Need help understanding terms?

With gardening season now in full swing, we come across terms in conversation or in articles written in horticulture-related publications that at times leave us a little baffled; for instance, did you know that the word “sport” might not necessarily mean football, soccer or tennis to a gardener, or that “deadheading” does not imply an act as cruel as it sounds? “Sports”, by the way, are natural or induced mutations resulting in shoots and flowers that are different from the parents, and “deadheading” simply means removing spent flowers to prevent seed formation, which ultimately prolongs flowering in annuals and perennials.

Therefore, for the benefit of others as well as my own, compiled below is a short list of some common and some not-so-common terminologies used in the gardening world, along with their meanings. For those who want more, many gardening books include an extensive glossary at the end of their text.

BARE-ROOT: A plant with no soil around the roots. Nurseries often sell bare-root plants.

BIENNIAL: A plant that completes its life cycle in two years, growing in the first year and bearing flowers and fruits in the second.

DAMPING-OFF: Death of young seedlings because of rotting of roots and young stems that is caused by fungi.

DIOECIOUS: When male and female flowers are borne on two separate plants, a male and a female plant; and, therefore, needs to be grown for pollination to occur.

HERBICIDE: A chemical used to eradicate weeds or unwanted plants.

MONOECIOUS: Separate male and female flowers borne on the same plant.

NATIVE: A plant that naturally grows wild in a particular area.

NATURALIZE: To establish plants in an environment where they will continue to multiply on their own.

TOP-DRESS: To apply mulch or fertilizer to the surface of the soil around plants.

VOLUNTEER: A plant growing from self-sown or accidentally dropped seed.  

INFORMATION WORTH SHARING: The Perennial Plant Association has selected Amsonia hubrichtii, commonly known as Arkansas Blue Star, as the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year. Read all about it in the next column.


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