The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Garden Terms Demystified

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

Twitter, tweets, Google and geeks. Every leisure pursuit or profession has its own language. Gardeners are no exception. For example a lady called in to the Extension office with a question for the Master Gardener about her container plant that wasn't flowering. After several exchanges of questions and corresponding answers, the Master Gardener mentioned, "Maybe the soil is too rich." The lady replied, "It can't be too rich, I bought it at the box store."

Now either you are giggling or you are wondering, "Where's the joke?" Gardeners describe a soil as "rich" if it contains excess nitrogen which can promote leaf growth, sometimes at the expense of flowers. It has nothing to do with the soil's sticker price.

So you never miss a joke, here are a few commonly used garden terms.

Annual – a plant that grows, flowers, produces seeds/fruits and dies in one growing season. Many vegetables such as tomatoes and flowers such as petunias are grown as annuals because they don't live through our winters.

Biennial – a plant that lives two seasons then dies, blooming second season only. For example parsley and carrots are biennials, however since we aren't growing them for flowers they are harvested the first season. Some foxgloves and hollyhocks are also biennials and do not flower until the second year.
Compost – a mixture of soil and decomposed organic matter such as plants, vegetable scraps from cooking, paper or leaves used as fertilizer, mulch or soil improvement. Also a good indicator of garden fanaticism. If your eyes gleam at the sound of "free compost" you are truly a garden fanatic.

Days to harvest – listed on a vegetable seed packet to include the days it takes from the time the seed grows until vegetables are ready to harvest. Also the days until you will be on vacation and miss said harvest.

Fertilizer - any natural or manmade material added to the soil to supply one or more of the essential plant nutrients.

Interplanting - to get more vegetables from a small garden, early maturing crops can be planted between rows of later or long-season crops. Peas, radishes, green onions, spinach, or lettuce can be planted between rows of tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, or corn.

Leggy – a descriptive term for plants that have tall bare stems. Also one of the three garden stooges - Leggy, Seedy and Weedy.

Mulch - a protective covering placed on surface of the soil around plants to prevent weeds and water loss. Mulch may be a variety of materials such as wood chips, compost, coco bean hulls, pine needles or rock (also known as lawn mower shrapnel).

Perennial – same plant grows each season such as peonies, daffodils, asparagus, and rhubarb. These plants will not need to be planted each year unless you paid a fortune for them.
Successive planting - varied planting dates for the same crop to extend the harvest period and avoid everything ripening at the same time. For example plant two or three small plantings of leaf lettuce and radishes 7 to 10 days apart in early spring rather than planting all seeds at same time.

Thinning - removal of some of the plants in a row to avoid crowding. Root crops such as carrots, beets and radishes need to be thinned when the plants are little or the roots will not have enough room to expand. Doubtful whether this technique works with the hair of older male gardeners.

Weed – unwanted plant that competes with garden plants for light, water and nutrients. Usually the tallest and healthiest plant in the garden.

As the Dictionary for Weedpullers says "a garden is one of a vast number of free outdoor restaurants operated by charity-minded amateurs in an effort to provide healthful, balanced meals for insects, birds and animals".

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