We all start somewhere. We’ve all been beginners at something and trusted more to luck than knowledge or expertise. When I began gardening, I heard lots of terms that I vaguely understood, and nodded as if I knew exactly what someone was talking about. I couldn’t Google phrases like “partial sun,” “harden off” or “tender annual” – the internet wasn’t a “thing” yet – so I relied on books, seed catalogs and picking experienced gardeners’ brains to build a mental garden glossary.
The 2018 National Gardening Survey showed that 77 percent of American households are gardening. Twenty-nine percent of gardeners are 18 to 34 years old. American gardeners spent $47 billion on lawn and garden retail sales, according to the survey, with the average household spending $503.
So with a new crop of beginning gardeners sprouting each spring, a glossary may prove helpful. It’s the basics, but remember, we all started somewhere.
Annual: A plant that completes its life cycle – growing from seed or bedding plant, flowering and producing seed and dying – all in one season. Annuals like petunias produce seeds, but those seed can’t overwinter. Other annuals self-seed in the fall and sprout in the spring, such as cleome. Tender annuals can’t handle cold or frost. Hardy annuals can handle a light frost.
Bare root: Usually encased in plastic, roses and some perennials can be purchased with little or no soil around the roots.
Balled and burlapped: Large nursery-grown trees and shrubs are grown in the ground. When the plant is purchased, the nursery digs it up with a big ball of soil around the roots and wraps it in burlap to keep the ball intact and preserve moisture before planting.
Biennial: A flowering plant like that roots, grows leaves and stems, but doesn’t flower until the second year, such as hollyhocks and foxgloves.
Dead-head: Removing spent blooms by snipping or plucking them off. Some plants are “self-cleaning,” which means they drop spent blooms without requiring dead-heading.
Deciduous: A plant that drops its leaves each fall.
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Evergreen: A plant that doesn’t shed its leaves and remains green year-round.
Exposure: Plants need sun and/or shade to thrive. Check the plant label for requirements – and here’s the translation:
Full sun – Six or more hours of direct sun daily
Partial sun or partial shade – Four to six hours of direct sun daily; can be morning or afternoon sun
Dappled shade – A mixture of sun and shade, usually caused by tree canopy
Full shade – Less than 4 hours of sun daily
Habit: How a plant grows, its form or structure. Mounding is a rounded plant wider than it is tall; spreading plants inch along the ground, rooting itself at nodes on the stem; trailing plants inch along but don’t root; climbers are vines that use suckers or tendrils to climb; upright plants grow tall and straight; vase-shaped plants are wider at the top than the bottom. Plants can be herbaceous, woody or succulent.
Harden off: Seedlings started indoors and greenhouse-grown plants need to be introduced to outdoor temperatures and sunlight gradually and in a protected setting before planting in the ground.
Height: Short plants are 10 inches or less, sometimes called “front of border” plants; medium plants are 10 to 24 inches tall, perfect for middle of the border; tall plants are 24 inches or taller, often recommended for “back of the border.”
N-P-K: Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are the main nutrients in fertilizer.
Perennial: Cold-hardy plants that return each spring. Some are long-lived; others have life spans of just a few years, while some perennials can be reinvigorated by dividing every few years.
Watering: Plants are all over the map with watering requirements. First, avoid wetting foliage by watering at plant base, whether in the ground or a pot. If a plant prefers dry conditions, water when the soil is very dry; once established plants don’t require much watering. Plants that need “normal” watering in pots should be watered when soil is dry to the touch; when established in the ground, they don’t require constant watering, but will need watering in hot, dry weather. Plants with “normal to wet” requirements prefer moist soil and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. In the ground, provide 1 inch of water each week if it doesn’t rain much. “Wet” plants need to be constantly wet and won’t perform in dry soil.