If you’re new to gardening, some of the vernacular can seem a little intimidating. So here is our glossary of simple gardening terms to get you started or build your horticultural vocabulary.
Gardening terms can feel a little like a different language at times. There have been entire books written about botanical and horticultural terminology. Many of the words are derived from Latin, but the horticultural Latin used nowadays is quite different from the ancient language of Latin. The Latin that makes up a lot of modern gardening terms is a mixture of Latin, greek and other languages.
Here you will find a list of gardening terms that are commonly used. This glossary is by no means exhaustive, but I have intentionally kept it short so as to be beginner friendly. By making yourself familiar with the following terms, you will be able to hold your own in a conversation with the most experienced gardeners – or at the very least understand what they are saying.
The intention of this glossary is to use as and when you need to or to read through the whole lot and fill any gaps in your horticultural vocabulary. Whilst it is aimed at beginner gardeners, some more experienced gardeners may find it useful from time to time also.
A plant that completes its entire life cycle within one growing season. Annuals are usually easy to grow from seed and easy to collect seeds from at the end of the season.
Anther refers to the part of the stamen that contains the pollen.
Plants that complete their entire lifecycle from seed to flower in two years are known as biennials.
A method of sowing that involves scattering seeds, rather than planting them in a precise location. This is commonly used in large agriculture, or when planting meadows.
Compost is a mixture of ingredients used to add nutrients and organic matter to the garden. It can be made from a wide number of things including grass clippings, horse manure, woodchip, and kitchen scraps. Making compost requires a good balance of these things to assist in their biological breakdown.
The first leaf or leaves emerge from the seed. Cotyledons usually look different from the true leaves.
Where a flower receives pollen from another flower, rather than from its own anthers, this is called cross-pollination.
A cultivar is a plant that has been selectively bred for certain characteristics. The cultivar is usually shown as follows: Genus species ‘Cultivar’.
Trees or shrubs that lose their leaves during winter are deciduous. This is a form of protection for the plant against the cold.
For a plant, the dormant period is where it shuts down for a period of cold. Herbaceous perennials die right back and are dormant predominantly below the soil whilst deciduous trees lose their leaves and go through dormancy with bare branches.
I linear shallow groove was made into the soil to plant seeds into. A drill is commonly used to plant carrots and parsnips, amongst other crops.
An evergreen plant is one that does not lose its leaves in winter.
Foliage is a word that refers collectively to a plant’s leaves.
An area that is in direct sunlight for most of the day is described as being in full sun.
An area of the garden that is in the full shade does not receive any sun at any part of the day. Some plants are suited for these conditions, however, many will not grow well in full shade.
Germination is a botanical term for a plant sprouting from seed.
Hardening-off is a term used to describe the practice of gradually acclimatising a plant to the cold and wind by bringing it outside during the day and taking it in again at night. This is supposed to help with transplant shock.
A hardy plant is one that is able to withstand a prolonged period of cold or frost.
In gardening terms, a hybrid is a plant that has genetic material from two different varieties. Hybrids are cross-pollinated and their seeds will often not produce plants that are the same as the parent. In other words, to get another plant like a hybrid, the original parent plants much be cross-pollinated again.
Irrigation is the application of water to your plants. There are many methods of irrigation, including by hand using a watering can or hose pipe, or using an automatic irrigation system like a drip system or a soaker hose.
The term loam is used to mean good soil, but specifically, loam is made up of roughly 20% clay, 20% silt and 40% sand, plus a large helping of organic matter. This type of soil isn’t very common but is highly prized. Note: do not try to amend your soil with sand; try to grow things that are appropriate for the soil that you have.
In horticulture, the term medium refers to the substrate into which a plant is planted. In most cases, the medium is soil or potting compost.
Mulch is a commonly used gardening term that means to cover the soil. A mulch can be just around the base of a plant, or over an entire garden. Mulching helps to suppress weeds, add organic matter (if mulching with organic matter of course) or create a finished look to a bed or pot.
In horticulture, the term node refers to the point on a stem where a leaf, flower or branching stem attaches.
Nutrients refer to the key elements needed for plant growth. Usually, we use this word to refer to soil-based nutrients. The main nutrients found in the soil needed for plant growth (with their chemical symbols in brackets) are; Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). Other nutrients include Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S), Boron (B) and Zinc (Zn). Atmospheric nutrients needed for plant growth are Carbon (C), Oxygen (O) and Hydrogen (H). Atmospheric nitrogen needs to be “fixed” into soil nitrogen before it can be used by plants.
Organic matter is one of those gardening terms that can mean several things. Usually, it refers to anything that is plant-based, but increasingly it is being used to refer also to the life within the soil.
Partial shade refers to an area that is shaded for some part of the day.
Peds is a term to describe the crumbly texture of soil. Aggregating soil particles form a ped.
A perennial plant is one that will die back in winter and grow back again in spring.
The rhizosphere is the plant’s external gut; where the plant roots interact with the biology in the soil to exchange carbohydrates and nutrients.
A rootball is the main ball of roots at the base of a plant.
A rosette is a structure where leaves or petals are arranged in a circular manner around a centre point.
A seedling is a young plant, raised from seed. Usually, they only have a few leaves.
Self-pollinating refers to when a flower is able to transfer pollen from its own anthers onto its own stamen and does not need pollen from another flower to produce seeds. In other words, it can complete its reproductive cycle even if kept in isolation.
Soil organisms are creatures that live in the soil. This can be anything from earthworms and ground beetles to bacteria, protozoa, nematodes and fungi.
Systemic pesticides and herbicides are soluble in water and able to move through the tissues of plants. This can make the whole plant toxic to bees and other beneficial insects.
The stamen is the male part of the flower, which ends in an anther. Flowers have multiple stamens.
In botany, the stigma refers to the female part of the flower that receives the pollen from the anthers.
Plants that are not able to cope with a frost. Some tender plants will not tolerate temperatures below about 5 degrees, and some tender plants will be fine until exposed to a prolonged period of sub-zero temperatures.
Tilth refers to a prepared soil surface. A fine tilth is made using a rake or hoe and a rough tilth by digging.
To transplant is to move a plant from one location to another. Usually referring to moving seedlings from a greenhouse to the garden. A plant can be called a transplant if it is grown in this way.
A tuber is a swollen root or underground stem that stores nutrients for the plants for the following season. A potato is a type of tuber. Dahlias and begonias also grow from tubers.
When the soil is waterlogged it is saturated with water. Most plant roots need oxygen for respiration, so waterlogging can kill some plants very quickly.