Gardening terms explained

If you are a new gardener, or simply baffled by weird and wonderful gardening words, Geoff Hodge has simplified a few seasonal terms for you.

Scarifying is a thorough raking through on a lawn to remove dead grass. Image: Martin Mulchinock
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Gardening can sometimes seem a bit complicated. Those ‘in the know’ often use gardening terms and words that are unfamiliar to less experienced gardeners and garden owners.

Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle in one season or one year.

Bare-root: Plants that have been grown in the ground, dug up during their dormant period and supplied without soil around their roots.

Biennial: A plant that grows for two years, growing leaves (vegetatively) in the first year and flowering and setting seed in the second.

Bulb/corm/rhizome/tuber: Underground food storage organ of some plants, such as daffodil (bulb), crocus (corm), agapanthus (rhizome), dahlia (begonia).

Potting compost at a garden centre. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Compost: Used to describe several things! Garden compost is garden and household organic waste rotted down in a compost heap or compost bin. Potting compost is a blend of organic and sometimes inorganic materials used for growing plants in containers.

Cross-pollination: The transfer of pollen from the male reproductive organ (anther) in the flower of one plant to the female reproductive organ (stigma) of another plant.

Cultivar: Short for a cultivated variety, a plant variety that has originated in cultivation (usually from controlled breeding), rather than in the wild (see Variety).

Deciduous: Plants that loose their leaves in autumn or winter.

Dividing/division: Usually done to mature herbaceous perennials, splitting the plants apart to make several smaller plants.

Ericaceous: Plants that need acid/low pH soil (acid-loving) and will not tolerate alkaline/high pH soils (lime-hating), such as rhododendrons, camellias, blueberries. Ericaceous compost contains no lime.

Also called compost – what you make at home in your compost bin. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Ericaceous compost: Potting compost free of lime, suitable for growing lime-hating, ericaceous plants.

Graft union: The point (sometimes called the knuckle) at which a cultivar (the scion) is grafted or budded onto a rootstock, such as with roses and fruit trees.

Half-hardy perennial: A long-lived herbaceous plant that is unable to tolerate frost, but is usually able to tolerate lower temperatures than a frost-tender plant, such as pelargonium (geranium) and bedding fuchsias.

Herbaceous perennial: A long-lived, non-woody plant.

Maiden whip: One-year-old tree that hasn’t developed lateral branches (see Whip).

Organic matter/bulky organic matter: Material of animal or plant origin – such as compost, leafmould or manure. Used to improve soil structure and mulching.

Perennial: A plant living for more than two years.

Pollination: The transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the flower (pistil) resulting in the formation of a seed, and essential for good fruit production.

Rootstock: Plant used to provide the roots for a grafted or budded plant.

Scarifying: Thorough raking through the grass on a lawn (with a spring-tine rake or dethatcher) to remove dead grass (thatch) and loosen the compact soil surface to aid fresh new grass growth.

Self-fertile: A plant that does not need pollen from a second individual in order to fertilise it and set fruit, such as ‘Victoria’ plum and ‘Stella’ cherry.

Semi-evergreen: A plant that may, or may not, retain its leaves in winter depending on the severity of the weather.

Standard: A tree or shrub with a clear stem or trunk below a head of branches.

Thatch: The layer of dead organic matter and other plant debris on a lawn, most of which should be removed to aid water, nutrient and light penetration.

Transplanting: Moving a plant from its current growing position, and planting it in a new one.

Variety: A taxonomic (plant naming) ranking below that of species and subspecies, and abbreviated in a plant name to var. – such as Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica. It is often, but erroneously, used instead of cultivar (see Cultivar).

Whip: A young tree, consisting of a single stem that hasn’t developed lateral branches (see Maiden whip).

Wind rock: The buffeting effect of winds that results in destabilised plants with loosened and damaged root systems, such as with roses.

Geoff Hodge

About Geoff Hodge

Geoff Hodge is a freelance garden writer, writing for various national
gardening magazines and websites – as well as lots more besides! He answers the questions submitted by Richard Jackson's Gardening Club members. Previously, he was the Web Editor for the Royal Horticultural Society, Gardening Editor of Garden News magazine and Technical Editor of Garden Answers magazine. He has written eight gardening books and broadcasts on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and is a regular guest on Ken Crowther’s gardening programme on BBC Essex.
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