Ultimate Glossary of Gardening Terms and Phrases

Garden Glossary

Expand your vocabulary or clarify some common gardening terms and phrases with this easy to follow glossary of common terms.

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Often called “sour” soil by gardeners. A soil or compost that has a pH level between 0 and 7.0 (on a scale of 0.0-14.0).

Aeration (lawn):

Also known as spiking. It is the cutting of holes or slits in a lawn with a garden fork or wheeled spiker to improve the drainage and allow air through the soil.

Aeration (pond):

This is the addition of oxygen to the pond to remedy stagnant water and prevent fish from gasping for air at the surface of the pond during the summer months. Add plenty of oxygenating plants to avoid oxygen starvation. Remedies include turning on a fountain, spraying the surface with a hose or stirring the water with a stick.


Description of organisms living in oxygen rich soil.

Air Layering:

Rooting a stem that cannot be pulled to the ground by packing compost or moss around the wounded part of the stem. When roots form the stem is detached and planted. Also see layering, simple layering, tip layering and serpentine layering.


Minute free-floating plants present in pond water that feed on dissolved minerals from decaying plants and soil washed into the pond. They are vital to the life-cycles of many creatures.


Mostly called “sweet” soil by gardeners. Is a soil with a pH between 7.0 and 14 (on a scale of 0.0-14.0).


Small, compact and generally non-invasive perennials, suitable for growing in rock gardens, troughs, scree beds and similar limited spaces.


Describes organisms living or occurring where there is no oxygen.


Plants that complete their life cycle (growth, reproduction, death) in just one season.

Aquatic Plant:

This can mean any water plant, but usually refers to those that grow in deep water, with their roots in the bottom of the pond or special baskets. Water lilies, Nymphaea, are the most popular.


The area between the base of a leaf-stalk and the stem.

Axillary Buds/shoots:

Buds or shoots growing from the axil of the plant.

Basal Cutting:

A strong shoot that is cut in spring just above ground level from border plants such as delphiniums, phlox and Michaelmas daisies.


Plants that have been field-grown and are supplied in a dormant state with no soil.

Beneficial Insect:

Insects that are beneficial to your garden by keeping other insects under control.  They do this by eating other insects or laying its eggs in them.


A plant that produces leaves and then flowers and completes its life in two growing seasons. .


Decompose or break down organic substances through natural fungal or bacterial reaction.

Biological Pest Control:

The process of utilizing beneficial insects or parasites to destroy garden pests to keep them under control.


Covering and excluding daylight from crops such as endives and chicory, which makes their leaves pale, tender and less bitter.


Fibrous algae that look like long strands or filaments. Thick floating mats of the algae can form and need to be removed either by hand or with a rough stick.

Bog Garden:

An area that is often linked to a pond, where marsh and other moisture-loving bog plants can be grown. A punctured buried liner will keep the soil permanently damp, but it will also prevent it from becoming too waterlogged.


Description of plants that prematurely go to seed.

Bone Meal:

Ground fertilizer composed that is made of finely ground white or light gray bone that adds more phosphorus to the soil.

Bottom Heat:
Warmth applied from underneath to stimulate early growth, and to help seeds to germinate or cuttings to root.

Broadcasting Seeds:

To scatter seeds such as annual flowers, salad crops and lawn seed evenly over the soil surface. These are then lightly raked in or covered with a shallow layer of sieved soil.

Bud Union:

Is the point a plant has been grafted on to another rootstock. Usually as a result of using a budding technique, where the bud of one plant is grafted on to another.


A form of grafting that joins a bud, rather than a cutting, to a rootstock. It is often used for roses and fruit trees.


The underground storage organ of the plant, usually perennial and resembling a large bud enclosed in overlapping scales. The term bulb often embraces corms, tubers and other related storage organs. Bulbs are normally planted while dormant, and then produce a flowering plant during the season.

Calcicole Plants:

Lime-loving plants such as many alpines and many vegetables, especially brassicas (cabbage family). Suited to alkaline soil.

Calcifuge plants

Plants that are commonly termed as lime-hating, or ericaceous, such as, camellias and rhododendrons. These plants prefer acidic conditions and too much lime can result in nutrient deficiencies, revealed by chlorosis onset (yellow leaves).

Calcitic Limestone:

Commonly used for “liming” soil that has a high acid level in order to reduce the pH level.


Refers to the stems of strawberry, raspberry or blackberry plants.

Catch Crop:

A quick crop, usually of salads or green manure, grown on ground that is empty for a few weeks.


Soluble chelates are used in fertilizers to help keep metals, such as iron, mobile in the soil. The formation of bonds between organic and metal compounds.


A lack of chlorophyll, a dificiency of nutrients or disease which causes the blanching or yellowing of leaves.


Glass, plastic or horticultural fleece that is put over a plant for protection.

Cold Frame:

Similar to a greenhouse, they are unheated structures covered with plastic often made with metal or wood.

Companion Planting:

The planting of seeds in a particular way in order for them to be beneficial to the other plants around them.


Decayed organic matter used for the conditioning of soil due to its high level of nutrients.


Perennial trees or shrubs that produce insignificant flowers followed by seed-bearing cones. Almost all are evergreen foliage plants, ranging in size from tall giants to miniature rock garden shrubs.


A space-saving plant, such as, pears, apples or tomatos with its growth limited to a long unbranched stem. This can be achieved by removing all the sideshoot. A cordon can be single, double or triple and may be grown vertically or at an angle.


An underground storage organ – strictly a thickened portion of stem with a protective skin, the ‘tunic’. Corms are planted like bulbs, but the original corm dries and shrivels up during the growing season and another new one forms above it.


Pieces of broken clay pots, that are used to cover the holes in the bottom of other pots. The crocks help to stop the holes getting blocked, to improve drainage. Stones or pieces of polystyrene are also used.


The upper part of the roots of a perennial, such as rhubarb, peonies or asparagus.

Cover Crop:

Plants grown to protect and build more nutritious soil instead of leaving it to lie fallow.


A plant that has evolved in cultivation and which is sufficiently different from all others to receive a unique cultivar name. Cultivar names are printed with a capital letter and in single quotation marks, e.g. ‘Alba’ is the cultivar name in Veronica longifolia ‘Alba’. The abbreviation for cultivar is cv. In everyday parlance, cultivars are often called varieties.

Crop Rotation:

The planting of crops in different locations each year.


A method of quicker plant propagation. By using a piece of plant leaf, stem, root or bud from a parent plant. That is placed in a growing medium to develop a new plant.


For digging out lawn weeds with their roots.

Damping Off:

Usually the result of soil borne diseases and over watering, a fungal attack that causes the decay of young seedlings.

Dead Heading:

To prolong bloom or promote re-blooming, or to prevent seeding by the removal of spent flowers or flowerheads for aesthetic purposes.


Deciduous trees and shrubs shed all their leaves in autumn and early winter. Plants lose a lot of water through their leaves, especially in windy weather, and this can be lethal in winter, so deciduous plants protect themselves by dropping their leaves and resting dormant until growth starts again in spring.

Deep Shade:

A plant that requires less than 2 hours of dappled sun per day.


A variety whose stems stop growing once they’ve produced their first truss of flowers. Sideshoots then develop.


To remove buds, either completely to prevent flowering or selectively to increase the size of remaining flowers


Causing a plant to dry up, like insecticidal soap desiccates the victims.

Direct Seed:

Directly seeding the soil outside, insterad of seeding inside first.


A way of multiplying a plant by cutting or pulling a large clump into smaller portions.


At rest, usually used to describe deciduous or herbaceous plants in winter when growth is not active and seeds before they germinate.

Dot Plant:

A tall specimen plant used to add height to and contrast with arrangements of lower-growing plants, especially in summer bedding schemes.

Double Dig:

Preparation of the soil by digging the soil from one row and placing it into the next row.

Dry Set:

This happens in hot, dry conditions when tiny developing fruits stop swelling and drop off.


The point when a germinate seedling appears above the soil.


Referring to plants, such as, rhododendron, camellia, pieris, vaccinium or heather, which all prefer acidic soil. These plants are also known as lime hating or calcifuge plants, so are best grown in lime free soils . If your soil does contain lime, you can still grow them in containers or beds filled with lime free compost.


Refering to strawberry varieties that yield a small crop in early summer, and another crop during late summer and early autumn, which are usually much heavier.


Evergreens keep their leaves all year and continue growing slowly in winter. The leaves are protected from frost by their thick, often waxy skin.
Some of the older leaves are shed through the year. A few plants such as privet are semi-evergreen, normally keeping their leaves except in cold winters. The leaves of young evergreens can be damaged by cold wind, so give them shelter in exposed gardens.

Fairy Ring:

A circle of toadstools produced by several lawn fungi, which gradually spreads outwards in a ring of bare soil and lush grass. Some kinds are difficult to control and may live for centuries, returning year after year. Regular aeration may help.


Synthetic or organic material that is added to the plant or the soil, for its nutrient value.

Floating Plant:

A water plant that floats on the surface of a pond with its roots trailing in the water, such as water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes, and frogbit, Hydrocharis morsus-ranae. Some can’t stand frost whilst others over-winter on the pond floor.

Foliar Fertilizing:

Feeding plants by the apllication of liquid fertilizer directly on the plant leaves.

Frost Date:

The average last frost date that is anticipated for your area.


Synthetic material used to prevent the spread of fungi, which causes serious damage to plants.

Garden Line:

String or cord that is stretched tightly between two canes or spikes, marking a straight line. For example, a garden line is useful to help create a straight seed drill.


The start of growth in seeds, the sprouting, budding or shooting, above the soil of plant life.


Combining two different plants by joining a cutting from a choice plant to a selected rootstock so that, when the union heals, they behave as a single plant.

Green Manure:

Mixed into soil to increase the fertility and organic content.


Applied to annuals, this indicates that a plant is able to cope with temperatures down to 0°C (32°F) but not hard frost.

Half-moon cutter

Used against a board on the ground to recut the edge of a lawn.

Hardening Off:

Ther acclimatization of plants grown indoors under protection to colder conditions outdoors.


This is an indication of a plant’s ability to withstand low temperatures, although it is not an absolute measure and may be affected by factors such as shelter and drainage.

Hardwood Cuttings:

Describes cuttings prepared from the woody mature stems of trees and shrubs, usually in autumn and winter.


A relative description meaning that a plant will normally survive outside in temperatures down to -15°C (5°F) without any special protection from the cold.


Name for the leaves and stems of a potato plant.

Heavy Soil:

A poorly drained soils that has a high clay content.


A fence or boundary formed by closely growing bushes or shrubs, that can be trimmed with hedge trimmers.


Part of the main stem bark removed when a semi-ripe cutting is pulled off – an aid to rooting.


Soft-stemmed, not woody. Usually used to describe perennials that die down and become dormant in winter.

Hollow-tined Aerator:

Removes a slim plug of soil to allow water or a top dressing to reach the roots.

Hover Mower:

Popular rotary lawn mowers that float on a cushion of air.


The amount of moisture in the air.


A complex group of nutrient-storing molecules created decomposition by the conversion of organic matter.


A plant which is the result of fertilisation between two different parents; this can occur naturally or may be the result of deliberate breeding. A hybrid between two plant species has an ‘x’ added to its botanical name.


A variety whose main stem grows and fruits indefinitely. This kind of plant is ideal for training as a cordon.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM):

A ecological strategy of pest control to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides all together by using an array of complementary methods: biological controls, cultural practices, natural predators and parasites, pest-resistant varieties and pesticides.


A fast-growing crop sown between rows of slower maturing plants to make the best use of space. It is a good way to raise seedlings for transplanting later.

Jiffy 7:

This is a compressed peat block enclosed in a fine plastic mesh. When soaked in water it expands and is used for raising young plants from seeds or cuttings. When potting up or planting out, there is no need to remove it.


This is an easy propagation method that forces a shoot to produce roots while it is still attached to the parent plant. Also see simple layering, serpentine layering, tip layering and air layering.


A lawn is a planned space, usually outdoors within a graden, set aside for the cultivation and enjoyment of grass and if you have a larger lawn you may well need a riding lawn mower to keep it from overgrowing.

Lawn Seed:

Grass seeds for growing a lawn. Lawn seed is a mixture of grass species specially blended for a particular purpose such as hard-wearing, shade tolerance or drought resistance. There are many different grasses. Fescues and bents are fine slower growing grasses that like sunny, well-drained soils. Meadowgrass is a robust, bright-green grass that tolerates shade and moisture. Perennial ryegrass is a tough, coarse and inexpensive grass that grows fast and wears well. This is the ideal choice for creating a hard-wearing family lawn.

Light Soil:

Light soils are sandy or silty, with very little clay. They are generally easy to work, warm up quickly in spring, dry out rapidly and benefit from added organic material to help keep them moist and fertile.

Liner (pond):

A flexible, waterproof sheet laid to stop the pond water from soaking into the surrounding soil. It can be made from butyl rubber, which is long-lasting but expensive, or cheaper, less durable PVC or polythene.

Maiden Tree:

A young tree, generally less than 12 months old, that could be trained into a specific form.

Marginal Plant:

A water plant that grows at the edge of the pond or on the bank where its roots can reach shallow water. There are many kinds, including water mint, Mentha aquatica, and flowering rush, Butomus umbellatus.


Mineral elements used by plants. These are trace elements which are sometimes added to the soil in a plan needs a specific mixture.


Organic material that is spread over the soil surface, to help hold in moisture and help control weeds. Typically using leaves, compost, wood chips, grass clippings or straw.

Mulching Mower:

Mulching mowers cut the grass into tiny pieces that can be left on the ground to decompose organically.


This type of gardening calls for no further tilling of the soil, after the initial tilling has been done. Instead mulch is added over time, plus planting is done through the mulch.


Abbreviation for the three key nutrients for plants, that are; nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These are also known as the “macronutrients,”.


This is a young rooted plant produced naturally as an extension of the parent plant that is able to grow separately if removed.


Something is organic if it has been derived from living organisms and is made up of carbon-based compounds.

Organic Gardening:

Gardening that is based on building a healthy, living soil through composting and using supplemental natural nutrients. Naturally derived pesticides are used only as a last resort in this method.

Oxygenating Plants:

Type of water plant that lives almost completely under water, producing oxygen to keep water healthy. Curly water thyme, Lagarosiphon, and parrot’s feather, Myriophyllum aquaticum, are widely available varieties.


A plant that grows and flowers every year.


A scale from 0-14 that measures the degree of acidity or alkalinity of water or soil, which affects the availability of nutrients for plants and the activity of microorganisms living in the soil.

Pinching Out:

This refers to the removal of the growing tips of young plants such as fuchsias. It stimulates the growth of more sideshoots, which in turn encourages the plants to produce more flowers.


This is a small plant grown in a tray with its own separate cell of compost so that root disturbance is kept to a minimum. The smallest are called mini-plugs, while large maxi-plugs are almost ready for hardening off and planting.


The transfer of pollen between flowers, carried usually by the insects, animals and the wind.

Pot On:

When a growing plant is moved into a larger pot for more root space.

Pot Ready:

This is a young, well-established plant. It is sometimes sold bare-rooted but is usually in its own individual paper pot or Jiffy_7. It is ready for you to grow on in a 9-10cm (31/2-4in) pot or you can plant it directly into a hanging basket.

Pot Up:

To transplant a seedling or plant to a pot or similar container.

Preform (pond):

A tough moulded unit, usually made from fibreglass, and available in a variety of formal or irregular shapes. Some can be linked to create a pool with several sections, sometimes joined by a waterfall or cascade.

Pricking Out:

This is the process of separating and transferring recently emerged seedlings from where they were sown to larger pots, trays or an outdoor bed.


The term propagation defines the various methods by which the numbers of a plant are increased. There are several different methods, each of which depends on the plant that you are going to increase. Some of these are simple enough to carry out even by the most inexperienced gardener, while some require skills of a seasoned professional. The two most basic methods used are layering and cutting.


Fleshy underground stem or runner, such as Creeping grass.

Root Cutting:

A short section of tree, shrub or perennial root, usually taken in winter while plants are resting. This method is not suitable for variegated plants, as they turn green from root cuttings.


Underground part of a plant containing the roots.

Rotary Mower:

Rotary mowers have horizontal spinning blades mounted out of sight under a safety hood.

Rose End:

End of a seed potato with the most eyes, which is usually the widest end.


A stem that extends sideways above or just below ground, with new plants and roots produced at intervals along its length.


To scratch out dead grass and moss from a lawn using a spring-tined rake or motorised scarifier.

Season Extender:

Any technique used to extend the growing season in both spring and fall time.

Seed Drill:

A narrow groove for sowing seeds into, made in a prepared seedbed with the corner of a hoe, rake or trowel, or pressed in with a straight cane.


An area for raising seeds that has been weeded, forked over, firmed and leveled, with all stones and lumps of soil removed.


This is a tiny plant that has recently germinated and expanded its seed leaves. Plants are despatched or sold in a tray when large enough for you to prick_out individually.

Semi-ripe Cutting:

A section of this year’s stem taken in late summer while the tip is still soft and the base of the stem is starting to become firm and woody. Suitable plants include heather, laurel and pelargonium.

Serpentine Layering:

Layering a long, flexible stem, often of a climber such as jasmine, burying or pegging it down in several places so that it produces a number of new plants.

Shelf (pond):

A shallow ledge around the edge of a pond, designed to keep baskets of marginal plants at the right depth.


An extra shoot that grows from the base of a leaf stalk on the main stem. It is also known as a lateral.


Cuttings taken from a mature Sweet Potato plant.

Simple Layering:

Bending a stem so that it touches the ground, sometimes after wounding or notching it to encourage rooting at that point.

Softwood Cutting:

A cutting that is prepared from the soft ends of new shoots and usually taken before mid-summer. Many shrubs, climbers, perennials and greenhouse plants are suitable to increase using this simple method. It is also sometimes known as a tip cutting.

Soil Amendment:

This is when material is added to the soil.  Soil amendments are mostly organic matter, or slow release minerals that are worked into soil to improve its properties

Soil Test:

Measurement of the major nutrients and pH levels in soil.

Specimen Plant:

Any well-grown plant placed on its own in a prominent position where it can develop fully and be admired as a solo performer.


Cutting holes or slits in the lawn with a wheeled spiker, hollow-tined fork or an ordinary garden fork to improve drainage and allow air, water and fertiliser to reach the roots more easily.


A technical term, strictly meaning to encourage roots, but generally used for the whole process of taking cuttings.


Spins fertiliser or lawn sand from a reservoir, distributing it evenly across a strip of grass.

Spring-tined Rake:

Used to scratch out moss and dead grass and for gathering up fallen leaves in autumn.


A carefully trained form of tree, shrub or other woody plant with a head of foliage supported on a single bare stem. Half-standards have shorter stems.


The rootstock of dormant plants, such as chrysanthemums, when used for propagation.


This is the layer below the top soil which is usually less fertile and of poorer texture.

Succession (crop):

Repeated sowings of quick-maturing crops, such as radish, to ensure a continuous supply through the season.


An extra stem growing direct from the roots, usually best removed from grafted plants.


A poetic term for an expanse of turf, often used when describing a closely cut lawn.


These plants, often perennials from warmer climes, are sensitive to cold and frost and must be kept above 5°C (41°F).


A layer of dead material that builds up at the base of the grass leaves. It will eventually discourage growth unless it is raked out or scarified.


The general health of the soil including the balance of nutrients, water, and air in it. Soil that is considered to be healthy, with good physical qualities is known as being “in good tilth”.


To remove a number of buds, flowers, seedlings or shoots to improve the growth and quality of those remaining.

Tip Layering:

This involves burying the end of a shoot and it is a method used for blackberries and other brambles.


Applying fertilizers or soil amendment after seeding or once the crop is established.


Moving of a plant from one growth medium to another.


This is the top layer of soil. It is usually the most fertile, being dark in colour and crumbly.


A swollen root that provides stored food for dormant plants. Tubers often possess buds or eyes from which new plants can grow.


Turf can be any expanse of grass, but its more technical meaning is a rectangle piece of grass complete with roots and a layer of soil. Sold mostly in rolls, it is laid on prepared ground where it quickly takes root. It gives an instant effect, but can work out quite an expensive way to make a lawn, when you could use seed which would be more cost effective but takes longer to grow.

Underlining (pond):

The layer of builders’ sand or special matting that is laid directly on to the soil during the building of a pond. It works as a cushion to prevent stones or sharp objects from puncturing the pond liner or shelf.


To add one or more complementary, low-growing plants beneath and around taller plants.


A variety is a plant that has evolved in the wild from a species or subspecies and which is sufficiently distinct to be given its own varietal name after the abbreviation var.


Using red worms to convert food scraps or other organic matter into worm castings.

Water Plants:

Plants that live in water, in ponds or waterlogged areas. Water plants are usually divided into different groups, according to the depth of water they like or what they do.


A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, “a plant in the wrong place”. They can be cut back with a weed trimmer.

Well-drained Soil:

Well-drained soils – typically light soils but also those which are well-cultivated and not waterlogged. Suit most plants because surplus water drains away rapidly, avoiding the risk of disease and providing the aeration needed by most roots.

Wet Soil:

Wet soils, usually heavy or peaty in nature, hold water well and dry out slowly, and are suitable for many marginal or moisture-loving species,

Worm Castings:

They are the digested organic waste of red worms, they are considered to be the most nutrient dense organic compost there is.


This is a way to stimulate rooting by exposing the inner part of a stem.


The primary goal of xeriscaping is to reduce landscape water use, by creating a low maintenance landscape with native plants and small or non existent turf grass.


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