The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Understanding Garden Terms

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu


I spend a lot of time reading labels. Food labels - how can something so little have so many calories? Clothing labels – Is that a fabricated name for that fabric? Plant labels – Does it really get that big?

Plant labels, seed packages and seed catalogs can be a wealth of information, but can be a bit confusing if you don't understand the lingo of labels.

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.

Determinate – used in reference to tomatoes. Determinates tend to be shorter, more compact plants, branches end in flower clusters creating a shorter plant. Great for small space gardens, container gardens, or for those who don't like to do much staking. In contrast indeterminate tomatoes get tall and need staking or caging. Ends of stems do not end in flower clusters and just keep getting longer and longer and may eat your garage.

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

Interplanting – method 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.

Join us Monday May 20 at 7pm at UI Extension 801 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign Butterfly program by award winning photographers and authors Wayne Richards and Judy Burris. No charge or registration.

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