How to - Gardening Basics

Getting to know your plant lingo

Brush up in the off-season: Understanding the basic terms will bring new meaning to your growing passion


Every hobby seems to have its own jargon, and gardening is no different. Here’s a brief rundown of gardening terms that can leave novices flummoxed.

Plant terms

Biennial: A plant that takes two seasons of growth to produce flowers, go to seed and die. Annuals do this in one season, but biennials just grow leaves the first season, flowering in the second.

Cultivar: A cultivated variety of a strain of plant. The cultivar name is identified as such by the use of single quotation marks, such as ‘Elegans’.

Habit: The form of a plant. For example, “weeping” describes drooping branches; other habits are creeping, spiky or upright, rounded or mounded.

Herbaceous: A plant with soft, rather than woody, stems.

Hybrid: A plant-breeding term describing the crossing of two similar specimens, usually of the same genus, to create vigorous offspring that generally have improved traits compared with those of the parents.

Rhizome: A modified plant stem that grows horizontally beneath, or sometimes at, the soil surface, such as that of the bearded iris

Sucker: A fast-growing shoot that grows from the roots or lower trunk of a shrub or tree (sometimes called water spouts on trees).

Variegated: Leaves marked with more than one colour.

Soil terms

Ericaceous: Plants that require acidic soil to survive, such as rhododendrons, azaleas and heathers. 

Humus: Also called organic matter, the decayed remains of once-living material, usually plant residue such as vegetable scraps or fallen leaves, and animal manures. Improves soil texture, fertility and moisture-holding capacity; compost is a form of humus.

Soil pH: The pH scale measures whether soil is acidic or alkaline and runs from 1 to 14, with neutral being 7. Levels below 7 are rated acidic; those above are alkaline. Plants generally prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of 6 to 6.5.



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