Glossary of Commonly Used Gardening Terms

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In this page, the most commonly used gardening terms will be shown, with special emphasis on container gardening. Unsure what a word means, then check the list below:

Acid Soil– A soil or compost that is free of lime and a pH less than 7.

Aeration- The loosening of compost by digging or other means to allow air to pass freely.

Alkaline Soil- A soil or compost where the pH is greater than 7. This is often associated with chalky or limy soil.

Alpine- A vague term used to describe low-growing rockery perennials.

Alternate- This is when buds or leaves arise from one side of the stem and then on the other. Also, see opposite

Annual- A plant that completes its life cycle (germination, flowering, seed production and dying) in one growing season (e.g. French marigold).

Anther- The part of the flower which produces pollen in the upper section of the stamen.

Awl-Shaped- A narrow leaf which tapers to a stiff point.

Axil- The angle between the upper surface of the leaf stalk and the stem that carries it. An axillary bud arises from this angle.

Bare Root- Plants that have been field grown then dug up, where there are supplied to the customer in the dormant state. The soil is then removed and the roots are bounded, before being dispatched to the customer (e.g. fruit trees).

Basal Plate- The disc of tissue to which scales of bulbs are attached too.

Basal Rooting- The root system arising from the base plate of a bulb.

Basal Shoot- A shoot arising from the crown of the plant.

Bearded- A petal that bear a tuft or row of long hairs.

Bed- A planting area that is designed to be viewed from all sides.

Bedding Plant- A plant that is designed to give a temporary display in a bed.

Berry- A fleshy fruit in which seed or seeds are hidden inside.

Biennial– A plant that completes its life cycle in two years. Growing its leaves in the first year, before flowering and dying in the second year (e.g. Sweet Williams).

Bisexual- A flower that has both male and female reproductive organs.

Blanket Bedding- The use of a single variety of bedding plant to cover a bed or border or container.

Bleeding- A severe loss of sap from damaged plant tissue.

Blend- A flower bearing two or more colours that gradually merge into each other.

Blind- A mature bulb that produces masses of foliage but no flower.

Bloom- This can mean either flower or a fine powdery coating.

Blotched- A flower with petals that have distinct colour patches, which are irregularly scattered.

Bolting– For a plant to produce flowers and then seeds prematurely. This is often undesired and the plant needs to be thrown away. Often affects vegetable plants such as spinach.

Border- A planted area that is designed to be viewed from one, two, or three sides but not all angles.

Boss- A ring of decorative and prominent stamens.

Bract– A modified leaf at the base of a flower.

Broadcast Sowing– To scatter seeds evenly in a random fashion rather than in formal straight lines.

Breaking Bud– A stage in spring where the growth of buds bursts through the protective bud casing.

Bud Union/Bud Graft– This refers to the point of the plant where it has been grafted onto a different rootstock, which is close to compost level. The technique is known as ‘budding’ where the buds of one plant are grafted to the root system of another.

Bulb- An underground storage system where green leaves emerge from and are then followed by flowers. After this, the plant dies back and it returns to dormancy once more (e.g. Daffodils).

Calcareous- Chalky or limy soil.

Calcifuge- A plant that does not like to be grown in alkaline soil or compost.

Callus- The scar tissue which forms at the base of a cutting.

Calyx- The ring of sepals which protects the unopened flower bud.

Cane– This is the stems of raspberry or blackberry plants that are normally supplied in the dormant stage.

Chimaera- A mutation which produces two types of tissue.

Chitting– The process of encouraging seed potatoes to sprout stubby little green chits 6 weeks before planting. This is accomplished by placing seeds potatoes in a tray or egg box in a bright, cool, frost-free place.

 Chlorophyll- The green pigment found in leaves and stems which is capable of using light energy to turn carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates by the process of photosynthesis.

Chlorosis- Abnormal yellowing of leaves due to the lack of chlorophyll.

Climber- A plant that climbs by clinging to or around a support frame.

Cloche– A structure that is placed over a plant to protect it from cold weather or to force an early crop. Normally made out of glass, plastic or horticultural fleece.

Clone- A group of identical plants produced by vegetative reproduction from a single parent plant.

Cold Frame– A special unheated frame that is designed to allow plants to grow on. It is also used to acclimatizing hardy and half-hardy plants before planting outdoors.

Collarette- A flower bearing large petals with an inner ring of small and narrow petals.

Compositae- The daisy-family.

Cordon– A plant that has been trained to grow on one stem, or occasionally two to three stems, by removing side shoots (e.g. in tomato plants).

Cone– A prominent and raised disc at the centre of the flower.

Contact Weed Killer- A chemical that is designed to kill unwanted plants by direct contact with its flowers or leaves.

Cordate- Heart-shaped.

Corms- A rounded underground storage system, consisting of a stem base and a fibrous outer layer. It is normally replaced by the plant every year (e.g. begonias).

Corolla- The ring of petals inside the calyx of the flower.

Corona- The trumpet-shaped flowers produced by some plants.

Cotyledon- A seed leaf which differs in shape from the true leaves that emerge later.

Crock-A piece or pieces of broken flower pot that is used at the bottom of containers to improve drainage.

Cross- The offspring arising when two plants cross-pollinate.

Crown- The growing point of a plant from which new shoots emerges every year, at or just below the soil surface (e.g. Rhubarb).

Cruciferae- The cabbage or wallflower family.

Cultivar- A plant that has been selectively bred by growers for uniquely coloured flowers, leaf colours, growing habits, etc. It is normally done to bring more uniform characteristics to the plant compared to the original species.

Cup- A corona which is broader than it is long.

Cuttings- A method to propagate new plants by cutting stems from a plant and then rooting the stems in compost. This is due to increase your plant stock for free.

Deadhead– The process of removing spent blooms on plants to encourage further flowering and also to prevent prolific self-seeding.

Deciduous- A plant that sheds its leaves every year.

Dentate- Toothed margin.

 Dibber- A blunt-edge wooden or plastic tool used to make holes in the soil for transplants.

Dioecious- A plant which bears either male or female flowers.

Disc- The flat central part of a compounded flower, made up of many florets.

Dormant Period- The time when a plant has naturally stopped growing due to low temperatures and short daylight lengths.

Dot Plant- A bedding plant grown singly or in a small group at the centre of a bedding scheme where it is bold enough to serve as a focal point.

Double- A flower with many more the normal number of petals. When the whole of the bloom appears to be composed of petals, it is called a fully double. A semi-double flower is the half-way point between a single bloom and a fully double bloom.

Direct Sow– To sow seed outdoors directly in its final position, where you will like them to flower or to crop.

 Drill- A straight and shallow furrow in which seeds are sown.

Earth up- The process of drawing up soil or compost around a plant to exclude light, in order to protect the roots from frost damage or to encourage new roots to develop from the stem. Normally, carried out with potato crops.

 Edging Plant- A low-growing plant grown at the rim of  a bed, border or container.

Enrich– The process of adding more organic matter to compost to make it more nutrient rich. This is done to help hungry plant to develop quicker.

Ericaceous- Plants that prefer to be grown in acidic compost or soil, and will not tolerate alkaline growing conditions (e.g. Blueberries).

Evergreen– This describes plants that retain most of their leaves throughout the year.

Everlasting- Flowers with papery petals which retains some or all of its colour when dried for winter decoration.

Exotic-Any plant that is not native to the country in which it is grown in, but popular meaning is a plant which is not hardy and has a tropical appearance.

 Eye- A dormant growth bud. or the centre of a single or semi-double flower where the colour is distinctly different from the rest of the flower.

F1 Hybrid– This is the first generation of plants derived by breeding two distinctive purebred lines, which are normally vigorous and uniform plants. Seeds produced from these F1 hybrids will not breed true and will revert back to one of its parent plants. F2 hybrids are made when two F1 plants are crossed.

 Family- A group of related plants.

Feathered Maiden– A one-year-old tree which has several side branches, which makes it look like a feather.

Fertilization- The application of pollen to the stigma to induce the production of seeds.

Fertilizer- A material which supplies appreciable quantities of one or more major plant nutrients without adding significantly to the humus content of the soil.

 Fibrous Rooted- A root system which contains many thin roots rather than one single taproot.

Flamed- A  feather-shaped marking in which it bears a distinct central band.

Floret- The individual flowers of a compounded flower or a dense flower head.

Flower- The reproductive organs of the plant.

Floricane- Raspberry and blackberry stems that grow the year before bearing flowers and fruits the following year (e.g. Summer-bearing raspberries).

 Flush- The display of flowers when blooming is at its peak. Some perennials but not many annuals produce flowers in distinct flushes with a non-blooming gap between each one.

Foliage– Leaves.

Foliar Feed- A fertilizer capable of being sprayed on and absorbed by the leaves.

Formal  Bedding-A bed or border in which plants are arranged in a specific, organized pattern.

Frost Pocket- An area where cold air is trapped during winter and in which plants are in greater danger of dying.

Fruit- The seed together with a fleshy structure that contains it.

 Fungicide-A substance used to control fungal infections in plants, such as mildew, damping off and rust.

 Genus or Genera (plural) – A group of closely related plants containing more than one species.

Germination– This is the physical and chemical changes that take place once a seed starts to emerge from its seed casing, and develops into a plant.

Glabrous- Smooth or Hairless.

Glaucous- Covered with flowers.

Grafting– Where one plant (known as the scion) is artificially joined to the rootstock of another so that one functioning plant is produced (e.g. fruit trees).

Ground Colour- The main background colour of a petal.

Ground Cover- A plant that is used to provide a low -growing and partially weed-proof carpet between other plants.

 Groundwork Plant- A medium-sized plant used to fill most or all bedding schemes.

 Growing Point- The tip of a stem which is responsible for extension growth.

Half-Hardy– A plant that has some protection to the weather and can take some light frosts, but cannot take long periods of hard frosts, as this will kill them.

Hardy– This is when plants are able to withstand year-round climate changes without the need of any special protection.

Harden-off– To get the young plants used to the growing conditions outside in a protective environment, so that they can get acclimatized to the cooler conditions outdoors. Normally achieved by leaving plants outside during the day and bringing them indoors at night, until they are used to the climate outdoors. This usually takes 1 to 2 weeks.

Haulms– The stems and leaves of the potato plants.

Herbaceous Perennial– A non-woody perennial that dies back in winter, becomes dormant by means of an underground rootstock and a woody base. New growth will begin once again in spring.

 Hirsute- Covered with stiff and coarse hairs.

 Honeydew- Sticky, sugary secretion deposited on the leaves and stems by aphids and whitefly.

 Hose-in-hose- A flower which gives the appearance of one bloom inside another.

 Hue- The pure form of colour.

 Humus- This is the jelly-like substance which coat soil particles.

 Hybrid- Plants with parents who are genetically distinct. The parent plants may be different species, cultivars, varieties or occasionally genera.

Imbricate– Closely overlapping.

Inflorescence- The flower head.

Informal Bedding- A bedding scheme where no straight line or geometric patterns is attempted in flower beds.

Inorganic– A chemical or fertilizer which has not been obtained from a living source.

Insecticide- A chemical used to control insects and other pests.

Internode- The part of the stem between one node and another.

Involucre- A ring of bracts surrounding a flower or cluster of flowers.

Lanceolate- Spear-shaped.

Lanky-. Spindly growth-a stem that is long, gaunt and sparse looking.

Lateral Shoot- A shoot that arises from the side of the main stem.

Leaf Mould- Peat-like material composed of partially rotted leaves.

Lime- Calcium compound that is often added to compost to make it less acidic. Really useful when growing brassicas, as this will avoid the fatal clubroot disease.

Linear-Very narrow with parallel sides.

Lobe- Rounded segment which protrudes from the rest of the leaf, petal or other plant organ.

Maiden Tree- A young tree that is often less than one-year-old. It can be trained into any shape and form you prefer.

Medium-The growing mixture in which plants are placed in and from which they will grow.

Moisture-Retentive Compost- A compost that is capable of retaining a large amount of water within its structure. It still can be free draining.

Monocarpic- A plant that dies after flowering and seeding.

Monochromatic Scheme- A colour scheme in which a single colour is used.

Monoecious- A plant which bears both male and female flowers on the same plant.

Mouth- The open end of a ball-shaped or tubular flower.

Mulch- A layer of material placed on top of the soil/compost, and around the plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil structure. Materials include wood chipping, cocoa shells, gravel, aggregates, glass, pebbles, well-rotted manure or other materials.

Multipurpose Compost– A mixture of various organic matter such as rotten wood, peat, coir, green waste, which is normally mixed with lime to ‘sweeten’ the mixture. Ericaceous compost has no lime added.

Mulch- A layer of material placed on top of the soil/compost, and around the plants to retain moisture, suppress weeds and improve the soil structure. Materials include wood chipping, cocoa shells, gravel, aggregates, glass, pebbles, well-rotted manure or other materials.

Mutation- A sudden change in the genetic make-up of a plant, leading to a new variety which can be inherited.

Native- A species which grows wild in the country its originates from and not introduced by man.

Naturalising -To establish a group of plants, usually bulbs, without any outside influences.

Nectar- Sweet substance secreted by some flowers to attract insects.

Neutral Soil- A soil that is neither acidic or alkaline.

Node- The point on the stem at which a leaf or bud arises.

Nodule- Swelling at the root of the member of the pea family.

Nursery Bed- A pot of land on which seedlings are raised for later transfer to more permanent quarters.

Oblong- Longer than broad with parallel sides.

Offset– Young plants which arise naturally from the parent plant and is easily separated i.e bulbs and corms.

Opposite– Leaves or buds which are borne in pairs along the stem.

Organic Matter- Organic substance of animals or plant origin that is used to improve soil or compost structure, and to supply nutrient to plants. This is normally compost, leaf mould or animal manure.

Oval– Egg-shaped.

Ovary- The part of the female flower which contain the reproductive organs.

Palmate- Five or more lobes arising from one point, like a hand.

Peat- Plant matter in an arrested state of decay obtained from bogs or heathland.

Pedicel- The stalk of an individual flower.

Peltate Leaf– A leaf in which the stalk is attached to the undersurface and not to an edge.

Perennial- A plant that lives for more than two years, and keeps coming back year after year. Some perennials are long-lived, which short-lived perennial will only produce for a couple of years before permanently dying.

Perianth– The outer organs of a flower- the petals and the sepals.

Petal- one of the divisions of the corolla.

pH– How acidic or alkaline the soil or compost is. A pH lower than 7 is acidic, whilst a pH greater than 7 is seen as alkaline. A pH of 7 is seen as neutral.

Picotee- Term applied to a narrow band of colour on a pale ground at the edge of a petal.

Pinching Out- Removing the growing points of young plants to encourage them to form new side shoots. This will make the plant bushier and to encourage more flowers to be produced.

Pinnate Leaf- A leaf with a series of leaflets borne on either side of a central stalk.

Pistil- The female organ of a flower, consisting of the stigma, style and ovary.

Plug- A small but well-rooted seedling raised in a cell tray and used for growing on.

Pollen- The yellow dust produced by the anthers. It is the male element which fertilizes the ovule.

Pollination- The act of transferring pollen from one flower to another. This can be carried out by either by hand, by insects or by the wind.

Polychromatic Scheme- A colour scheme in which a wide variety of colours are used.

Pot Bound- The stage when the root of a plant growing in a container are extensive enough to prevent active growth of the plant. Potting on is then required.

Pot on- To remove a plant from its own containers and to place it into a new container, to encourage new growth.

Pot Up- To place seedling and cuttings into containers to grow further before potting on or planting outside.

 Prevailing Wind- The direction from which the wind usually blows- an important consideration on exposed sites.

Prick Out/Transplant– To move and transfer seedling from a seed tray into individual pots or into cell trays. This will encourage them to grow bigger and stronger.

Propagate– To grow plants from either seed, or by taking cuttings, or from grafting.

Prostrate- Growing flat on the surface of the soil.

Raceme- An unbranched flower head which bear bloom on stalks.

Raised Bed- A bed with its surface above ground level and enclosed by a retaining wall made out of any material you wish.

Repotting- The transfer of a plant from its original pot into one of a similar size but with fresh compost.

Reticulate– Marked with a branch network or veins of fibres.

Reversion- A sport which has gone back to the colour or growth habits of its parents.

Rhizome– A horizontal fleshy stem that grows at or below ground level. Looks like a tuber.

Rootstock- The underground section of a plant containing the roots. In grafting a plant called the scion is joined to a rootstock. This is often done to promote a dwarfing habit of the trees.

Root Ball- The roots with its accompanying soil when a plant is removed from a container, or lifted from the ground.

Rooting Hormone- A chemical in powder or liquid form that promotes the formation of roots at the base of a cutting.

Rosette– A cluster of leaves that radiates from the same point, often at ground level (giving an appearance of a rose).

Rugose- Rough and wrinkly.

Runner- A trailing stem growing above ground and rooting at the nodes, wherever it touches the ground. From these nodes, small plantlets are produced, as seen by strawberry plants. With some plants, the runners are produced underground, and new plants are made wherever it emerges from underground. This is often seen with couch grass.

 Sagittate– Arrow-shaped.

Scales- The fleshy modified leaves which make up a bulb.

Seed- The reproductive unit of a flowering plant.

Seedling– A young plant that develops when it emerges from a seed.

Self-fertile– A plant that does not need pollen from a second plant in order to be fertilized or to set fruit.

Self-seed- The natural propagation of a plant by the germination of its seeds around it.

Semi-Double- A halfway point between a single bloom and a double bloom.

Semi-evergreen- A plant that can retain some of its leaves throughout the year, but not necessarily all of them.

 Sepal- One of the divisions of the calyx.

 Series- A variety which is available in numerous colours.

 Serrate- Saw-edged.

Sessile- Stalkless.

Shade– A darker colour of a hue.

Single-A flower with no more than the normal number of petals.

Soil-Based Compost- Similar to multipurpose compost but a proportion of it is replaced with inorganic material, such as crushed rock or sand. This means it drains better, is more free flowing and will be heavier in containers.

Spadix- A fleshy spike in which small flowers are embedded.

Spathe- A bract surrounding a flower head.

Spathulate- Spoon-shaped.

Species- Plants which are genetically similar and which breeds true to type from seed.

Specimen Plant– A tree or shrub that is grown in a prominent position, where it can be admired from a different angle.

Spike- A type of flower head.

 Splashed- A petal with broken stripes of various sizes.

Sport- A plant which shows a marked and inheritable change from its parent- a mutation.

Spur- A tube-like projection from a flower.

Stamen- The male organ of a flower.

Standard– A tree or shrub that has been specifically trained to grow into a certain height, with a long bare stem, and foliage at top.

Stellate- Star-shaped.

Stem Rooting– A root system from the stems of a bulb.

Stigma- The part of the female organ of the flower which catches the pollen.

Stipule- A small outgrowth of the base of the leaf stalk.

Stolon- A runner-like stem which forms roots and produces a new shoot at its tip.

Storage Organ- The thickened root, stem or miniature plant which stores nutrients and develops roots and one or more shoots after planting.

Strain- A selection of a variety, cultivar or species which is raised from seed.

Streaked- A petal with coloured bands.

Strike- The successful outcome of taking cuttings.

Style- The part of the female organ of the flower which connects the stigma to the ovary.

Sub-Shrub– A perennial that has a tendency to behave like a shrub.

Succulent- A plant with fleshy leaves and stems adapted to growing under dry conditions.

Systematic Weed Killer- A weed killer that is absorbed through its leaves when applied to that area.

Tender- A plant that will die if the temperature drops below 5 degrees Celsius for any period of time.

Tendril- A modified stem or leaf which can wind around a support.

Terminal– Term applied to organs borne at the tip of a stem.

Thin– This is when you remove a number of buds, flowers, seedlings, shoots, or fruits to improve the growth and quality of those remaining.

Throat- The tube formed by the corolla of some flowers.

Tint- Paler version of a hue.

Tomentose– Densely covered with fine hairs.

Transpiration– The loss of water from the surface of the leaves and stems.

Tree/Shrub- Woody plants that have a permanent framework throughout the year. Shrubs tend to be shorter, whilst trees tend to grow higher.

Trellis- A structure in which plants are freely supported.

Trumpet- A corona which is narrower than it is long.

Truss- A flower head with many individual flowers.

Tuber– A swollen root or a large underground stem that is a storage tissue (e.g. a potato).

 Unisexual- A flower of one sex only.

 Variegated– Leaves which are spotted, blotched or edged with a colour that is different to the basic one.

Variety- A naturally occurring variation of a species.

Vegetative Reproduction– Division, cutting, grafting and layering as distinct from sexual reproduction by seeds.

 Virus- An organism which is too small to be seen through a microscope and which is capable of causing malformation or discolouration of a plant.

 Weed- A plant that is growing in the wrong place and not wanted.

Well-Drained Compost- A compost which is not subjected to waterlogging as it allows water to drain downwards after heavy rain. It still can be moisture-retentive however.

 Whorl- Leaves, petals or branches arranged in a ring.

2 thoughts on “Glossary of Commonly Used Gardening Terms”

  1. Antonio, what a great glossary. I am sure many gardeners will benefit by reading this. So many times writers forget to start at the beginning, and set the terminology being used, then visitors end up shuffling back and forth between websites trying to find a definition.

    They won’t need to with your glossary. I am pretty good with terms but, reading through this found some I hadn’t known or alternative names for familiar (to me) plant related things.

    You might want to include in your definition of alkaline soil, the term basic. Any person familiar with science will probably use the ‘basic’ term here. eg acid soil has acidity and basic soil has basicity.

    Anyway well done and I will be visiting more of your posts.


    1. Hi Helen
      When you are doing something you might as well do it properly, and define every term that gardeners will use. I try to keep people to my site and some gardening terms are consuming, for beginners and experienced people alike.
      I will look at your suggestion to alkaline soil and see if it needs updating.

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