53 Common Gardening Terms and Their Explanations

vegetable garden

As a gardener, you’re bound to come across some terms you don’t recognize, whether in reading books, checking out gardening sites, or talking with friends who garden. So we’ve collected this list of common gardening terms along with their explanations to keep you in the know.

  • Acidity: Soil’s pH balance is measured to tell whether it is acidic (below 7), neutral (7) or alkaline (above 7). Most plants perform best in slightly acidic soil that has a pH level between 6 and 6.5. Want more details? Read our article on How to Test pH In Your Soil.
  • Aerobic: Describes the presence of organisms that rely on oxygen to survive. Usually used to describe organisms in compost.
  • Alkalinity: A pH level that is higher than 7 (alkaline). Readings lower than 7 are acidic.
  • Anaerobic: Describes the presence of organisms that indicate there is no oxygen in the environment (usually used to describe a compost heap).
  • Amending Soil: Adding various materials to the soil to improve its nutrition or texture. To learn more, check out our article Organic Soil Amendment 101.
  • Biennials: Plants whose life cycle takes place in two years. The first year consists mostly of foliage, while in the second year they flower or produce fruit. See annual, perennial. 
  • Bolting: In vegetables, producing flowers and going to seed too soon, making the fruit less tasty.
  • Chlorosis: A condition where the foliage of a plant becomes yellow due to nutritional deficiencies, too much water, not enough chlorophyll, or disease.
garden coldframe
  • Cold Frame: A four-sided frame with a clear top that is placed on the ground. Functions like a miniature greenhouse to grow young plants or protect an edible crop. Find out how to build one in our article How to Build a Hot Bed Or Cold Frame.
  • Companion Planting: The practice of choosing where to place plants depending on what type of plant their neighbors, or companions, will be. Group together plants that help one another and avoid placing plants that will be detrimental near one another. For example, you might grow a plant known for attracting butterflies and bees next to one that needs pollination. Get the details in our article Companion Planting Guide: Fruits and Vegetables That Grow Well Together.
  • Deadheading: Trimming flowers off a plant when their bloom has faded. Deadheading promotes more blossoming and a longer blooming period.
  • Dioecious: Plants capable of producing either male or female flowers.
  • Direct Sow: Planting seeds in the location where they will grow permanently (in their final container or directly into the soil).
  • Dormancy: A plant’s resting period when there is no new growth. Leaves may drop from the plant, which will stop producing flowers and fruit. Most plants that go dormant do so in the winter. Get more information in our article Dormant Plants: Your Top Questions and Answers.
  • Dwarf: A plant that matures to a shorter height than usual for its species. There is no one guideline as to maximum height for dwarf plants.
  • Etiolation: Weak, pale, “leggy,” or tall growth caused by insufficient sunlight.
  • Everblooming: Flowers that bloom all season.
  • Evergreen: Evergreen plants do not drop their foliage, instead maintaining their leaves all year long.
  • F1 Hybrid: The first generation offspring of two purebred plants.
  • F2 Hybrid: A second generation hybrid, or the offspring of two F1 hybrid plants.
parsley frost cold hardy
  • Frost Hardy: Used to describe plants that can survive a winter frost without sustaining damage to leaves, dormant stems, or roots. As the severity of winter frosts varies by region, so does the use of this term.
  • Frost Tender: Plants that cannot survive a winter frost.
  • Full Sun: Six to eight hours of direct sunlight.
  • Growing Season: The growing season extends from the last spring frost to the first frost in autumn. The number of days in the growing season differs by region.
  • Half Hardy: Indoor plants that need a minimum temperature between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 55 degrees Fahrenheit to perform well.
hardening off cucumber seedling
  • Hardening Off: Getting plants grown indoors or in a greenhouse used to outdoor conditions by gradually exposing them to longer and longer periods of time outdoors. After hardening off is done, you can situate the plants directly in their permanent locations in the soil. Learn how to do it yourself in our article How and Why to Harden Off Seedlings Before Moving Outdoors.
  • Hardy: A plant that can stand being exposed to temperatures at or below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Heirloom: Any open pollinated variety of plant that has remained the same for 50 or more years.
  • Hill Up: Pulling the soil up around the stem of a plant to support it; creates small hills around each plant.
  • Humus: Dark organic material made of plant debris that has decomposed in the soil.
  • Hybrid: Crossing two genetically different plants from the same family. Parent plants may be from different genera, cultivars, species, or varieties as long as they come from the same family.
  • Indeterminate: “Vine” tomatoes that will continue producing from their first harvest until the first frost of the season. Sometimes called “pole” tomatoes since some of the larger plants require supports to grow healthy and strong. Learn more in our article Determinate (Bush) Vs. Indeterminate (Vine) Tomatoes, Explained.
  • Loam: Fertile soil made up of a balanced mixture of clay, silt, and sand.
  • Ornamental: Plants grown for their looks instead of as a source of food or medicine.
  • Part Sun/Part Shade: 3 to 6 daily hours of sunshine.
perennial flower
  • pH: A score between 0 and 14 measuring the acidity (0 to 7), neutrality (7) or alkalinity (higher than 7). Want more details? Read our article on How to Test pH In Your Soil.
  • Self-Pollinating: Describes plants that can produce fruit without getting pollen from other plants.
  • Side Dressing: Working fertilizer into the soil near a mature plant.
  • Silt: A component of soil; medium mineral pieces that are smaller than particles of sand and larger than particles of clay.
  • Tender: An indoor plant that needs a minimum temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit to stay healthy.
  • Tilth: Soil “in good tilth” is healthy with a good balance of nutrients, moisture level, aeration, and pH level.
  • Vermiculite: Also called mica, vermiculite is a light, spongy substance made by superheating materials until they expand; capable of holding both air and water. Find out more in our article Perlite Versus Vermiculite, Fully Explained.
  • Vernalization: Similar to stratification but causes flowering of a plant instead of germination of a seed, vernalization exposes the plant to cold temperatures to replicate winter and induce flowering.

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