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Gardening Terms

Have you heard a gardening term you’re not familiar with? We’ve defined dozens of gardening terms and phrases for you!

acid soil

A soil with a pH lower than 7.0 is an acid soil. (a soil pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline) Basically, pH is a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil.


A measure of land totaling 43,560 square feet. A square acre is 208.75 feet on each side.


Loosening or puncturing the soil to increase water penetration.

air layering

A specialized method of plant propagation accomplished by cutting into the bark of the plant to induce new roots to form.

alkaline soil

A soil with a pH higher than 7.0 is an alkaline soil. (a soil pH lower than 7.0 is acidic) Basically, pH is a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil.


Plants whose life cycle lasts only one year, from seed to blooms to seed.


A garden with a large collection of trees and shrubs cultivated for scientific or educational purposes.

aquatic plants

Plants which grow in, live in, or live on the water.

bare root

Plants offered for sale which have had all of the soil removed from their roots.

bedding plant

Plants (mainly annuals), nursery grown and suitable for growing in beds. Quick, colorful flowers.


A plant that usually only lives two years, normally producing flowers and seed the second year.


Compound leaf structures with a feather-like formation of leaflets arranged in pairs, with each leaflet also pinnately divided into pairs.


Vegetables which quickly go to flower rather than producing the food crop. Usually caused by late planting and too warm temperatures.


The art of growing carefully trained, dwarf plants in containers.

botanical name

The scientific name of a plant, usually composed of two words,the genus and the species.


Modified scale-like leaves, usually growing just below a flower or flower cluster. Often confused with petals or the flower itself, as in the case of Dogwoods or Poinsettias.


Early stages of development of a flower or plant growth.


The thickened underground storage organ of the group of perennials which includes daffodils and tulips.


The thin membrane located just beneath the bark of a plant.


A slender, spikelike, drooping flower cluster.


The green pigment in leaves. When present and healthy usually dominates all other pigments.


A flattened stem or branch with green tissue scales that replace the function of leaves in performing the process of photosynthesis. Many plants with cladodes have no true leaves at all and if they do the leaves are miniscule and short lived.

complete fertilizer

A plant food which contains all three of the primary elements… nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.


An organic soil amendment resulting from the decomposition of organic matter.


A cone bearing tree with tiny needlelike leaves.


A thickened underground stem which produces roots, leaves and flowers during the growing season.

cover crop

A crop which is planted in the absence of the normal crop to control weeds and add humus to the soil when it is plowed in prior to regular planting.


The point at which a plants roots and top join. (usually at soil level)


Process of breaking up the soil surface, removing weeds, and preparing for planting.


A method of propagation using sections of stems, roots or leaves.

damping off

A fungus, usually affecting seedlings and causes the stem to rot off at soil level. It can also rot seeds before they even germinate. Sterilized seed starting mixes and careful sanitation practices can usually prevent this. Use care not to over-water. Provide good air circulation.


The process of pinching or snipping off used or spent blooms to keep the plants well groomed and to prevent them from setting seed. This will promote continued bloom.

dibble stick

A pointed tool used to make holes in the soil for seeds, bulbs, or young plants.


Process of removing dead stems that build up beneath lawn grasses.

dioecious plant

Plants bear male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another. In order to produce fruit and viable seeds, both a female and male plant must be present


The process of splitting up plants, roots and all that have began to get bound together. This will make several plants from one plant, and usually should be done to mature perennials every 3 to 4 years.


The yearly cycle in a plants life when growth slows and the plant rests. Fertilizing should be withheld when a plant is in dormancy.

double digging

Preparing the soil by systematically digging an area to the depth of two shovels.

double flower

A flower with many overlapping petals which gives it a very full appearance.

drip line

The circle which would exist if you drew a line below the tips of the outer most branches of a tree or plant.


A plant which grows on another plant but gets its nourishment from the air and rainfall. They do no damage to the host plant.


The wearing away, washing away, or removal of soil by wind, water or man.


The process of training a tree or shrub so that its branches grow in a flat, exposed pattern by tying, pinching and pruning the branches.


A plant which never loses all of it’s leaves at one time.


An undeveloped bud growth which will ultimately produce new growth.


Process by which water returns to the air. Higher temperatures speed the process of evaporation.


Organic or inorganic plant foods which may be either liquid or granular used to amend the soil in order to improve the quality or quantity of plant growth.


A shallow box or tray used to start cuttings or seedlings.

floating row cover

A lightweight fabric that is spread or floated over a row of plants to trap heat during the day and release it at night. Use them to get a jump start in the spring, fend off pests, and extend your fall growing season.

foliar feeding

Fertilizer applied in liquid form to the plants foliage in a fine spray.


The process of hastening a plants growth to maturity or bloom.


The term used to describe the branch and leaf structure of a fern or members of the palm family.


The condensation and freezing of moisture in the air. Tender plants will suffer extensive damage or die when exposed to frost.


The process that transforms the embryo within a seed into a seedling.


The choking of a branch by a wire or other material, most often in the stems of woody plants that have been tied to tightly to a stake or support.


The uniting of a short length of stem of one plant onto the root stock of a different plant. This is often done to produce a hardier or more disease resistant plant.

ground cover

A group of plants usually used to cover bare earth and create a uniform appearance.

growing season

The number of days between the average date of the last killing frost in spring and the first killing frost in fall. Vegetables and certain plants require a minimum number of days to reach maturity, so be sure your growing season is long enough.

harden off

The process of gradually acclimatizing greenhouse or indoor grown plants in stages to different temperatures or to outdoor growing conditions.


The impervious layer of soil or clay lying beneath the topsoil.


The ability of a plant to withstand low temperatures or frost, without artificial protection.

heading back

Cutting an older branch or stem back to a stub or twig.

heeling in

Temporarily setting a plant into a shallow trench and covering the roots with soil to provide protection until it is ready to be permanently planted.


Describes a plant with soft rather than woody tissues.


The sticky secretion produced by sucking insects such as aphids.


The brown or black organic part of the soil resulting from the partial decay of leaves and other matter.


The offspring of two plants of different species or varieties of plants. Hybrids are created when the pollen from one kind of plant is used to pollinate and entirely different variety, resulting in a new plant altogether.


The science of growing plants in mineral solutions or liquid, instead of in soil.


The structure that carry the flowers on a plant.


In gardening, an overhead structure of evenly spaced slats of wood or other materials used to create shade.


A method of propagation, by which a branch of a plant is rooted while still attached to the plant by securing it to the soil with a piece of wire or other means..


The removal or loss of excess salts or nutrients from soil. The soil around over fertilized plants can be leached clean by large quantities of fresh water used to ‘wash’ the soil. Areas of extremely high rainfall sometimes lose the nutrients from the soil by natural leaching.

leaf mold

Partially decomposed leaf matter, used as a soil amendment.


A rich soil composed of clay, sand, and organic matter.


Hmmmm…… Organic matter, excreted by animals, which is used as a soil amendment and fertilizer. Green manures are plant cover crops which are tilled into the soil.


Variations of the climate within a given area, usually influenced by hills, hollows, structures or proximity to bodies of water. (i.e. when it’s raining at your house, and the sun is shining on the other side of the street)

micro nutrients

Mineral elements which are needed by some plants in very small quantities. If the plants you are growing require specific ‘trace elements’ and they are not available in the soil, they must be added.

monoecious plant

Plants bearing separate male and female flowers on the same plant


Any loose material placed over the soil to control weeds and conserve soil moisture. Usually this is a coarse organic matter, such as leaves, clippings or bark, but plastic sheeting and other commercial products can also be used.

native plant

Any plant that occurs and grows naturally in a specific region or locality.


To plant randomly, without a pattern. The idea is to create the effect that the plants grew in that space without man’s help, such as you would find wild flowers growing.


The point on a stem where one or more leaves, branches or flowers start to grow.

organic gardening

The method of gardening utilizing only materials derived from living things. (i.e. composts and manures)

organic material

Any material which originated as a living organism. (i.e. peat moss, compost, manure)


Shaped like a hand, with segments radiating from a central point, like fingers


A loose, airy, multi-branched cluster of flowers

parasitic plant

A plant which lives on, and acquires it’s nutrients from another plant. This often results in declined vigor or death of the host plant.

peat moss

The partially decomposed remains of various mosses. This is a good, water retentive addition to the soil, but tends to add the acidity of the soil pH.


A non-woody plant which grows and lives for more than two years. Perennials usually produce one flower crop each year, lasting anywhere from a week to a month or longer.


A mineral, which when expanded by a heating process forms light granuals. Perlite is a good addition to container potting mixes, to promote moisture retention while allowing good drainage.


Any insect or animal which is detrimental to the health and well being of plants or other animals.


The internal process by which a plant turns sunlight into growing energy. The formation of carbohydrates in plants from water and carbon dioxide, by the action of sunlight on the Chlorophyll within the leaves.

pinching back

Utilizing the thumb and forefinger to nip back the very tip of a branch or stem. Pinching promotes branching, and a bushier, fuller plant


A compound leaf structure with a feather-like formation of leaflets arranged in pairs or alternating along the main stem.


The seed-bearing organ of a flower, consisting of the ovary, stigma, and style.


The transfer of pollen from the stamen (male part of the flower) to the pistil (female part of the flower), which results in the formation of a seed. Hybrids are created when the pollen from one kind of plant is used to pollinate and entirely different variety, resulting in a new plant altogether.

potting soil

A soil mixture designed for use in container gardens and potted plants. Potting mixes should be loose, light, and sterile.


Various methods of starting new plants ranging from starting seeds to identical clones created by cuttings or layering.


The cutting and trimming of plants to remove dead or injured wood, or to control and direct the new growth of a plant.


Basically, pH is a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil. A soil with a pH lower than 7.0 is an acid soil, a soil pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline soil. Soil pH can be tested with an inexpensive test kit.


A single stemmed inflorescence with flowers on individual stalks along a stem. The bottom flowers open first as the raceme continues to elongate. Snapdragon and Delphinium flowers grow on racemes.


A modified plant stem which grows horizontally, under the surface of the soil. New growth then emerges from different points of the rhizome. Irises and some lawn grasses are rhizome plants.

root ball

The network of roots along with the attached soil, of any given plant.


A condition which exists when a potted plant has outgrown its container. The roots become entangled and matted together, and the growth of the plant becomes stunted. When repotting, loosen the roots on the outer edges of the root ball, to induce them to once again grow outward.

rooting hormone

A powder or liquid growth hormone, used to stimulate a plant cutting to send out new roots from a stem node.


A cluster of leaves or flowers forming a compact, circular arrangement


A slender stem growing out from the base of some plants, which terminates with a new offset plant. The new plant may be severed from the parent after it has developed sufficient roots.

relative humidity

The measurement of the amount of moisture in the atmosphere.


Scratching or nicking of a seed’s shell to facilitate germination.


A short length of stem, taken from one plant which is then grafted onto the rootstock of another plant.

single flower

A flower having only a minimum number of petals for that variety of plant.

soil pH

Basically, pH is a measure of the amount of lime (calcium) contained in your soil. A soil with a pH lower than 7.0 is an acid soil, a soil pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline soil. Soil pH can be tested with an inexpensive test kit.


A bog moss which is collected and composted. Most peat moss is composed primarily of sphagnum moss. This moss is also packaged and sold in a fresh state, and used for lining hanging baskets and air layering.


Spores are the reproductive cell structure of ferns, fungi and mosses. Fern spores develop inside small green capsules on the underside of the fronds, called sporangia. These types of plants do not form flowers nor produce seeds.


The practice of driving a stake into the ground next to, and as a support for a plant. When attaching the plant to the stake, be sure that it is tied loosely so it doesn’t strangle the stem. When staking a potted plant, the stake should be set into the planter before the plant is added.


An above ground spreading stem or runner that often produces a new plant at the tip.


A process used to break the dormancy of a seed. This usually requires that the seeds be placed in a moistened rooting medium and kept in the refrigerator or freezer for a designated length of time


A growth originating from the rootstock of a grafted plant, rather than the desired part of the plant. Sucker growth should be removed, so it doesn’t draw energy from the plant.


A chemical which is absorbed directly into a plants system to either kill feeding insects on the plant, or to kill the plant itself.

tap root

The main, thick root growing straight down from a plant. (not all plants have tap roots)

tender plants

Plants which are unable to endure frost or freezing temperatures.


The twisting, clinging, slender growth on many vines, which allows the plant to attach themselves to a support or trellis.


The layer of dead stems that builds up under many lawn grasses. Thatch should be removed periodically to promote better water and nutrient penetration into the soil.


Removing excess seedlings, to allow sufficient room for the remaining plants to grow. Thinning also refers to removing entire branches from a tree or shrub, to give the plant a more open structure.


To evenly spread fertilizers or other soil amendments over the surface of the soil.


A method of pruning and training certain plants into formal shapes such as animals.


The top layer of native soil. This term may also apply to good quality soil sold at nurseries and garden centers.


The release of moisture through the leaves of a plant.


The process of digging up a plant and moving it to another location.


A flat underground stem which stores food and plant energy and from which a plant grows. (e.g. Dahlias)


A mostly flat topped flower cluster in which individual flower stems radiate from a common point, like the ribs of an umbrella.


Leaves which are marked with multiple colors.


A sterile soil amendment created when the mineral ‘mica’ has been heated to the point of expansion, like popcorn. A good addition to container potting mixes, vermiculite retains moisture and air within the soil.