A-Z of Gardening Terms

A-Z of Gardening Terms


Anyone listening in on any gardening enthusiasts or reading gardening magazines to try and get some gardening tips or ideas might come across a lot of lingo. Like many hobbyist, gardeners have their own terminology. If you would like to contribute to a conversation with any of your gardening buddies or even understand what the horticulturist is referring to at your local garden center then catch up on your gardening lingo or jargon below:


Acid Soil:                  A soil that has a high activity of hydrogen ions, which gives   the soil a pH value below 7 and produces a yellow, orange or                                         red reaction when in contact with universal indicator solution                                       (see pH).

Adaptable:                This means the plant can be grown indoors at least through the winter but likely to do well all year.

Alkaline Soil:           Soil with a pH above 7 that produces a blue reaction when in contact with universal indicator solution (see pH). Alkaline soils are suitable for     growing a wide range of plants, with the exception of those that are ericaceous or calcifuge (lime- hating).

Annual:                    A plant that grows flowers and produces seed all in one           season and then does not survive the winter. It must be                                                 planted each year.


Get to know your flowers


Bedding out:           This term simply means to plant bedding plants.

Bedding Plant:       Any plant that’s planted out in a bed, border or pot for a         seasonal display, usually during spring and summer.

Biennial:                    A plant that completes its life cycle over the course of two   growing seasons.

Bloom:                        A term for the flower of a plant.

Blossom:                    Flower bunches seen on decorative and fruiting trees and       some shrubs.

Bud:                             An undeveloped or embryonic shoot, normally occurring in   the axil or at the stem tip, and protected by scale leaves.


Catch Crop:              A fast-growing crop grown simultaneously with, or between, successive plantings of a main crop. This efficient use of                                                 growing space is known as succession planting.

Classification:         A method by which biologists group and categorise species and organisms.

Companion Plant:    Plants that work well together – because their colours       complement each other or they flower at different times.

Compost:                   Compost is the decomposition of plants and other formerly living materials into a soil-like substance that is high in                                                 organic matter, an excellent fertiliser, and capable of                                                        improving almost any soil.

Conifer:                      A cone-bearing tree of the pine family, usually                           evergreen.

Container grown:   Refers to plants grown and marketed in                                   containers. May be planted all year round.

Cross:                        The term refers to plants with dissimilar parents.

Cutting:                    Taken from a healthy plant by means of scissors or a knife,       and placed in a growing medium in order to create a new  plant.                                       

Cultivate:                 Dig the dirt to prepare for planting.


 Just about digging in the dirt

Start them young – cultivating…..


Dead- heading:     Refers to removing spent flowers to encourage                             plants to re-bloom.

Deciduous:            Describes plants, principally trees and shrubs that shed their   leaves seasonally.

Dibber:                    A small hand tool used for making holes in the ground to plant bulbs, seeds and plants.

Dot Plant:              A plant used to provide height and contrast in bedding             schemes, usually among shorter varieties or ground cover plants. Plants often           used include roses, dwarf trees and pelargoniums.

Drought Tolerant:    Plants that can withstand periods with little to no              supplemental water when planted and established in the landscape. NO plant in a pot is truly drought resistant; they will all need some water.

Drought Tolerant:      Plants that deal with severe drought on a regular basis,     and recover from repeated wilting. All plants will need to be watered while             getting established.


Earthing up:                  Also known as ridging, to earth up is to cover roots with a thick layer of soil.

Established:                     Established plants are those that have survived in your    landscape, despite any lack of gardening prowess. Established plants are firmly rooted and produce new leaves.

Exposure:                       The optimum amount of sun or shade each plant needs to thrive.

  •                 FULL SUN – 6 or more hours of direct sun a day.
  •                 PARTIAL SUN OR PARTIAL SHADE – 4 to 6 hours of direct                 sun a day.
  •                 FULL SHADE – less than 4 hours of direct sun a day.
  •                DAPPLED SHADE – areas where there is a mixture of sun and                shade, generally because a deciduous tree is nearby. Dappled                  shade is similar to partial shade.

Evergreen:           A plant with leaves that remains green and alive all year round.


Fertilising:            To add nutrition to your plants using either fertilisers or                                                  compost.

  • CONTROLLED RELEASE FERTILISER – Also called Time Release Fertiliser. Fertiliser comes in pellets and is an improved version of Slow Release Fertiliser. Fertiliser is released based on soil temperature itself (not microbe action) and tends to be more exact than Slow Release Fertiliser.
  • HEAVY FEEDERS – Plants that need a lot of fertiliser for optimal performance. Regular applications of fertiliser are necessary for continued performance.
  • LIGHT FEEDERS – Plants that do not need a lot of fertiliser for optimal performance. Over feeding Light Feeders can cause ‘toxicity’ (poisoning).
  • N-P-K – Ratio of Nitrogen to Phosphorous to Potassium in a fertiliser. These are the main nutrients required by plants.
  • SLOW RELEASE FERTILISER – Fertiliser that comes in pellets and is slowly released based largely on microbes which are more or less active based on soil temperatures.
  • TRACE ELEMENTS – Nutrients that plants need in small amounts. Common trace elements include Boron, Copper, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, and Zinc. These elements are usually included in most commercial fertilizers.
  • WATER SOLUBLE FERTILISER – Fertiliser that either comes in liquid form or comes in crystal form that is dissolved in water.
All Purpose liquid fertiliser

All purpose liquid Fertilizer

Flower:                 Also known as bloom or blossom, the flower is the reproductive structure of a plant, bearing the male and female organs. It’s often brightly coloured to attract fertilising insects.

Forcing:               The artificial inducing of plant growth by the control of heat and light. In some cases light is increased to encourage early flowering, while in others, light is excluded to encourage earlier production and more tender growth. forcing

Foliar feed:        This involves applying liquid, soluble fertilizer directly to             leaves, where it can be absorbed faster than through the roots.

Fruit:                    The ripened ovary or ovaries of a seed bearing plant.

Fungicide:          A chemical agent to control or destroy fungus.


Germination:   After fertilisation, germination is the sprouting of a seed into a     seedling.

Ground Cover:  Low-growing, fast-spreading plants often used to stabilise soil   and prevent soil erosion, as well as for aesthetic interest.


 Hardening off:       The process of acclimatising plants to lower temperatures,   usually following their raising under cover, such as in a greenhouse, prior to             planting out in open ground.

Habit:                         The general structure of the plant.

  • CLIMBING – Plants that climb fences or other structures by using roots or stem structures to grip, vines are climbers.
  • CLUMP FORMING – A plant that forms clumps of foliage, often spreading to form other clumps close by.
  • MOUNDING – Plants with a rounded appearance, they are usually wider than they are tall.
  • SPREADING – Plants that grow low and spread along the ground, rooting at nodes along the stem.
  • TRAILING – Plants that trail along the ground or out of pots but do not root at nodes along the stem.
  • UPRIGHT – A plant that is taller than it is wide with straight (more or less) edges, these plants sometimes have a somewhat spiky appearance.


Hardy:                         Plants able to withstand cold conditions, with no protection.

Herbaceous:          Non-woody plants, whose upper parts die back to the soil                                              surface at the end of the growing season each year.

Herbicide:              Chemical used to kill and control weeds.

See article on home-made options  Secrets you won’t find in a  garden center

Heavy feeder:        Plants that need a lot of fertiliser for optimal performance.


Insecticide:             Any chemical preparation used to repel or destroy insects.       May take the form of liquid, powder or smoke.

Inter planting:      The practice of planting two or more plants that bloom at          different times of the year, or which have complementary characteristics, to create  year-round interest in the garden.


 Leaching/ Leach:   Horticultural leaching refers to water percolating through   the soil and washing away good things like nutrients and not-so-good things like      salt.

Lime:                            Chemical compound calcium carbonate (symbol CaCO3).    The amount of lime in the soil determines whether it’s alkaline, neutral or acid.

Linear:                        Refers to leaves that are long and narrow.


Magnesium:            Metallic element essential in the production of chlorophyll in plants. Magnesium deficiency can stunt development, but  may be combated by   an annual application of foliar feed.

Maiden:                     A plant grown from seed or a new runner.

Micro climate:       Micro climate can be applied to a variety of things. For our   purposes, it is a spot within a garden that differs from the general environment.       Some examples would be a wet spot where water collects during rain, a spot that remains warmer in the winter – often due to a structure, a spot that is sheltered         from the wind, a spot that is affected by sea salt spray and so forth.

Mulch:                     A substance applied to the top of the soil around plants. It can  be organic or inorganic and may serve several different purposes. Mulch is often     made of bark, leaves, manure or compost. Mulch helps retain soil moisture, decreases weeds, reduces erosion, helps cool plant roots, adds organic matter          (provided organic mulch is used), increases the attractiveness of the landscape, and protects plants from adverse winter conditions.


Neutral:                 Soil with a pH of 7. It is neither acid nor alkaline. See acid and alkaline.

Nitrate:                  The result of a chemical process by which nitrogen in plant and animal waste is oxidised by soil bacteria.

Nitrogen:               A chemical element with the symbol N. Essential form plant growth. Symptoms of nitrogen deficiency in plants include the yellowing and dropping of leaves and poor growth. Flowering or fruit production may also be delayed.

Node:                        Point on the stem where a leaf or leaves grow.


Organic gardening:       Gardening without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

Over wintering:                Non cold hardy plants that are taken indoors to keep them alive throughout the winter months.


 Parasite:                             An organism that grows and feeds on another. Completely parasitic plants have no leaves or chlorophyll, relying entirely upon the host for nourishment. Semi-parasitic plants have leaves and are able to produce some of their own food.

Perennial:                             Plants that are cold hardy and will return again each spring. Some will flower the first year they are planted and some will need to mature before flowering. Some perennials are very long lived and others will survive only a few years. They have roots that survive low temperatures.

Petal:                                       The leaf of a flower. The petal itself is non-reproductive, but has a role in attracting insects and is often coloured.

pH:                                          A measure of how acidic or basic (the opposite of acidic) your soil is. A pH of 7 is considered neutral. Acidic soils have a pH less than 7. Basic soils have a pH greater than 7. Most plants prefer a pH between 6 and 7.

Pinch:                                      Removing a portion of the plant, often just the very tip of the shoots or growing tip to encourage branching. Often this is done by using your finger nails to pinch off the newest growth but scissors, pruning shears, or a knife can also be used.

Plunge:                                    The act of sinking a pot plant in soil, sand or cinders, to prevent roots from drying out.

Potting:                                   Transferring seedlings or cuttings with roots into pots.

Potting up:                             Moving plants from smaller to larger containers to allow more space to grow.

Pruning:                                 The cutting back of leaves or branches for four main reasons:

1) To remove dead, injured or diseased parts.

2) To control or direct growth.

3) To improve the yield of flowers or fruit.

4) To ensure premium growth conditions by allowing more light and air to reach the centre.


Rhizome:                               A creeping stem that grows along or just beneath the soil surface, with roots arising from it. Is also a storage function.

Root Bound:                        A plant that has been in a pot a long time may have roots that circle around the edges of the pot. These roots may not grow out into the soil. To encourage good root growth cut or break up the roots to separate them.

Root run:                               The amount of space that the roots take up in the soil.

Root rot:                               Fungal disease caused by several different types of fungi that causes the roots of a plant to turn brown, grey, and/or slimy. Root rot impairs a plant’s ability to uptake water and will often kill plants that are infected. Root rot is often caused by chronic over watering. The most common symptom of root rot is a plant that is wilting even though the soil is wet.


 Sandy soil:              Sandy soil is composed of many irregular to rounded tiny grains of sand, as opposed to the many tiny plate-like soil particles that make up a clay soil. Sandy soil drains very quickly and doesn’t hold on to fertilizer well.

Seedling:                 A young plant cultivated from a seed – not a cutting.

Species:                   A group of plants that share the same characteristics.

Sport:                      This refers to a plant part that is significantly different from the rest of the plant. For instance, a leaf or flower with a different colour, patterning, shape or size. Horticulturists use sports to create brand new plant varieties

Sucker:                    Suckers are sprouts that grow from the rootstock of a plant, rather than from the desired grafted part of the plant. They produce a new plant that sucks energy from the plant and should be removed at ground level. They are common on rose bushes and some fruit trees.


Thinning out:           The practice of reducing the number of plants in a bed or container to provide more room for growth.

Top dressing:            The practice of improving soil, by adding a layer of fertiliser to the surface and allowing it to settle in without digging over or Replacing the top layer of soil with compost.

Topsoil:                        The upper layer of soil that you plant in. It varies in depth from place to place, but will almost always be less than a foot deep and can be as little as 2 inches deep.

Toxicity:                       When a plant does not react well to something it is often called Toxicity. Toxicity could refer to too much fertiliser, too much sun, sensitivity to insecticides and so on.

Transpiration:         When a plant sweats. Antitranspirants are used to prevent loss of moisture from leaves. The rate of transpiration is determined by external factors, such as temperature, light and humidity.

Trench:                         Generally you dig a trench – A long, narrow ditch dug out of the ground.


Variegated:                   Foliage with different colours, usually but not always random, alternating on the foliage.


Weed:                             Any unwanted plant, or a plant that hinders the growth of more desirable plants.

Wet feet:                    When the soil in a container or the landscape stays wet, plants may be referred to as having wet feet.

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