Incredible Seeds Glossary 

Posted by Hilary & Christopher Mueller on

Whether you're a seasoned gardener or getting your feet muddy for the first time, there always room for learning.

We've put together this glossary of key terms used in our catalogue to help you along your gardening journey. Enjoy!


Annual - a plant with a life cycle lasting one growing season. Many popular garden vegetables are annuals. 

Biennial - a plant with a life cycle lasting two growing season. These plants spend their first season growing roots, stems and leaves. Their second season is dedicated to reproduction; producing flowers, fruit and seeds. 

Cold Hardy - describes a plant’s hardiness, or ability to survive and even thrive in cold temperatures.

Cultivar -  stands for cultivated variety and always refers to a perennial plant, not a vegetable. A cultivar is developed by crossing different plants with desirable qualities; growing seedlings from those plants and then selecting the ones that are most exceptional.

GMO - (Genetically Modified Organism) is any organism (plant, animal, yeast, bacteria, etc.) whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. We signed The Safe Seed Pledge back in 2011 - all of our seeds & plants are GMO free

Heirloom - an older group of varieties that have been selected and passed down through families, cultures, or communities for several generations - sometimes hundreds of years.

Hoop Tunnel - essentially several hoops secured over a garden bed and covered with plastic or row cover, turning it into a mini greenhouse. Read our guide to season extension

Hybrid - when two or more varieties are cross pollinated to create a new variety that embodies certain desirable traits from those parent plants. The seeds produced by hybrid plants will not be true-to-type, meaning you will have to repurchase them every year. Because the trait selection happens through cross pollination, the traits are not stable and established. Hybrid varieties can be stabilized through open pollination and trait selection, but this takes many seasons.

There is some fear and misinformation about hybrids out there; they are not the same thing as GMOs. In very simple words, a shih tzu crossed with a poodle gives you a shiht-poo, not a sinister science experiment, although some would argue otherwise… 

Open Pollinated - the open - or uninhibited - flow of pollen between individual plants of the same variety (generally flower or vegetable). They can be pollinated via the wind, beneficial insects, or intentionally by gardeners. This diversity of genetics allows for varieties to slowly change and adapt to local climates. It also allows space for interesting traits to appear and for new varieties to be born! Heirloom varieties are all open pollinated.

Open Pollinated Varieties - Even with all of the genetic diversity, and through desirable trait selection, seeds collected from open pollinated varieties will produce true to type. All heirloom varieties are open pollinated.

Perennial - a plant with a life cycle lasting two or more growing seasons. Unlike annuals, perennials are planted once, and return for multiple seasons. 

Scarification - scuffing up a hard dried seed coat to help moisture to penetrate. You can just rub each seed on a piece of sandpaper a few times, just enough to help it along.

Watch how to scarify seeds in this video.  

Soaking - some tree seeds will require water soaks and some will not; some will require hot water, and others, room temperature water. You'll find all of the information you need on the seed packet.

Watch how to soak seeds in this video.

Stratification - Cold Stratification: a period of cold a seed must go through to signal that Winter has passed, Spring has come and it's time to wake up and grow.

Warm Stratification: a period of warmth a seed must go through to simulate the end of Summer when the fruits would be rotting on the ground.

Watch how to stratify seeds in this video.

Variety -  type of plant where the individuals all share the same, or very similar characteristics.


Here’s a deeper dive into a few key terms: Open Pollinated, Heirloom, Cultivar, Hybrid - What Does It All Mean?


Didn't find the term you're looking for? Let us know and we will continue to add to this resource. 

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