The world of gardening is riddled with jargon. If you’re not sure what deadheading means, are wondering if your plant is “established” or thought humus was a delicious chickpea dip, read on. Our simple gardening glossary lists all the common gardening terms you need to know.
ACID SOIL: soil that has a pH below 7.
ALKALINE SOIL: soil that has a pH above 7.
ANNUAL: any plant that sprouts, flowers, sets seed, then dies, all in one year.
BARE-ROOTED: dormant, deciduous plants sold in bags, without soil. For example, roses are often sold as bare-rooted plants. The roots of a bare-root plant are free to grow in their natural manner without being restricted by a pot.
BENEFICIAL INSECTS: these feed naturally on pest insects. For example, ladybirds eat aphids.
BIENNIAL: Plants that need two years to complete their life cycle. Examples of biennial plants include cabbage, Canterbury bells, carrots, lettuce, onions, parsley and sweet William.
BOLT TO SEED: when a plant stops growing very quickly and forms seeds too early in its life cycle. It’s a survival tactic by plants. Weather is often a factor. The plant stops putting energy into foliage growth, realising it should create seeds instead, if it wants to keep the species going.
BRACT: a coloured leaf which looks like a flower, such as those on a bougainvillea.
CANE: long, thin, usually flexible and unusually rapid growth on plants such as climbers and roses.
DEADHEAD: Removing faded flowers by pinching or cutting just below the spent flower once they finish. Deadheading helps the plant channel its energy into producing new flowers, resulting in healthier plants and continues blooms.
DECIDUOUS: plants which lose their leaves for a period each year, often in autumn and/or winter.
DOUBLE FLOWER: any flower that features multiple layers of petals.
DORMANT: a plant that’s alive but not growing or metabolising. For example a deciduous plant during during winter.
ESPALIER: a way of training a plant against a flat surface, like a wall, fence or trellis. It’s an ancient growing technique that originated in the small courtyards of ancient Rome and is considered to be an art.
EPIPHYTE: a plants which grows on the trunks or branches of other plants but does not get food, water or minerals from it.
ESTABLISHED: when a plant is happily growing in its new spot and sends out new growth.
FOLIAGE PLANT: a plant that’s grown for its attractive foliage rather than its flowers, for example, lilly pilly or alternanthera.
FRIABLE SOIL: soil which is fine and crumbly, in which plant roots will easily grow. Friable soil has the right balance of air space. It has enough to allow drainage and to trap nutrients, but not enough air space to let water to leach out all of the nutrients.
FERTILISER TYPES: ‘balanced’ has a wide range of nutrients, not just the one; ‘chemical’ is a fertiliser made from manmade ingredients. ‘Slow release’ and ‘Controlled release’ are pellets which release ingredients slowly over months. ‘Organic’ is any fertiliser based on natural products, like manure.
FULL SHADE: shade which lasts all day, due to a canopy of plants, a building or a patio for example.
FROST-HARDY: any plant which can survive several days of frost and snow and temperatures of minus 10 degrees.
FROST-TENDER: any plant which is easily damaged by frost.
FULL SUN: a position with at least six hours of direct sunshine every day.
FUNGICIDE: kills fungal diseases such as mildews.
GERMINATION: when a seed sprouts.
GROUNDCOVER: any low-growing plant which sprawls to cover the ground. Helpful in preventing weeds and covering unsightly bare earth.
GROWING MEDIUM: the substance in which you grow container plants. Examples include potting mix, perlite or sphagnum moss.
GYPSUM: a powder made up of calcium sulphate, a naturally occurring mineral. Great for improving hard, clay soils by breaking it up, without changing soil pH.
HABIT: the shape and way in which a plant naturally grows; eg, some have a ‘climbing habit’ like star jasmine, others are ‘upright’ such as bamboo.
HALF SHADE: a growing spot which gets a 50:50 mix of shade and sunshine each day.
HARDEN OFF: when seedlings are put out into progressively more sunshine, so they get used to the sun.
HARDINESS: the ability of any plant to grow in a climate without any special extra care.
HEIRLOOM/HERITAGE: a plant which is an older type which has stood the test of time, most commonly applied to vegetables.
HERBICIDE: any substance which kills a leafy plant. Most commonly used to kill weeds.
HORTICULTURAL OIL: a refined oil used as a pest-controlling spray. Can be homemade or store-bought, such as eco-neem.
HUMUS: the layer of soil just beneath the surface, made up of broken-down matter such as decayed leaves. A very important and nutrient-rich layer of soil.
INSECT-POLLINATED: plants which need bees or other insects to move pollen from one plant to another.
INVASIVE: plants which spread rapidly and widely.
LEGGY: where most of a plant’s growth is the stem, and the leaves are further apart than they should be. This often happens when plants are deprived of light.
LIME: a solid substance that’s calcium-rich and raises soil pH to be more alkaline.
LIME SULPHUR: a spray that’s used to control fungal disease in plants.
LIQUID FERTILISER: any fertiliser that’s sold as a liquid (or sometimes powder) and is mixed with water to dilute its strength.
LOAM: the holy grail of soil. Loam is a mix of sand, clay, silt and organic matter. Easy to dig, stays moist and has good nutrients. Most plants grow well in loam, especially vegetables.
MANURE: poo (usually chicken, horse or cow poo) that when composed is full of nutrients that plants love.
MASS PLANTING: when the same plant is planted repeatedly in a group.
MEDITERRANEAN CLIMATE: cool, wet winters and warm to hot, dry summers. Perth, Adelaide and much of southern Australia have a Mediterranean climate.
MICRO-CLIMATE: a part of a garden which is different from the rest – it could be unusually warm or cool. For example, plants in a terrarium often create their own micro-climate.
MULCH: any covering laid on top of soil to keep moisture in or prevent weeds. It can be organic (eg, straw) or inorganic (eg, pebbles) or living (eg, groundcover plants).
NATIVE: a plant that occurs naturally in Australia, such as a gum tree.
NATURALISED: a plant which has settled into a garden so well, it reproduces over time, without any help. This term is often applied to flowering bulbs.
NPK RATIO: on a fertiliser packet, a set of numbers that indicate the relative amounts of Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). For example 16:8:10.
ORGANIC: using only natural products for plant feeding, soil improvement and pest control.
ORGANIC MATTER: anything which was once a living thing, such as compost, manure, mulch, leaf mould, bark, etc.
ORNAMENTAL: a plant that’s grown for its appearance.
PERENNIAL: a plant that lives beyond two years.
PERLITE: Perlite is volcanic glass that’s been put under extreme heat, so that it pops and becomes little balls. Perlite helps with water retention and allows water to drain readily. As such, its often added to potting mixes for plants that don’t like moist soil, such as cactus or succulents.
pH: the unit of soil acidity or alkalinity. pH levels range from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral, below 7 acidic and above 7 alkaline.
POT-BOUND: when a potted plant’s roots are tightly packed in a pot.
PROPAGATION: the method of making new plants from seed or a cutting.
PRUNER: another name for secateurs.
ROOT-BALL: the clump of soil and roots when a plant is dug up.
RHIZOME: an underground stem which acts as a food storage organ. Some plants are propagated via rhizomes, such as iris and canna.
SOIL WETTER: products such as Wettasoil or Saturaid which help soil absorb water.
SOIL CONDITIONER: a compost-like product made from organic materials and made to be dug into soil to improve it.
SOLUBLE FERTILISER: a fertiliser in powder/granule form.
SPENT FLOWERS: flowers that have finished flowering and are dying off.
SUCKER/ SUCKERING: the tendency of a plant to send up new plants from roots which have been disturbed by digging, mowing, edge trimming, etc.
SYSTEMIC INSECTICIDE: a substance which circulates within a plants’ sap system and controls sap-sucking insects, such as mealybug, scale and aphids.
TEASE ROOTS: unfurling tightly wound roots by hand to encourage the roots to spread out into the soil.
TOPDRESS: adding a fine layer of light soil or sand on top of soil, to add organic nutrients.
THIN OUT/THINNING: when plants are crowded, pulling out some plants to make room for the rest to grow to their full size.
VARIEGATED: foliage with more than one colour, for example, Liriope Stripey White which has green and white foliage.
VERMICULITE: The name for a combination of a group of minerals, that appear as lightweight, brownish substance. It’s added to potting mixes to improve soil aeration, nutrition and water retention.
WATER DEEPLY: watering soil to a depth of 10 to 30cm.
WELL-DRAINING SOIL: soils which drains water away quickly. To test, dig a hole, fill it with water; if the water is gone within 10 minutes, it’s well-draining.
WET FEET: when a plant’s roots are in constant contact with water, very commonly caused by keeping pot plants sitting in a saucer of water.