If you are new to gardening and a bit overwhelmed by all the nomenclature, then here are some easy to refer to definitions. These can help you understand different information referring to plants, seeds and soil as you begin your gardening journey.
- Perennial – means a plant that lives over several years, at least two to be exact. These plants include all fruit trees and berries plus vegetables such as asparagus and artichoke. You only need to plant once and provide care and they will either come back year after year.
- Annual – these are plants that complete their life cycle, from seed to seed, within one year. This includes typical vegetable garden plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, etc.
- Biennial – refers to plants that complete their life cycle in two years. The first year is about leaves, stems, growth and then dormancy. The second year. The most common is onions but also beets, carrots, cabbage and cauliflower. Although most are just treated as annuals and harvested the first year.
- Evergreen – refers to plants that maintain their leaves throughout the year. The most common are conifers such as pines and cedar. Also, many tropical plants are actually evergreens such as all citrus trees but most cannot survive many North American winters outdoors.
- Deciduous – trees and shrubs that shed their leaves annually. This includes many fruit trees and shrubs such as blueberries, apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums.
- True leaves – this usually refers to the first leaves after the seed leaves. Once a plant has sprouted there are a small set of leaves out first, the second set is usually the first set of true leaves.
- Cultivar – plants that have been produced from selective breeding. For example, all apple trees are of a certain species but different cultivars refer to the different apples such as granny smith and golden delicious.
- Cover crop – a crop specifically grown for either soil protection or soil erosion control and/or to enrichment the soil such as to add nitrogen.
- Crop rotation – this is usually a multiyear strategy of rotating what plants are grown in a certain area so that different nutrients are depleted/added and to prevent pests and diseases
- Bloom – a flower, which all fruiting plants need to produce
- Full Sun/Partial Shade/Full Shade – full sun means that the planting area will receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Partial shade is 2 to 4 hours of sun. Full shade is less than this. This is helpful when figuring out where certain plants need to be. In general, if for root or fruit, then full sun. If grown for leaves, then shade is ok.
- Native – this refers to plants originate to the area and will include many plants that are usually found in the forests/landscapes that are nearby. This can also be helpful in determining what pollinators to attract.
- Exotic – any plants not native to an area. Almost all normal gardening plants are important and nonnative but some exceptions include paw paw and wild versions of blueberries and blackberries.
- Invasive – a species of plant that is not native but also is destructive.
- Leggy – when growing seedlings, sometimes inside, there may be limited light and the young seedlings will stretch to the light making them weak and leggy.
- Grafted – live transplant of plant parts such as adding a branch of plums to an existing peach tree.
- Scion – the part of a plant grafted onto another
- Frost dates – the USDA Hardiness zones established by the USDA refers to the areas of the country with varying first and last frost dates, generally anytime the air temperature drops below 32.
- Zone – these are the 10 degree areas divided by the USDA based on the frosts.
- Vermicomposting – using red wrigglers to compost and taking the casings to put on the garden.
- Pests – usually any bugs that destroy or hurt a plant that you do not want adversely impacted.
- Pesticide – any substance that is designed to kill bugs, usually indiscriminate that will also impact pollinators such as bees
- Herbicide – any substance designed to destroy plants. The most common and controversial is Roundup.
- Pollinator – these refer to all the lovely bees, wasps, etc. that help your fruiting plants to produce.
- Biodegradable – any substance that can be broken down relatively quickly in the environment
- Companion planting – plants that are friends! Any plant that will do well planted near a different plant. Such as carrots and tomatoes!
- Organic – kind of a difficult term that refers to the set of practices that does not use artificial or manmade herbicides and pesticides to produce food or seeds
- Non-GMO – GMO means “genetically modified organisms” which should not be confused with selective breeding. This refers to in a laboratory using DNA from an organism and inserting it into another that would never occur in nature. Its controversial practice leads many people to avoid seeds that are GMO, hence non-GMO
- Heirloom – these are old varieties of seeds, used prior to the industrial revolution in 1950
- Pelleted – when seeds are covered in an inert material to make them easier to sew and more uniform
- Rhizome – plants that move and propagate through the a series of roots. Commonly this includes ginger and turmeric.
- Transplant – a seedling that was grown indoors and then put outdoors for growing.
- Determinate – plants designed to grow until a certain height. Most common is tomatoes but could also include beans. Indeterminate is plants that do not have cultivated limitations to height.
- F1 – this refers to the first generation of a hybrid, the parents are different and this is first round of plants from these parents.
- Hybrid – includes F1 and any succeeding generation of several generations
- Seed starter – a special soil blend that is designed to help delicate seedlings succeed
- NPK – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. The most common values found on soil tests and in bags of fertilizer. The are macronutrients important to plants.
- Tilling – usually refers to mechanically turning your soil. It has both positive effect in that it loosens tough soil but it also tends to disrupt the ecosystem below and cause nutrients to bury further.
- Soil test – this can be done at an local agriculture extension office for your area. They can test NPK as well as pH and other important nutrients such as magnesium.
- Clay-Sand-Silt – these make up the bulk composition of any soil. The more sandy, the more water runs through very quickly. The opposite for clay. Ideal is 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay.
- Compost – this is the decomposition of “browns” such as dried leaves, paper, cardboard and “greens” such as coffee grounds and kitchen scraps. Once completed it is an excellent amendment to soil.
- Organic Matter – this refers to any material that was once living. Which of course excludes all the minerals and other debris in soil.
- pH – is the level of acidity in the soil. Most plants prefer neutral soil around 6.5 to 7.5. If too acidic or basic you will have to add amendments. There are some exceptions like blueberries which prefer acidic soil.
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