Cheatsheet on What All Those Abbreviations in Seed Catalogs Mean

What do all those weird plant terms, abbreviations, and acronyms mean?

Sometimes flipping through a simple seed catalog can feel like you're trying to decipher a science book when you see all those horticultural terms tossed around.

Cut through the jargon and learn how to read your seed catalogs and seed packets like a pro with this complete list on seed terminology. (All explained in layman's terms!)


Direct seed or direct sow

Certain plants don’t do well with transplanting due to long taproots or sensitivity to transplant shock, so it’s recommended that they be directly seeded in the garden where they will grow.


Seed inoculant

A seed inoculant (or legume inoculant) introduces Rhizobium bacteria to the soil to assist in the formation of nitrogen-fixing nodules (Rhizobia) on plant roots. This is especially important if you’re growing cover crops (like field peas) and want to maximize their benefits.


Seed garlic

While true garlic seeds do exist, garlic is rarely grown from them. Instead, the “seed garlic” sold by seed companies are full-grown garlic bulbs that you separate into individual cloves to plant.


Onion set

An onion set is a small, partially grown onion (often sold several to a bag) that is ready to transplant. Unlike baby onion plants, onion sets have no leaves as they’ve been cured and stored before shipment.


Varietal (or cultivar) name

It’s generally the common (or generic) name that a plant is known by the consumer. Varietal and cultivar names sometimes vary by region, so to be absolutely sure you’re buying the correct plant, always refer to the scientific name.

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