Definitions of Common Gardening Terms

There are many words used in gardening posts and blogs that people may not know the meaning of. Well, this post is the place to be if you really want to know what something mean. I will be defining to the best of my knowledge (and a dictionary) the following terms. Enjoy and I hope you learn something!

Plant Related Terms

  • Deadheading – this is the process of removing spent or dead flowers from a plant with pruners or scissors
  • Rejuvenation – this is the process of reviving a shrub by hard pruning, usually to the crown or stump, just a few inches above soil level. This process is done during the dormant season of the plant, usually from November to March.
  • Pruning – pruning is the art or process of cutting limbs, branches, or stems from a plant with a pair of hand pruners. Hand pruners are designed to cut branches or stems up to a certain size, usually no more than 1 inch in diameter.
  • Shearing – the process of removing plant material from a hedge or shrub to form a tight, shaped area. Shearing is done most often with hand shears or gas/electric powered shears to cut an even surface across the plant.
  • Plant Breeding – this is the process used by plant growers and nurseries to develop new plant cultivars. It is done by hybridizing or crossing various species within a genus to get new results of flower color, plant size, hardiness, and disease resistance.
  • Part Shade – an area in the landscape that recieves no more than 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.
  • Filtered Shade – an area in the landscape that that is covered by mature (large) trees that allow only small amounts of direct sunlight in between the branches and leaves.
  • Full Sun – this is an area within the landscape that recieves at least 6 hours, but normally 8 or mores hours of direct sunlight per day during the main growing season (April to October).
  • Hardiness Zone – this is a geographic zone that contains a certain range of climatic conditions, averaged over a number of years, that is used to determine a plant’s ability to survive and flower.
  • Ephemeral – refers to plants that emerge from the ground, grow quickly, flower, and set seed, then die to ground with a very short period of time. Spring ephemerals are done blooming and setting seed before summer heat sets in.
  • Drought Tolerant – refers to plants that once established, can withstand periods of low rainfall without undue stress to the health of the plant.
  • Old Wood – refers to the growth and flower bud formation of plants that is produced during the previous growing season.
  • New Wood – refers to the growth that has yet to come during the current growing season. Panicle hydrangeas set flower buds on new growth in the current season.
  • Botanical or Scientific Name – this is the naming system that is used by professionals and scientists to identify plants by certain characteristics. The botanical name consists of 2 main parts, the Genus and species, italicized, which help to identify both wild and cultivated plants. Common names are regional and may not be known in different parts of the country or world. Scientific names are in Latin and are recognized the world over.
  • Hybrid or F1 Hybrid– this is the result from crossing 2 or more species within a Genus together to get new offspring that has some characteristics of the original parents, but may also have new traits that neither parent can have by itself.
  • On Standard – this refers to a shrubs that has had one branch developed into a tree-like trunk, then had another shrub of the same species grafted onto the trunk, making a small “tree” out of it.
  • Native – this refers to a plant that is found growing naturally in a specific region of the world. Usually referred to as North American natives.
  • Nativar – this is a cultivar of a native plant, so named because it may or may not be the original species. Many naturalists and botanists discourage the use of nativars, because they cannot be found in nature.
  • Cultivar – these are plant varieties that have been developed through plant breeding and selection for special traits such as hardiness, flower color, variegation, or disease resistance.
  • Deciduous – refers to a tree or shrub that sheds all its leaves annually in autumn and regrows new ones each spring.
  • Dioecious – in plants this refers to a plant that has male and female flower parts in separate individuals. For example: Kentucky Coffeetrees have a female tree and male tree. They must be within range of each other to cross-pollinate and produce seed. The seed is only produced on the female tree.
  • Monoecious – in plants this refers to a plant that has both male and female flowers on the same plant.
  • Cross-pollinate – this is a the process of pollination between flowers from 2 separate plants.
  • Lace-cap – this refers to the flower structure of some types of hydrangeas. The main flowers are bunched together in the middle while floral bracts or sterile flowers are arranged around the outside like a lace border on a hat.
  • Variegation – refers to the appearance of differently colored zones within a leaf. Variegation can be yellow, white, or different shades of green.
  • Perennial – this refers to a plant that comes back year after year and sets new flowers and seeds each year. Most perennials last in their hardiness zone for at least 5 years.
  • Biennial – refers to a plant that develops roots and leaves in the first growing season and then sets flowers and seeds in the following season before dying to the ground after seed set in the second season.
  • Annual – refers to a plant that grows roots, leaves, flowers, and seeds before dying all in the same season.
  • Spiller – refers to a plant planted into a container that spills over the sides of the contain much like a vine growing down instead of up.
  • Thriller – this refers to a plant that is planted into a container and is tall and often covered with flowers, growing above the other plants in the container.
  • Filler – this refers to low-growing, bushy plants planted into a container to bridge the gap between the thriller and spiller.
  • Trap Crop – a group of plants grown to trap specific insects for monitoring for management of either spraying or handpicking. Example: Common evening primrose is preferred by Japanese beetles over other species of plants, therefore I use it as a trap crop to know when to start management practices on other plants.
  • Cover Crop – a plant put into an empty garden bed or farm field to keep soil from eroding, and to help build up soil organic matter. It is grown between the main crop and the next season or between two main crops within a season.
  • Pollarding – is the process of pruning the tops of trees back to a single spot, year after year. This produces a callus in the spot and the new growth for the year is similar to a watersprout, but if done correctly, no permanent damage is done to the tree.
  • Coppicing – is the removal of woody growth from a stump of a tree or shrub, done every 1 to 3 years. This practice is very useful for producing firewood quickly and is also often used with willow to be cut for willow fence weaving.
  • Nurse Tree – a fallen log or tree that is left for soil micro-organisms, insects, and fungi to feed off, building the soil-food-web.

Soil Related Terms

  • Biochar – is a charcoal-like substance produced by burning brush and wood then being doused quickly. It is high in carbon and stable, and is used as a amendment in garden beds and to sequester carbon.
  • Worm Castings – these are the excrement of worms as they go through compost and soil. They are often used as an amendment in potting soil and raised beds.
  • Compost Tea – is a liquid fertilizer produced by bagging well-made compost in a mesh or burlap bag, then letting it sit in aerated water for several days/weeks. The liquid produced after the bag is removed can be used to fertilize plants.
  • Soil Test – this is a test used to determine the pH of the soil as well as the amount Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium in the soil. Other elements can also be measured for.
  • Soil pH – is a measure of how acidic/basic the soil is. The range goes from 0 – 14, with 7 being neutral. A pH of less than 7 indicate acidity, whereas a pH of greater than 7 indicates a base (alkaline). pH is really a measure of the relative amount of free hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in the soil.

Landscape/Lawn Related Terms

  • Green Industry – this is a reference to all business connected with landscaping, growing plants (nurseries), lawn care, and horticultural or arborist services.
  • Border – a section of the garden usually running parallel to walkways or lawn edges.
  • Cottage Style – this style of garden design includes the use of diverse grouping of plants, usually mixed in such a way that mimics a wildflower meadow, fun and full of colors of all kinds.
  • Focal Point – a spot in the landscape that your eyes are drawn to, often a specific plant, location, or feature such a fountain or statue.

Other Terms

  • Organic – refers to matter that is able to decompose naturally to a carbon life source and nutrients by bacteria, enzymes, fungi, and invertebrates over the course of a few weeks to few years. Examples include : hardwood mulch, grass clipping, leaves, straw, pine cones, firewood.
  • Inorganic – refers to matter that does not decompose back into a carbon life source and nutrients, but breaks down into minute particles of non-living elements. Examples include: metal, river rock, boulders.
  • Sunscald – damage done to fruit or plants when exposed to harsh sunlight in summertime. Often plants that are variegated are sensitive to various light strengths, and thus are prone to sunscald.
  • Complete Metamorphosis – the process by which an insect changes from an egg to a pupa then to an adult. Example: butterflies and moths.
  • Incomplete Metamorphosis – the process by which some insects change from an egg to an adult, by growing first into nymphs, then shedding skin in layers to become an adult. Examples: grasshoppers and true bugs.
  • Chemical Label – the sheet containing all the information about a chemical to enable the handler to stay safe. Information included: name, EPA number, Personal Protective Equipment list, spraying times, mixing instructions, re-entry period, sensitive plants, and more.
  • Xeriscaping – the process of landscaping using drought-hardy plants incorporated in a way that require little to no irrigation. Also called desert gardening.
  • Instar – the phase between a period of molting of an insect larva.

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