Time to study: 35 gardening terms everyone should know


When you flip through seed catalogs or plant care manuals, you’ll likely come across at least some descriptions that you miss. So here’s a cheat sheet to help you navigate the offers – and maybe impress your gardening friends.

Aerate: Poke holes in compacted soil with a garden pitchfork or aeration machine to facilitate the flow of oxygen to plant roots.

Amendment: Organic material such as compost or manure added to soil to improve its fertility, drainage, water retention or structure.

Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle in one year, regardless of climate.

Bare root: Plants, usually roses, trees and shrubs, that are pulled out of the ground and sold without soil or containers.

Biennial: A plant that completes its life cycle in two years.

Mount: Premature flowering of crops like lettuce and beets that makes them bitter or lowers their quality.

Botanical Name: The name assigned to a plant using Latin terminology developed by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in the 1700s. Use of a plant’s botanical name (also called “scientific name”) eliminates the risk of confusion with other plants.

Broadcasting: Spreading seeds over a large area, by hand or machine, instead of planting in rows.

Cloche: A traditionally bell-shaped feature placed over plants to protect them from insect or frost damage.

Cold frame: Enclosure placed around plants to create a greenhouse effect and extend the growing season.

Common Name: A nickname used in certain circles or geographic regions to describe a plant. Because different plants may share a common name—and one plant may have more than one—using them can confuse gardeners.

Companion planting: Grouping of specific plants based on the benefits they provide to each other. These benefits can include attracting pollinators, deterring pests, or serving as a living trellis.

Deadheading: The practice of removing faded – or dead – flowers from a plant to encourage repeat flowering, prevent self-seeding, or simply keep plants tidy.

Hardwoods: Plants, trees or shrubs that lose their leaves in fall or winter.

Direct sowing: Plant the seeds directly in the garden rather than starting them in containers indoors and transplanting them outdoors later.

Ephemeral: A plant that emerges and wilts fairly quickly, often in the spring.

Evergreen: Plants, trees or shrubs that do not shed their leaves in fall or winter but remain green all year round.

Foliar feeding: Apply liquid fertilizer directly to the leaves rather than the soil.

Germination: The initial growth of a germ from a seed.

Harden: The process of gradually acclimating a plant to a different, usually harsher climate, such as the outdoors from the indoors, in order to increase its resilience.

Heirloom: A plant in its original form that has not been hybridized or crossed with other species or varieties. Heirloom seeds reliably produce plants that “grow true” or possess the same characteristics as the plants from which they were collected.

Hill: The practice of hilling the soil against new aerial growth, as is done with seed potatoes.

Hybrid: A plant variety that has been deliberately bred in a controlled setting, usually by cross-pollination, in order to acquire desirable new characteristics such as bloom color, disease resistance, fragrance, size, hardiness, taste or shelf life, among others. .

Naturalize: The practice of scattering seeds or bulbs in such a way that they appear to have spread naturally or, in areas such as lawns, where they are allowed to spread without limits.

Organic Matter: Non-synthetic material, such as decomposed plants and animals, manure, compost, and leaf mold, used to improve the fertility, structure, and other attributes of soil.

Perennial: Plants whose life cycle is more than two years. Perennials can die to the ground over winter and return year after year or remain evergreen throughout their lives.

pH: In gardening, the pH scale determines the acidity or alkalinity of soil, compost and water. The lower the reading, the more acidic the soil; the higher the reading, the more alkaline. A reading of 7.0 is considered neutral.

Pinching: The practice of using your thumb and forefinger to pull out small shoots and stems, usually to encourage the growth of side shoots.

Scarification: Scratching, cutting, nicking or slightly damaging the hard surface of a seed to facilitate germination.

Self-seeding: A term used to describe plants that propagate by dropping seeds onto the ground around them. These seeds germinate, take root and grow into more plants. Also called “self-seeding”.

Side dress: to sprinkle a line of granular, powdered or granular fertilizer (or other amendments) along a row of plants rather than incorporating it into the soil or planting hole.

Stratification: The process of exposing seeds or bulbs to cold temperatures, usually in a refrigerator or freezer, to mimic outdoor winter conditions necessary for successful spring germination.

Top dress: For applying fertilizers or amendments like compost or manure directly to the soil above and around plants.

Wet feet: Wet roots, usually resulting from poorly drained or oversaturated soil.

Xeriscaping: The use of drought-tolerant plants in the landscape for water conservation purposes. Also called “water gardening”.

Jessica Damiano regularly writes gardening columns for The Associated Press. It publishes the award-winning Weekly Dirt Newsletter. Sign up here for weekly gardening tips and tricks.

For more AP gardening stories, go to https://apnews.com/hub/gardening.

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