This glossary covers the terms and concepts that will help you as you get started with edible gardening. It should also be helpful for established gardeners who may run into questions along the way.
Annual -- Plants that complete their life-cycle within one growing season and don’t survive our winters.
Beneficial insects -- Organisms that provide benefits in the garden, such as pollination or preying on pests.
Biennial -- A plant which has a life-cycle that takes two seasons to complete i.e., grows a plant the first year, flowers the second year before dying. Sometimes they will self-sow a new plant to start the following year. (For example, foxgloves and hollyhocks.)
Bolt -- When plants quickly go to flower and develop seed, redirecting resources from producing leaves or other desirable edible parts. Often caused by an increase in temperature.
Cloche -- A transparent cover used to protect plants, usually from cold weather.
Cold frame -- A small, often movable frame with transparent sides and top used to protect plants from cold weather; a small greenhouse.
Companion planting -- The practice of planting gardens so that species which enhance each other’s growth are near each other.
Compost -- Decayed organic matter that adds nutrients to soil through further decomposition, helps prevent weeds, preserves moisture, and insulates roots from temperature extremes.
Cover crop -- Is a plant that is used primarily to slow erosion, improve soil health, enhance water availability, smother weeds, help control pests and diseases, increase biodiversity and bring a host of other benefits to your garden.
Cultivar -- A plant, category, or group of plants that have been selected from a naturally occurring species and bred to enhance certain desirable characteristics. It is a contraction of “cultivated variety.”
Crop rotation -- Changing the location of the members of the same families of plants season by season to avoid the build-up of pests and soil-borne pathogens in a given area.
Damping off -- A fungal disease that can affect seedlings, often when they are excessively moist and cool, causing them to rot below and at the level of the soil.
Deciduous -- Plants that shed their leaves annually, regrowing during the next season.
Floating row cover -- A lightweight fabric that allows light and water through, but also provides protection from low temperatures, wind and insects. It can be used with or without a support frame.
Frost dates (first and last) -- The earliest and latest average dates during a season for freezing temperatures occurring in a given geographical area.
Full sun -- Six to eight hours of direct sun exposure.
Germination -- The start of active growth by a seed, resulting in the emergence of a seedling.
Green manure -- Any plant that is chopped into the soil to add fertility.
Harden off -- The process of slowly acclimating plants to outdoor conditions. A cold frame can provide a helpful transitional space. Moving plants outside for periods of time, starting with a few hours and then progressively longer periods over the course of a week or two, can work as well.
Hardy -- A plant that is able to survive the winter outdoors.
Heirloom plant -- Although there is no widely accepted length of time, a common interpretation is that heirloom plants are varieties that were available more than 50 years ago. They are open-pollinated and reproduce from seed true to their parent plants.
Hybrid or F1 -- A hybrid is a plant grown from the resulting seed of two different varieties of plants. They do not reproduce from seed true to their parent plants. F1 refers to the first generation of such a cross.
Integrated pest management (IPM) -- IPM means responding to pest problems with the most effective, least-risk option, starting with frequent observation.
Open-pollinated -- Plants that breed true to their parents when crossed with another plant of the same variety. Seeds saved from open-pollinated plants will produce new plants that closely resemble their parents.
Overwinter -- Simply means, “survive the winter.”
Part shade -- An area that receives some direct sun (less than four hours) and some shade through each day. Plants that require part shade should be sheltered from the harsh afternoon sun.
Perennial -- A plant which has a lifecycle that exceeds two seasons; survives over winter in our climate.
Propagation -- Increasing the numbers of a plant through any of a number of methods, including but not limited to germinating seeds and rooting cuttings.
Raised beds -- A section of soil that is higher than the surrounding ground, which is used to plant in. Often supported by wood or other structure.
Season extension -- Using any of many methods to lengthen the amount of time in which one may garden outdoors, i.e., protecting plants with cover.
Self-seeding -- Plants that drop their own seeds, effectively planting themselves for the next season.
Succession planting -- Can refer either to staggering the planting times of a crop so that harvest is staggered as well, or to using the same bed to plant multiple crops one after another.
Tender - Used to denote a perennial plant that cannot survive typical outdoor winter conditions, but may live through a milder winter. Sometimes also used for plants sensitive to heat, as in “heat tender.”
Thinning - Removing excess or weak seedlings or plants in order to allow enough room for the remaining plants to thrive.
Top dressing -- Anything (such as compost, leaves, or mulch) that you apply to the top of the soil.
Wet feet -- When a plant is sitting in too much water, without proper drainage, creating a situation that could cause many plants’ roots to rot for lack of oxygen.