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Garden Jargon


If a gardener says he or she is going to "dead-head" this weekend or talks about "potting up," what exactly is going on?

Gardeners have their own vocabulary, words that may not even be in the dictionary. Some are familiar but have other meanings unique to the world of growing things. Here are a few:

allee n: French. swath of lawn, path or road with overhanging trees on each side. A classy way to focus attention in grand gardens.

amendment n: any material added to a soil to make it better, usually an organic material or mix of materials, like ground bark and peat moss, that physically improves a soil. Gypsum is an example of an amendment that chemically improves soils. Some have nutrient value, but should not be confused with fertilizer.

annual n: plant that lives for only one season, propagating by setting seed.

bed n: area in a garden where certain plants are grown (a bed of annuals) and that typically requires more than ordinary work, so unlike the piece of furniture designed for repose.

bedding out v: to set out bedding plants.

bedding plant n: any plant sold by nurseries that is meant to be planted in quantity for only one season. Usually refers to annuals but may include perennials that are grown for only a season and then taken out.

bolt v: when a plant stops making leaves and suddenly sends up a seed stalk, as when lettuce bolts and turns bitter.

border n: any long bed, usually a perennial border, the classic English contrivance in which perennials are massed together in tiers.

botanical name n: the proper Latin scientific name, italicized in text. Because many plants share common names, botanical names are more accurate for identification.

broadcast v: to scatter seed.

bud union n: the bulge at the base of roses and deciduous fruit trees, where a bud from one variety is grafted onto the rootstock of another.

compost n: organic material that is left, or made, to rot, usually in a pile. In England, compost can also be any potting soil or amendment; this confusion is spreading to the U.S., where many organic products are being called composts, although compost usually contains rock dust and other nutrients and is more like a fertilizer than an amendment.

compost v: to make compost.

cross n: a plant with dissimilar parents.

crown n: the base of a plant, where roots meet stem. A critical area very susceptible to water-induced diseases. Many gardeners plant so the crown is a little higher than the surrounding soil so it does not get too wet. It is also a good idea to keep mulches away from the crown.

cultivar n: a selected variety found in a garden (a "cultivated variety") usually propagated by cuttings, so it is identical to its parents. In gardening publications, cultivar names often are printed in single quotation marks: 'Wheeler's Dwarf.'

cutting n: a section of stem (usually several inches of the tip) that is cut off; its lower leaves are removed, and it is partly buried in sand so it will form roots.

cutting back v: removing the dead or unsightly foliage on perennials in winter.

dead-head v: to remove spent flowers from plants to keep them blooming longer. For dead-heading, some gardeners let a thumbnail grow long enough to act as a tiny shear when pressed against a forefinger.

dibble n: a small tool used for transplanting or pricking out seedlings.

disbud v: to remove flower buds from clusters so the remaining flowers grow larger. Gardeners often remove the largest central bud from floribunda roses, so the rest make a larger spray.

divide v: to separate clumps of plants into smaller, plantable pieces. Some perennials require dividing as their centers grow old and die or stop flowering.

double dig v: the preferred way to prepare soil in vegetable beds and perennial borders. To double dig, first remove a row of soil (reserving it for the last row), then loosen and add amendments to the soil underneath. The upper soil from the next row is turned, amended and put in the previous row. The soil underneath is then improved. And so on.

drainage n: refers to the movement of water through a soil. Good drainage means water moves easily downward and the soil does not become soggy, which is fatal to many plants. Adding organic amendments, gypsum or even sand separates soil particles and improves drainage; so does elevating the soil.

drift n: a long irregular planting, as a drift of daffodils.

elevate v: to raise a plant and its soil in a raised bed or on mounded soil so the sensitive crown area is above the general soil level, ensuring that it does not get soggy.

eye n: a not-yet-active and barely visible bud.

fertilize v: 1. to give a plant fertilizer or plant food, by scattering, spraying or otherwise distributing. Used interchangeably with "feed," though some horticulturalists object to the latter because fertilizing is more specific, referring to the fact that you are improving the fertility of the soil, not directly "feeding" the plant. 2. to apply pollen to a flower's pistil, in order to get seed.

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