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A-Z of growing words

Below is an A-Z glossary of useful growing words and terms.


Annual – a plant that germinates, grows, set its seeds and dies in one year - and thrives in disturbed soil. 

Aphid – a small insect, often known as greenfly or blackfly, that sucks sap from plants.


Biennial - a plant that usually grows in its first year and then flowers and sets seed in the second year, although some occasionally defy convention by acting as annuals. After setting seed, a biennial plant usually dies in the same way as an annual.

Biodiversity – the variety of life (plant, human, animal, insect, microbe) in a particular place, region or the whole planet.

Botanical name - the formal scientific name for a plant or fungi, which is recognised internationally. This is different from the Common name, which can vary from country to country and even within the same country!


Compost – decayed or digested plant or animal matter used to enrich soils with nutrients and organic matter.

Cross-pollination – sexual reproduction in plants, when pollen is transferred from one flower to another by the wind or by an insect.

Cultivate - describes breaking up and loosening the soil, as well as removing weeds. When cultivating soil, you only go a few inches deep, unlike digging.


Direct sowing – sowing seed directly into the ground (rather than in a pot filled with compost).


Ecosystem - a collection of living and non-living things that all depend on one another to survive. Ecosystems can be big or small.


Fauna – the animal life, including insects, which inhabit a particular area.

Fertiliser – any substance that is used to enhance the nutrients in soils to boost plant growth.

Flora – plant life growing in a particular area.

Foliage – another name for leaves.


Germination – when a seed springs to life and becomes a seedling (young plant).


Habitat – a place where a community of plant and animal life exists.

Herbicide – a chemical substance used to kill unwanted plants (weeds).


Larvae – a stage in the life cycle of insects between the egg and the adult form.

Leaf lobe – the tips of a leaf (some leaves have more lobes than others).


Meadow – an area of grassland rich with wild flowers managed in a traditional way for grazing animals.

Microbes – tiny organisms including bacteria and fungal spores that are too small to see with the naked eye – they are vital for all life on earth.


Native plant – a plant that originates from, and grows naturally in, a particular country and hasn’t been introduced from somewhere else.

Nectar – a sugary liquid produced by plants that is food for bees, butterflies and many other insects.

Nitrate – a nutrient often found in soil that is essential for plant growth.

Nocturnal – being mostly active at night rather than in the day.

Nutrients – the chemicals any living thing needs to grow and survive.


Perennial – a plant that lives for two years or longer, often dying back in winter and emerging again each spring.

Pesticide – any substance used to kill or control unwanted insects, or other garden pests.

Phosphorus – a nutrient that enhances the performance of many fast-growing plants and crops.

Plugs or Plug Plants - a plug plant is seed that has already been grown into a very small plant. They can give you a head start but will cost more money than seeds.

Pollen – a powder produced by flowers that carries the equivalent of sperm in animals. It can be transferred from one flower to another by animals, insects, wind, or even water.

Pollinator – an insect or animal that moves pollen from one flower to another as part of the plant reproduction process.

Potassium ­– a nutrient often found in soil that is essential for the root development of plants.

Proboscis – an insect or animal’s snout, trunk or tube used to suck up food.


Seed – the product of sexual reproduction in flowering plants. Seeds enable plants to survive unfavourable conditions from one generation to the next often surviving for many years in the soil before they germinate and grow into new plants.

Seed-set – when a flower dies back after fertilisation and turns into fruit containing seeds.

Soil pH – the measure of acidity or alkalinity in soils. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. A pH below 7 is acidic and above is alkaline.

Sowing – a term used for scattering seed.

Sterile – something that is free from all nutrients or living organisms.


Top soil – the top, nutrient-rich layer (say the first 15-20 cm) of a patch of earth. It is possible to buy top soil.


Viability – the ability of the seed to germinate, it declines as the seed gets older. You can read more about how we test for viability in our post Journey of a Grow Wild seed.