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Learn the language of gardening with this glossary so you’ll know what to look for the next time you shop for plants.
Acid Soil: Soil with pH less than 7.0. Raise soil pH (lower acidity and raise alkalinity) by adding lime.
Aerate: To loosen compacted soil to allow oxygen, water and nutrients to get below the surface. Punch holes into the lawn or remove plugs of soil from the lawn to aerate.
Amendments: Organic substances added to the soil to improve moisture retention, oxygen level and nutritive content.
Alkaline Soil: Soil that has a pH more than 7.0. Lower soil pH (raise acidity and lower alkalinity) by adding sulfur.
Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle in a single year.
Aphids: Insects that look like black, yellow, green or white grains of rice. Aphids suck the juices of new growth on plants.
Apical Bud: Apical buds, also called terminal buds, are at the tip of a plant stem.
Balled and Burlapped (B&B): A method of plant preparation in which the entire root system is contained inside a ball of soil and wrapped in burlap for protection.
Bareroot: Dormant plants sold with the roots loose rather than contained in a wrapped soil ball or container.
Bed: A specific garden area in which plants are grouped together to create a unified design.
Biennial: A plant with a life cycle that spans two years. The plant produces stem and foliage growth during the first year. After a dormant season, they produce flowers and seeds the second year.
Bolt: When leaf crops (such as spinach and cabbage) stop producing leaves and send up seed stalks due to warming weather.
Bonsai: Trained, dwarfed trees and plants in special shallow containers. Bonsai mimics growth in the wild but on a tiny scale.
Broadcast: To randomly disperse seeds or other material across a set area.
Bulb: An underground-modified stem, usually covered by a papery exterior. Bulbs are the growth and food source for many flowering perennials.
Cold Frame: A four-sided structure with a glass or plastic covering used to shelter young plants or transplanted seedlings from cold temperatures.
Companion Planting: Adjacent growing of mutually beneficial plants to improve growth and repel pests.
Compost: A diverse mixture of completely decayed organic matter used for fertilizing and conditioning soil.
Conifer: A woody tree or shrub, primarily evergreen, which produces cones.
Containerized: Container-grown trees and shrubs that are ready to transplant along with the soil they've been grown in.
Corm: A bulblike structure that serves as a continual underground food source for a flowering plant.
Crown: The uppermost part of a tree where new growth takes place or the part of a plant where the roots and stem join.
Cultivar: A plant variety resulting from the cross-pollination of two different plants within a species.
Cultivate: To assist a plant in the growing process.
Cuttings: Portions of root, stem, branch or leaf used to propagate plants.
Deadhead: To remove flower heads from plants after they've bloomed to prolong the flowering season.
Deciduous: A plant that loses most or all of its leaves in fall or winter.
Determinate: A plant that, by artificial or natural means, produces all of its flowers or fruit at the same time.
Division: A method of producing new plants from existing stock by digging up the plant, cutting it into two or more pieces and replanting.
Dormancy: A period of rest exhibited by no growth or flowering. Dormancy usually takes place during colder periods.
Double-Digging: The process of moving the topsoil of one area to another area to reinvigorate the soil.
Drip Line: The circumference around a plant formed by water that drips off its outermost leaves or branches.
Espalier: A method of training a plant in a formal pattern against a wall or trellis.
Evergreen: A plant that retains its green foliage year-round and is functional for more than one growing season. Coniferous evergreens have needlelike leaves and produce seed in their cones. Broadleaf evergreens have regular leaf-shaped foliage but retain their leaves throughout the year.
Fertilizer: A supplement to a naturally occurring element necessary for plant growth. Fertilizer can be liquid or granular and organic or inorganic (man-made).
Foliar: Pertains to the leaves (foliage) of a plant. Foliar fertilizers and pesticides are applied directly to the leaves.
Forcing: To force plants, by artificial means, to mature quickly and produce their flowers earlier than normal.
Friable: A characteristic of good soil. Rich in organic matter, friable soil crumbles easily, allows water and oxygen to reach plant roots.
Germinate: The process where a seed develops into a sprout. The requirements may be warmth, water or light according to the plant variety.
Graft: A propagation method performed by joining two plants by connecting the tissues of each.
Groundcovers: Low-growing, spreading plants used for ornamental purposes or as a substitute for grass.
Half-Hardy: Refers to plants that can withstand long periods of damp or cold weather but may be damaged by frost.
Harden Off: The process of increasing an indoor plant's exposure to light and colder temperatures to acclimate it to outdoor conditions.
Hardscape: Constructed elements of a landscape, such as decks, walls fences and driveways.
Hardy: Refers to plants that have the ability to survive prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures.
Heel In: A method of protecting a plant by placing its stems in a shallow trench over winter.
Herbaceous: Refers to nonwoody (soft-stemmed) perennial plants that often die back to the ground every winter and reappear in the spring.
Herbicide: A pesticide formulated to kill or control plants.
Hoop Stake: A long, thin, metal post with a perpendicular ring of wire at the top, which serves as a support for tall-growing flowers.
Humus: Dark, rich, organic soil matter made from decaying plant or animal material.
Hybrid: A plant that's the offspring of two parent plants of differing varieties, species or cultivars.
Indeterminate: A plant that continues to produce flowers or fruit throughout the duration of the growing season.
Insecticide: A pesticide formulated to kill or control insects.
Lateral Bud: Buds formed on the sides of a stem.
Layering: A method of plant propagation by which a single stem of a plant is notched and buried with its leafy tip exposed, while still attached to the parent plant.
Leaching: Occurs when water flushes mineral substances and nutrients out of the soil.
Leggy: Refers to plants that have an abnormal amount of stem in relation to their flower and foliage.
Lime: Soil amendment used to reduce acidity. Lime (calcium carbonate) is applied in powdered or pelletized form.
Loam: Ideal garden soil that has a well-balanced moisture of sand, silt and clay.
Microclimates: Small areas in the home landscape that have unique characteristics regarding sun, shade, wind or moisture.
Mulch: Any organic material spread on top of soil to reduce water loss or prevent the growth of weeds.
Naturalize: A method of random garden plant distribution that simulates the growth of plants in the wild.
Offshoots: New plants that branch out from the base of a plant's main stem.
Organic: A method of gardening without using synthetic (man-made) products.
Ornamental: A plant raised for aesthetic reasons.
Pavers: Stone, brick or concrete materials used for patios and walkways.
Pesticide: Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating any pest.
Perennial: There are two types: herbaceous and woody. Herbaceous, nonwoody (soft and fleshy) plants die back each year and grow, and bloom each successive year. Woody perennials (such as shrubs and trees) have a period of dormancy but maintain their form year-round.
Perlite: A mineral used in potting mix to retain moisture and provide aeration.
pH: A measurement of acidity and alkalinity. pH represents hydrogen ions in the soil and signifies a plant's ability to draw nutrients from the soil.
Pinch Back: A method of encouraging bushy plant growth by removing the growing tip.
Plugs: Circular pieces of sod that are planted in a grid formation to start a new lawn.
Propagate: To grow new plants from old ones by using one of a variety of methods.
Retaining Wall: A barrier created with stones, timbers or boards to prevent the erosion of soil on steep slopes.
Rhizome: A horizontal, fleshy underground stem or runner. Creeping grasses spread by rhizomes or stolons.
Rootbound: Container-grown plants that lack adequate space for root growth.
Rootstock: Refers to the portion on grafted plants that's chosen for the qualities of its root system.
Row Cover: Nylon or synthetic netting used to cover young seedlings to protect them from predators.
Scarify: To prepare a seed for planting by cutting or nicking the outer layer.
Scion: Refers to the portion on grafted plants that's chosen for its superior leaf or fruit production.
Shrub: A deciduous or evergreen plant with woody stems that's usually less than 15 feet tall at maturity.
Side Dress: To apply fertilizer in a circle or band around plants or rows of plants.
Soil Test: A measurement of major nutrient (phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen) and pH levels in the soil.
Staking: A method of supporting tall, upright-growing plants by tying their stems to a wood or metal post.
Standard: A plant that's trained, through pruning or staking, to the form of a tree.
Stolon: A horizontal, fleshy aboveground stem or runner. Creeping grasses spread by rhizomes or stolons.
Stratify: To prepare a seed for planting by soaking it in water and then placing it in a warm or cold area.
Sucker: A shoot that grows from a plant's roots or from beneath the surface of the ground.
Taproot: The first root to grow from a germinating seed. Usually growing straight down, taproots help anchor the plant in the soil.
Tender: Refers to plants that are susceptible to frost and may not be able to survive freezing temperatures.
Terminal Bud: The uppermost bud on a stem.
Thinning: To cut branches or stems back to the main branch to allow sunlight into the plant's center, provide air circulation and encourage remaining stems to grow in their normal direction.
Thatch: A layer of plant debris that accumulates between the soil and the grass blades and prevents the flow of moisture, air and nutrients to the grass roots.
Top Dressing: To feed plants by sprinkling fertilizer or compost on top of them.
Topiary: The art of pruning and shaping trees and shrubs into decorative shapes.
Topsoil: The uppermost layer of soil that's the site for a plant's root growth and contains the most organic matter.
Training: A method of controlling plant growth, especially on climbing plants, by tying the stems to a support and pruning the plant back regularly.
Tuberous: Refers to plants possessing thick and fleshy underground roots that serve as sites for food storage.
Turfgrass: Refers to residential lawn grasses as well as varieties used in sports venues.
Variety: A naturally grown or cultivated type of plant species.
Variegation: A pattern of stripes or patches on otherwise solid-colored leaves.
Vermiculite: A mineral used in potting mix to retain moisture and provide aeration.
Weeds: Unwanted plants that grow rampantly through other plantings, competing for food, water and light.
Woody: Refers to hard-stemmed perennial plants that are capable of surviving cold weather without dying back.
Xeriscaping: To create a lower-maintenance landscape with native plants and reduced areas of turfgrass. A primary goal of xeriscaping is reducing landscape water consumption.