Glossary of Gardening Terms

Expand your vocabulary or clarify some common gardening words and phrases with this easy-to-follow glossary of common terms. Bookmark this for later use!

Acidic soil - Any soil with a pH lower than 7.

Alkaline (basic) soil - Any soil with a pH higher than 7, often associated with hard water.

Annual - A plant that completes its life cycle in one year.

Bareroot - Dormant plants that are taken out of the ground, removed of their soil, and preserved until shipping.

Biennial - A plant that completes its life cycle in two years.

Bolting - When a plant produces flowers or seeds prematurely instead of a crop. This is usually the result of excessive heat and sun exposure.

Companion planting - The belief that two plants growing near each other produce mutual benefits. Learn more at

Compost- A mixture of decaying, organic materials (such as kitchen scraps) used for soil amending, fertilizing, and mulching.

Cutting - A plant propagation method wherein a part of a plant is cut and dipped in a rooting hormone to eventually grow into a new plant.

Dead heading - The act of pinching or cutting off spent flowers.

Direct sowing - Germinating seeds at the site you want them to grow, as opposed to growing them indoors before transplanting.

Everblooming - A flower that produces a continual supply of blooms throughout a season.

Family - One group used in classifying organisms. Families consist of a number of similar genera (plural for genus).

Full sun - If a plant requires “full sun” then it needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight each day to thrive.

Genus - A group of species of plants that are closely related.

Germinate - The beginning of growth in a seed; to sprout.

Hardy - A plant that can withstand frost exposure without means of protection.

Hardiness zone - A geographically defined zone determined by temperature that categorizes which plants can thrive where; hardiness zones are designated by a number (1-11), such as zone 7. Gardening books and websites can help you determine your hardiness zone.

Herbicide - A substance that destroys plants or inhibits their growth.

Heirloom - An open-pollinated plant variety that has remained unchanged through hybridization for at least 50-100 years.

Horticulture - The art and science of cultivating plants.

Humus - Decomposed plant matter that is part of the soil.

Hybrid - The crossbreeding of two plants of different species or varieties with distinct characteristics.

Loam - Rich soil consisting of 25 percent clay, 50 percent silt, and less than 50 percent sand; considered ideal soil for gardening and agriculture.

Naturalized - To plant randomly and without a pattern.

Open pollination - Plants whose seeds develop through random, natural pollination such as wind, field movement, or insect activity, not through human involvement.

Organic – A fertilizer, pesticide, or plant food that is of animal or vegetable origin; plants grown without the use of synthetic chemicals.

Ornamental - Plants grown for aesthetics, not consumption or economic use.

Perennial - Plants that live for multiple growing seasons.

Pesticide - Any substance used to control or kill pests such as insects, weeds, animals, or microbes; may be organic or synthetic.

Pinching off - The periodic removal of new, freshly grown leaves from a plant to encourage growth.

Pistil - The female sexual reproductive, seed-bearing organ of a flower, consisting of an ovary, style, and stigma.

Pollination - The transfer of pollen from the stamen (male part of the flower) to the pistil (female part of the flower), which results in the formation of a seed.

Pruning - The process of cutting off leaves or branches within limits in order to remove dead, injured or diseased foliage or branches.

Raised bed – An elevated garden bed offering better drainage, aeration and warmer soil than a conventional bed.

Seedling - A plant that has just emerged from its seed with its first root, stem and leaves.

Self-pollinating - Plants that do not require pollen from another plant to produce fruit.

Side dressing - A method of fertilization in which one works a little fertilizer into the soil near a mature plant.

Sludge - Solid sediment left over from industrial wastewater treatment plants that is commonly used as a fertilizer or livestock food-additive because it contains high levels of nutrients, but it can contain high levels of heavy metals and pollutants.

Staking - The practice of driving a support into the ground next to a plant to support it in its growth.

Stamen - The male reproductive organ of a flower, consisting of a filament and a pollen-containing anther.

Thinning - To reduce the number of excess seedlings (discarding the weakest ones) to allow freer air circulation and increase the light for foliage, thereby, encouraging remaining plants to thrive.

Transplant - To remove plants from one place and replant them in another (or from a container into the ground).

Trellis - Latticework used to support climbing plants

Vermiculite - A lightweight, flaky mineral called "mica" that has been heated to the point of expansion. The sponge-like granules are then capable of holding both water and air. This amendment is added to potting mixtures and container gardens to improve root growth due to aeration and moisture retention.

Waterlogged - Soil that is saturated with water.