We, at N Seeds, are here to assist you understand the lingo used in the gardening and the growing industry. If you think we should add more terms please drop us a line. We appreciate all suggestions!
Seed: A small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering, usually with some stored food. Size of seed in nature varies greatly, from dust like specks to as big as a coconut or palm! The purpose of seed is species propagation.
Variety: A genetically similar population of plants, distinct in one or more traits from other populations.
Bulb: Like seed bulb is a small embryonic plant with a short stem and food reserves. Bulbs grow underneath the ground unlike seeds which grow above. Common examples of bulbous plants are Onions, Garlics, Lilies, Tulips, etc.
Seed dormancy: Reluctance of seed to germinate in a specified period of time under normally suitable conditions. This is necessary to allow delayed germination and dispersal of seeds. It also prevents germination of all the seeds at the same time thus reducing competition for food, light and water. It is nature’s own way of mitigating risk! For guidance on how to sow seeds please see our Seed Starting Guide.
SEED PRE-TREATMENT: Techniques to break seed dormancy and induce germination —
Chipping / Scarification: Allowing water and air to penetrate into the seed by physically breaking the hard seed coats by chipping with a sharp knife or soften them by chemicals, such as soaking in hot water or poking holes in the seed with a pin or rubbing them on sandpaper or cracking the seed coat with tools. Soaking the seeds in solvents or acids is also effective for many seeds.
Leaching / Soaking: Provides two benefits – soften hard seed coat and also leach out any chemical inhibitors in the seed that prevent germination. Soaking for 1 to 5 hours in lukewarm water is generally good enough. Soaking longer (more than 12 to 24 hours), especially in stagnant water, can result in oxygen starvation and seed death. Water should be changed daily for longer soaking.
Pre-chilling / Stratification: Speeding up germination of slow to germinate seeds. Seeds are sown on moistened rooting medium or compost, sealed in a polythene bag and kept in cool temperature (15 to 18oC) for 3 days and then kept in refrigerator for a designated length of time. There must always be sufficient air inside the polythene bag and the medium should not be allowed to become dry. Light is beneficial after stratification so pre-chilled seeds should have only a very light covering when sowed. Despite stratification some seeds can stubbornly refuse to germinate until a year or more has passed! For more information please see our Seed Starting Guide.
Other methods: Daily alternation of temperature, light exposure, potassium nitrate, the use of plant growth regulators, such as gibberellins, cytokinins, ethylene, etc. Some seed coats are cracked by fire; for some chemical dormancy is broken by smoke!
SOWING SEASON —
Summer: Hot weather plants that flower during the summer season on the plains of India (up to altitude of 2,500 ft). Generally sowing of seeds is done from January onwards. They can also be sown in the highlands (altitude above 2,500 ft).
Winter: Cold weather plants that flower during the winter on the plains of India. Seeds are sown from September onwards and the flowering commences from December onwards. In the highlands these varieties are sown during September to November and March to April.
Monsoon: Rainy season plants. Generally sowing is done during April to June so that the plants are established before the heavy rains set in. Flowering commences from July onwards.
SEED TYPES —
Organic: Seeds harvested from plants that are grown organically; i.e., without synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. This is as close as it gets to growing plants that grow in the nature without human interventions.
Hybrid: The offspring of a cross between two or more varieties, usually of the same species. Seeds of hybrid varieties result from expert cross-pollination by human hand under totally controlled conditions. The resulting plants have superior vigour, disease resistance, uniform habit, desired flower and fruit sizes and extended blooming and fruiting periods as compared to regular inbred varieties. Hybrid varieties of vegetables and flowers are typically F1 hybrids. F1 refers to “first filial” or first generation offspring. Seeds of F2 varieties are derived from F1 hybrid parent plants. Hybrid seed is generally not saved from subsequent generations and is purchased for each planting. Hybrid seeds are much costlier than normal seeds, due to the technology, time and effort put in to produce them.
Heirloom: An old variety that owes its present availability to the seed-saving efforts of amateurs. An heirloom plant is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Heirloom vegetables usually have superior taste but lack commercial aspects like shelf life, disease resistance, etc. as compared to hybrid varieties. There is a growing trend amongst gardeners of growing heirloom plants. Heirloom seeds are important store houses of genetic diversity and botanical heritage.
Open-pollinated: A non-hybrid variety; one that can reproduce itself in kind.
SEED IMPROVEMENT —
Pelleting: Improving the shape, size, and uniformity of raw seeds for more accurate sowing by hand and machine. The pellets are made of clay-based, inert materials which don’t harm the seeds or soil. As the pellets absorb moisture they dissolve, allowing immediate access to oxygen for fast, uniform seedling emergence.
Priming: A process whereby the temperature range and speed of germination are enhanced, as well as additional priming to break light dormancy when needed. This results in quicker germination over a wider range of temperatures and environmental conditions and healthier seedlings. The priming process, however, decreases the storage life of the seed.
Treating: Seeds that have a coating of fungicides and/or insecticides intended to protect the seeds from rotting or insect damage in the soil before germination.
Untreated: Seeds that have no chemical treatments.
PLANT LIFE-CYCLE —
Annual: A plant that will complete its entire life cycle (growth, reproduction, death) within a single year or season.
Perennial: A plant that lives more than 2 years and usually flowers each year from the second season.
Biennial: A plant that completes its entire life cycle in 2 years, growing in the first, reproducing and dying in the second. Seed germinates and the plant establishes itself during the first season. Flowers usually bloom in the second year or season. In some climate biennials can be “forced” to bloom in the first season.
FLOWER TYPES —
Single: On single flowers there is one layer of petals.
Double: An inflorescence is a group or cluster of generally single flowers arranged on a stem.
Inflorescence: Rainy season plants. Generally sowing is done during April to June so that the plants are established before the heavy rains set in. Flowering commences from July onwards.
GROWTH HABITS —
Climber: Plant with rather weak stem that take support to climb in order to receive sunlight. A climber may use rock exposures, other plants, or other supports for growth rather than investing energy in a lot of supportive tissue, enabling the plant to reach sunlight with a minimum investment of energy. Climbers are usually quicker to grow.
Runner: A trailing stem growing above ground and rooting at the nodes, where plantlets are produced (e.g. strawberries). Some plants produce underground runners.
Creeper: Plants that hug the soil surface and spreads along the ground.
Trailing: Plants that hang down as they grow. They look attractive in hanging baskets.
Determinate: Term usually used to identify growth habit of tomato plants. Determinate tomatoes, or “bush” tomatoes, are varieties that grow to a compact height (generally 3 to 4 ft). Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All the tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.
Indeterminate: Term usually used to identify growth habit of tomato plants. Indeterminate tomatoes will grow and produce fruit for an extended season. They generally reach heights up to 6 ft. They bloom, set new fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time throughout the season. They require substantial staking for support.
Dioecious plant: Plants bearing male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another. In order to produce fruit and viable seeds, both a female and male plant must be present. This is particularly relevant for Papaya plants.
GROWTH ISSUES AND PLANT CARE —
Damping off: A fungus, usually affecting seedlings and causes the stem to rot off at soil level. It can also rot seeds before they even germinate. Sterilised seed starting mixes and careful sanitation practices can usually prevent this. Use care not to over-water. Provide good air circulation. This can be more severe during rainy season. Appropriate fungicides need to be used to control the problem.
Bolting: Vegetables that quickly go to flower rather than producing the food crop. Usually caused by late planting and too warm temperatures. Leafy vegetables are particularly more susceptible to this natural phenomenon. Hybrid varieties are available that are slow to bolt.
Pinching out / back: Nipping back the very tip of a branch or stem typically using the thumb and the forefinger. Pinching promotes branching, and a bushier, fuller plant.
Mulching: Layer of material placed on the soil and around plants to retain moisture, trap heat, supress weeds and improve soil structure. Materials used for mulching include well-rotted manure, compost, polythene sheets or gravel.
SOIL AND FERTILIZERS —
Compost: Decomposed daily use organic matter like food, paper, leaves, plants recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. It is a key ingredient in organic farming. The decomposition process is aided by shredding the plant matter, adding water and ensuring proper aeration by regularly turning the mixture. Worms and fungi further break up the material. It provides several benefits like as a soil conditioner, a fertilizer, addition of vital humus, and as a natural pesticide for soil.
Vermicompost: Composting using worms to create a heterogeneous mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste, plant waste etc. Vermicompost is a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner containing water-soluble nutrients, The worms’ digestive systems also add beneficial microbes to help create a “living” soil environment for plants.
N-P-K: Classification of fertilizer based on the relative content of the chemical elements nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). These three elements promote plant growth in three different ways:
N – nitrogen: promotes the growth of leaves and vegetation
P – phosphorus: promotes root and shoot growth
K – potassium: promotes flowering, fruiting and general hardiness
An NPK 10-5-3 means it contains 10 parts of nitrogen, 5 parts of phosphorus and 3 parts of potassium (potash) by weight. Application of right proportions of fertilizers is important. For example – it will cause more damage than good to flowering plants if soil is overfed with nitrogen as the plants will put all their energy into producing foliage, at the expense of flowers.
Rooting hormone: A powder or liquid biological or chemical agent, used to stimulate a plant cutting to send out new roots from a stem node.
Growth hormone: A powder or liquid biological or chemical agent used to enhance growth of plants.
Biological Soil disinfection: Soil tends to become sick due to thriving of weeds, bacteria, fungi, nematodes and viruses. This is aggravated by monocultures (practice of producing or growing a single crop or plant species over a wide area and for a large number of consecutive years). A number of methods can be employed to disinfect soil – most popular being treatment with chemicals, steam sterilisation and biological. The species Calendula officinalis (Calendula) and Tagetes patula (French Marigold) have demonstrated an ability to help control infestations of soil nematodes.