise ideal lower portion (the rootstock) is fused with various upper portions (the scion). For instance, to graft a specific variety of apple onto a different hardy apple rootstock. The resulting plant will produce fruit true to the scion used.

Green Manure

Refers to certain plants or crops that are grown exclusively to be turned into the soil or allowed to decompose on the soil surface as mulch to enrich the soil with nutrients. A few plants often grown as green manure include clover, oats, buckwheat, winter wheat, beans and peas. Similar benefits and uses as dynamic accumulators and cover crops. 

Hand Pollination

When humans aid in the pollination process by physically transferring pollen from one flower or plant to another. This can be done either using a small tool (paint brush, cotton swab) or with the flower itself. We actively hand-pollinate zucchini and other squash plants to ensure fruit develops, and prevent end rot.

The end of a paintbrush is shown after it has been used to collect pollen while also pollinating a female squash flower. The bristle ends have powdery gold pollen affixed to the ends. A squash plant is visible in the background below.
I use a small paintbrush to hand pollinate our zucchini and other squash plants. If I don’t, they often fail to develop and rot from the flower end instead – despite having plenty of bees around! Learn more more about hand pollinating squash here.

Hardening Off

A gardening term for the process of readying tender seedlings that were raised indoors (or other protected conditions) to be planted outside. The process usually involves gradually exposing seedlings to conditions such as wind, cold and/or direct sun over the period of a week or more, so they can become increasingly strong and resilient. See step-by-step hardening off instructions here.

Hardiness Zone (USDA Hardiness Zones)

A system created by the US Department of Agriculture. Areas in the United States are grouped and designated into particular planting or hardiness zones (3a through 11b) based on similar climatic conditions. The zones are used to define what plans grow best in what areas, as well as provide guidance on when to plant what. The system can be can be somewhat misleading because it is mostly based around frost dates and cold temperatures, but doesn’t take into account other variables between locations like average high temperatures, humidity, or precipitation. Find your zone here, and then get a free Homestead and Chill planting calendar for your zone!


Refers to a plant or variety of vegetable that is at least 50 years old. Furthermore, the seeds must be either open-pollinated or self-pollinated to be considered heirloom, not a hybrid. An heirloom variety usually has a meaningful story behind it, such as a history of being passed down within a community, culture, farm, or family – much like a family “heirloom” would.


Pronounced Hoo-gul-culture, and means hill culture or hill mound. A type of garden bed style that utilizes collected natural materials such as logs, branches, leaves, pinecones, or other organic matter to provide bulk below a layer of soil. As the bulky materials break down, they release nutrients and become a part of the soil too. In a raised garden bed setting, filling the lower portion of the bed with bulk natural materials and then adding soil on top is considered hugelkultur.  Learn hugelkultur best practices and how to make a hugelkultur garden bed here.


Another word for finished compost. Once natural organic materials such as leaves, food scraps, or other garden waste are fully decomposed, they’re considered humus. Humus is dark,  nutrient-rich, and improves the moisture retention and overall condition of soil. 


Seeds that are created through the cross-pollination between two different varieties or species of plants. Cross-breeding may happen naturally, but is often done in a controlled setting or intentionally by humans with the goal of combining beneficial attributes from each plant. For example, for natural disease resistance or higher yield. Hybrid seeds are usually denoted as F1 or F2, which means Filial or ‘first children’ – as in the first generation of seeds produced from breeding. Hybrids are not GMO, and also different from open-pollinated seeds. Seeds produced from hybrid plants are not likely to ‘breed true’ and therefore aren’t great for seed-saving. 

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A gardening term used to describe a plant that continues to grow in size and bear fruit over a longer period of time, as opposed to a determinate plant  that is shorter lived with a more concentrated fruiting period. Most often used in reference to vining tomato varieties that will produce tomatoes throughout the entirety of the growing season. 

Integrated Pest Management

An approach to managing garden pests in an organic, sustainable manner that focuses on minimizing health, economic and environmental risks. It involves a hierarchy of decisions and actions, including identifying the pest, assessing the severity of the problem, and using a variety of preventative, biological, cultural, physical pest control measures before resorting to chemical intervention. 

A pyramid of Integrated of Pest Management hierarchy. From the bottom to the top there are levels of action the bottom being what to start with first. These are Prevention, Cultural/Sanitation, Physical or Mechanical, Biological, and finally Chemical. IPM is a very important gardening term.
The hierarchy of action in Integrated Pest Management. This is what we follow in our garden (“chemical” can also mean organic man-made products)

Korean Natural Farming (KNF)

An alternative natural farming practice that emerged in the 1960s in South Korea. KNF focuses on building soil and plant vitality by promoting the growth of indigenous microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa). This is done by using fermented teas (fermented plant juice or FPJ) and other natural concoctions, and avoiding chemical fertilizers or pesticides. 


A gardening term to describe overly tall, stretched out seedlings. Leggy seedlings are not ideal, as they’re usually more weak and prone to toppling. Prevent leggy seedlings by providing ample bright light. Seedlings stretch and become tall when they’re in search of better light, and will lean towards the strongest light they’re provided. The stems of most leggy seedlings can be partially buried, once they’re properly hardened off. Check out this article on the top 9 seed starting mistakes to avoid – and how to correct them!


Considered the ideal type of soil for growing food and plants. Loamy soil is a well-balanced mix of sand, silt, and clay. Therefore, it also possesses good moisture retention and drainage properties. Soil that contains too much clay or silt is often mixed with other soil or soil components (e.g. sand) to achieve a more loam-like consistency.


The elements nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sulfur are macronutrients that are essential to plant health and growth. These are usually added to the soil through amendments and/or cover crops. (See ‘NPK’ below)


The elements boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc are the seven micronutrients essential for healthy plant growth. These can be added to the soil through compost, organic matter, and rock dust. 


Any material that is placed on the surface of otherwise bare soil. Mulch reduces erosion and runoff, suppresses weeds, increases moisture retention, and protects the soil and plant roots. See this article to learn more about mulching practices, or this guide that explores the pros and cons of 8 different mulch materials, such as leaves, cardboard, compost, straw, and more. 


‘Myco’ means fungus and ‘rhizae’ means root. Mycorrhizae are specialized fungi that colonize the root system of plants to form a mutually beneficial or symbiotic relationship. They act as extensions of the root system, increasing the surface area and exchange of nutrients and water between the soil and the plant’s roots. We often inoculate the soil around new plants with mycorrhizae by either lightly dusting the root ball or watering with a mycorrhizae solution after transplanting young seedlings. 


The Solanaceae plant family that includes tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Nightshade leaves are considered mildly toxic so the leaves are not safe to eat, while most other common garden plants (brassicas, carrots, beets, radishes, turnips) have edible leaves. 


When nitrogen is taken in from the atmosphere (air) and turned into stored nitrogen in soil, where plants can then utilize the nitrogen to support growth. The process is facilitated by specialized bacteria (rhizobia) that colonize plant roots. Legumes and other crops are particularly effective at fixing nitrogen, including peas, clover, alfalfa, vetch, fava beans, flax, lentils, ryegrass, and soybeans.

An upended fava bean plant's roots are shown, they have tiny nitrogen nodules affixed to the roots.The nitrogen nodules look like pieces f perlite stuck to the fibrous roots. There are fava bean plants growing in a raised garden bed in the background. Cover crop and nitrogen are both gardening terms found here.
Nitrogen nodules formed on the roots of a fava bean plant, thanks to nitrogen-fixing rhizobia! We usually leave the roots in the soil to decompose (no-till style) but pulled this one up just as a demonstration.

No Till Gardening

A gardening philosophy or style where the soil is disrupted as little as possible, and is not intentionally tilled or turned over every season as in traditional agriculture. Tilling soil leads to a loss of soil structure, compaction, increased runoff and erosion. In contrast, letting the soil go undisturbed preserves the living soil food web, and can increase soil fertility, plant health, and productivity. Also known as ‘no dig’ gardening. We actively practice no-till gardening, and cut plants out at the end of the season (instead of pulling out the roots). Learn more here!


Stands for Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium, three essential macronutrients that are essential for plant health and growth. You will see the “NPK ratio” listed on fertilizer containers, such as 8-2-1 (a high-nitrogen fertilizer) or 4-4-4 (a well-balanced fertilizer). In general, nitrogen promotes robust leafy green growth, phosphorus is essential for flower and fruit development, and potassium plays a role in overall plant resilience, nutrient utilization, root growth, and photosynthesis.

Open Pollinated

Seed that will generally “breed true” (produce offspring roughly identical to the parent plant) when the plants are pollinated by another plant of the same variety. Good for seed-saving and consistency. Yet if open-pollinated plants are cross-pollinated by a similar plant of a different variety (e.g. two different types of squash), the saved seeds may not breed true. 

Organic Gardening

A style of gardening that focuses on growing healthy plants in the most natural and safe means possible. Organic gardeners and farmers avoid the use of toxic, chemical, or otherwise synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, soil and plant health is supported with things like compost, manures, integrated pest management, beneficial insects, and natural soil amendments.


The Organic Materials Review Institute is a nonprofit organization that certifies whether certain agricultural inputs are safe to use in organic farming. If you see “OMRI-certified” on a product, that means it is considered acceptable to use in an organic garden. However, there are often other natural solutions to try before using man-made products!


In chemistry, the pH scale is used to determine how acidic or alkaline something is. The number 7 represents a neutral pH. The lower the pH, the more acidic. The higher the pH number, the more alkaline. In gardening, the pH of soil is often considered (including tested or adjusted) to satisfy the ideal growing conditions of particular plants. Most common crops prefer a slightly acidic soil of 6.0 to 7.0.


The gardening term for plants that can grow or live for more than two years. In freezing climates, perennials may appear to die back in the winter but will regrow in the spring.


Permaculture is a principle that focuses on the intentional, careful design and maintenance of agriculturally-productive ecosystems (including garden spaces) so that they mimic the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Examples of permaculture principles include water harvesting, re-wilding of spaces, composting, regenerative agriculture, and community resilience.   


Anything that aids in the transfer of pollen between plants or flowers, including but not limited to bees, butterflies, birds, bats, insects, the wind, humans, or other animals. The vast majority of plants rely on pollinators to successfully reproduce – and produce edible crops!

A close up image of a bee collecting pollen from an apple flower. The bee's hind legs have a large ball of pollen that it has collected. The apple flower is pink and white. Attracting pollinators is a key gardening term.
A bee helping pollinate our Anna apple tree. Check out those pollen pantaloons!


The practice of growing many types of plants in one garden bed, container, or space – including a mix of companion plants. Growing a wide variety of plants creates biodiversity in your garden, attracts beneficial insects, and reduces the chances of widespread devastation by pests or disease that typically inflict the same crop. It also helps to balance the nutritional demand placed on soil. Polyculture is in contrast to the monoculture we see (growing a huge swath of just one crop, such as corn) common in conventional or commercial farming operations.

Potting Up

The act of moving a plant from a smaller container into a larger one. Typically done with seedlings as they grow bigger, to avoid becoming root bound and stunted. Also applies to houseplants or other potted plants.


The process of growing (creating) new plants through any variety of methods, including from seed, cuttings, grafts, or other plant parts. 

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Root Bound

A gardening term used to describe a plant, shrub or tree that is growing in too small of a container that in turn restricts roots and stunts plant growth. Some rootbound plants can recover by being potted up into a larger container or the ground. However, some severe cases can leave the plant permanently stunted. 


An underground stem that grows horizontally from nodes rather than vertically like most other plants. Ginger and turmeric are examples of edible rhizomes. Mint is a notoriously invasive plant because it spreads through vigorous underground rhizomes, also sometimes called ‘runners’. 

Season Extender

A gardening term for any structure or tool used to protect plants from harsh conditions and thereby extend the growing season. Most commonly used in reference for shelter against frost, but may also be applied to things that deflect extreme heat and sun, such as shade cloth. Examples include cold frames, cloches, greenhouses, and hoops that support various row cover material like plastic or frost blankets. 

Raised garden beds are shown at dusk, covered with row covers. The sky is shown in the background, a bright glowing orange sun has illuminated the horizon with shades of pink and purple mixed in. There are various trees and plants that are visible in the dwindling light. Hoops and row covers are a gardening term that can help protect your garden.
Admittedly, we don’t receive much frost in our climate – but we do use our hoops to support shade cloth to protect cool season crops on random hot days, and also for insect/bird netting to block out pests. Frost row cover could also be draped over the hoops as a season extender.

Self-Seed or Self-Sow

When a plant grows or spreads naturally from seed that was dispersed or dropped by a parent plant without human intervention. If allowed to go to seed in the garden, most annual flowers will drop seed around them and then readily grow new flowers in the same vicinity the following year. Also referred to as ‘volunteers’. 

Sheet Mulch

The process of mulching an area with wide and fairly solid ‘sheets’ of material, such as cardboard, burlap, newspaper, rolls of painters paper, or synthetic materials like plastic or landscape fabric. Provides similar benefits as classic mulching, but can be longer-lasting and even more effective at smothering weeds. Good for pathways, large open spaces, preparing the soil in a new garden space, covering a soil over winter, or smothering grass.

Slow Release Fertilizer

Fertilizer that will slowly degrade in the soil to make fresh nutrients available to plants over time instead of a strong boost of nutrients at once. Granular or dry ‘meal’ type fertilizers are usually slow release, often applied as a top-dressing and then watered in. These types of fertilizers generally pose less risk of ‘burning’ or shocking plants compared to liquid fertilizer.

Soil Amendments

Materials that are added to soil to increase the health, nutrient content, moisture retention, and/or soil structure. Natural soil amendments include things such as dried plant or animal material (e.g. alfalfa meal, kelp meal, neem meal, bone meal, or crustacean meal), compost, worm castings, lava rock or perlite, peat moss, greensand, granular fertilizers, and rock dust.

Soil Food Web

The important and symbiotic relationship between soil and the network of living things within it. Members of the soil food web include beneficial microorganisms, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, earthworms, mycorrhizae, and other arthropods and critters. They work together to break down organic matter, introduce nutrients, and improve soil aeration, drainage and moisture retention. Also known as ‘organic living soil’.


For gardeners in the northern hemisphere, a south-facing garden is an ideal choice to maximize sun exposure in all seasons and throughout the day. ‘South-facing’ means the garden space is located in an area that can receive unobstructed sun from the south (the direction where most sunlight emanates from). Planting a garden along the northern side of a house or fence would be the opposite of south-facing.

Succession Sowing (Succession Planting)

A gardening term for continually planting new seeds or seedlings in a staggered timeframe over a growing season. The goal of succession planting is usually to offset harvest dates to provide a slower, continual harvest over many months instead of all large amounts of crops maturing all at one time. This method is especially effective with quick-developing vegetables like radishes, bush beans, or baby greens. 

Rooting Hormone

Substances that help stimulate root growth on fresh cuttings during the propagation process, while also protecting the new cuttings from disease. Rooting hormone products can be purchased in a powder or gel form. Aloe vera and cinnamon powder are also effective at encouraging root growth in cuttings.  

Terminal Bud

The portion of a plant where new growth originates from, most often in the center or top ‘leader’. If the terminal bud is cut, it often causes the plant to stop or slow upward growth and can encourage branching instead. When harvesting leafy greens using the ‘cut and come again method’ (defined above) you want to avoid cutting the terminal bud. 


A gardening term for separating or reducing the number of plants in one space or container. For instance, by cutting out or gently pulling apart extra seedlings that are too crowded. Good thinning practices and spacing promotes fast and healthy growth.

A hand is holding two seedlings that have been separated into two pieces, with their roots all still in tact. Thinning is an important gardening term for successful plant growth.
I usually prefer to snip/cut extra veggie seedlings out at the soil line, to avoid disrupting the roots of the ‘keeper’. Other times, I gently pull apart small seedlings to plant in separate containers, as shown above.


The process of relocating plants from one location to another. Most often used to describe when young seedlings are taken out of their starter containers and planted outside. Could also refer to planting a tree, or potting a plant from a small container into a larger one.

Top Dressing

A gardening term used to describe the act of applying amendments or fertilizer to the top of the soil, as opposed to tilling it in. 

Vermicompost (Vermicomposting)

Means composting with worms. This is typically accomplished in a dedicated closed system, such as a worm bin or tiered worm farm. The worms are routinely fed garden waste or kitchen scraps in appropriate types and quantities to maintain a healthy worm bin. In turn, the compost worms eat the waste materials to produce one of the most wonderful forms of compost available – worm castings (aka, worm poop). Learn how to create and maintain a simple, inexpensive worm bin here.


Plants that display patches or streaks of varying colors, most often white and green. It rarely occurs in nature; most plants that routinely contain variegation have been bred or propagated by humans to contain this trait. Thought to be caused by a random genetic mutation, and doesn’t always carry on to future seeds.


The process of exposing seeds or bulbs to a prolonged period of cold temperatures. The goal is to satisfy the plant’s natural requirement for chilling in order to break dormancy and successfully sprout, flower, and/or bear fruit. Humans artificially perform vernalization by storing seeds or bulbs in refrigeration or freezers to imitate seasonal chilling hours. The exact time and temperature required varies between plants, yet is typically several weeks between 40 and 32°F. Many nut and fruit trees along with some varieties of garlic, milkweed, and flower bulbs require vernalization. Also known as ‘chill hours’. 


A gardening term for a plant that germinates and grows with little to no help from the gardener. They typically grow from a plant that went to seed previously in the general vicinity. However, birds or other animals may also spread the seeds. Synonymous with self-sown or self-seeded. 

Warm Season Crops

Vegetables that need consistently warm conditions to grow, will thrive when temperatures are 75°F or above, and do not tolerate frost or cold conditions unless they’re protected.  Plant warm season crops when the soil and air temperatures are above 50°F, and will be warmer for several months ahead as the plants mature. Warm season crops include tomatoes, melons, summer squash (zucchini), winter squash (butternut, pumpkin), beans, peppers, corn, sweet potato, cucumbers, and eggplant. 

Worm Castings

Another word for vermicastings, or worm poop. When food passes through a worm’s body (such as kitchen scraps in a worm compost bin), it is broken down into concentrated, highly-bioavailable nutrients and beneficial microbes for plants. Though potent, worm castings are very mellow, slow-release, and can’t ‘burn’ plants as other animal manure or fertilizer can. As a soil amendment, worm castings also increase soil’s moisture retention abilities and improve drainage. Sometimes referred to as “black gold”.


The practice of landscape design which utilizes native, drought tolerant plants that use little-to-no water aside from what the natural climate provides. It is most popular in the western US where the weather can be more hot and dry. Xeriscaping also incorporates rock, stone, and other hardscaping features. 

Two hands are cupped around a large handful of red wiggler compost worms. Vermicompost is a gardening term that one should become familiar with.
Compost worms from our worm bin, who create wonderful vermicastings – our favorite type of compost and natural fertilizer!

That’s a wrap!

Wow. How about that for a crash course in garden vocabulary? Are you ready for your pop quiz now? Just kidding. But I hope you picked up on a new gardening term or two! I’m quite the nerd, so I deeply enjoyed putting this list together for you all. Let me know if I missed any good ones, and thank you for tuning in!

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