At least a third of modern U.S. households use their gardens to grow food. But whether you want to eat what you reap, or just beautify your home with greenery and flowers, you’ll get more out of your garden if you know the right gardening terms.
Gardening often seems like it should be intuitive. With soil, water, and sunlight, plants grow....right? But all too often, things are more complicated. Different plants need special care and surprising accommodations to thrive.
The answer to your frustrating gardening questions might lie in learning the right gardening terms.
Types of Plants
First, let’s start with the basics. Here are the terms you’ll need to know about the types of plants you can choose for your garden.
Annual plants live and die within one season. That means you can plant, grow, and harvest them, but they’ll die away after that. You’ll need to start from scratch in the next growing season.
Perennial plants, on the other hand, continue growing over the years (unless something happens to kill them). Some appear to “die” during winter, but come back in full force in the spring. You’ll need to care for these plants to keep them thriving, but you won’t need to grow them again from seeds.
The next two gardening terms both have to do with perennials. Woody perennials include bushes, trees, and shrubs. They don’t die back into the ground during winter -- these plants look pretty much the same all year.
Herbaceous is the term for perennials that appear to “die” in the winter, staying underground until the weather warms again.
Finally, biennial plants have life cycles that span two years. These plants won’t produce flowers until the second year, after which they die (having produced seeds).
Certain types of plants, including many flowers and some vegetables, grow from bulbs. You’ll plant the bulb in soil to grow the plant. However, the right time to plant a bulb depends on the type of plant it is.
Bulbs actually come from seeds. But when you buy bulbs, you save yourself the time and effort required to grow a plant from seeds. These types of plants are usually perennials.
Plants or seeds that are open-pollinated use natural pollination methods. For example, they might rely on bees, birds, or even the wind for pollination.
Open pollination means less control over which plants pollinate which, resulting in the most natural degree of variation between plants.
Hybrid plants happen when people intentionally cross-pollinate two types of plants, so the resulting plant has characteristics of both. Although cross-pollination can happen between species naturally, these hybrids happen due to human intervention.
Hybrids take years to make, since getting the traits properly balanced takes time. These plants usually have the uniform, dependable traits you see in vegetables bought at the grocery store.
To be defined as an heirloom, a plant type usually has to be 50 years old or more. These seeds are carefully selected and passed down year after year to preserve distinctive traits.
Heirloom plants are always open-pollinated. This keeps the natural variety of characteristics in that plant type going year after year. The plants aren’t perfectly consistent.
For example, heirloom vegetables show much more variety than those you buy at the grocery store. These plants also show more variation in the timing of the harvest.
Where to Grow Plants
Now, let’s take a look at the gardening terms for some of the places you might grow your plants.
A hydroponic garden is grown in a liquid medium made of water and nutrients. There are actually several different types of hydroponic gardening.
However, they all share one similarity: using water instead of soil.
Greenhouses are great for growing plants that thrive with lots of heat and light. These structures use transparent materials, like glass and plastic.
That traps the heat from the sun, creating a warm, controlled environment.
Greenhouses also make it possible to grow plants in areas that would normally be too cool for them.
If you elevate your planting beds to sit above the ground, you can help plants thrive without flooding. That works well if your soil normally stays too damp, or is likely to flood.
A container garden takes the concept of raised beds a step further. In this type of garden, you’ll plant all your plants in containers, not in the ground. These can include pots of all sizes, as well as any other type of container that plants can grow in.
Kitchen gardens include herbs, vegetables, and any other edible plants. Traditionally, the practical kitchen garden was grown separately from ornamental gardens.
No garden can grow without the right tools. To keep your plants thriving, stock up on some of the things listed in these gardening terms.
Mulch actually refers to a whole class of gardening terms. Basically, mulch is anything you spread around your plants to help them grow better. It helps keep moisture in the soil, so you won’t need to water your plants as often.
Mulch can include everything from compost to gravel: the right kind will depend on what you’re growing and where.
Fertilizer helps provide plants with the essential nutrients they need. Potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen are what you’ll find in most fertlizers, since they’re the most important for healthy plants. When plants can’t find the right nutrients in soil, they can’t grow.
But with fertilizer, you can transform just about any soil type into one where plants can thrive.
Most packaged fertilizers come labeled with a percentage breakdown of the three macronutrients inside. Different plants do better with a different percentage of each nutrient.
A trowel helps you dig in the dirt to plant bulbs and otherwise maintain your garden. You can find many different styles to meet your needs and preferences. Most people find wooden-handled trowels more comfortable than plastic ones, though.
Netting helps protect your garden from predators like birds and deer. Make sure to pick netting with the right size of hole so animals stay out, rather than sneaking in and getting trapped.
These gloves can protect your hands from dry skin, splinters, and more. It may be tempting to work without gloves, but it's much better to garden with them and avoid damaging your hands.
If you need to work in the cold, wet ground in the spring and fall, they’ll also keep your hands warm. Gardening gloves use thick materials like leather or rubber to repel water and protect you.
They're not just for football players and rollerskaters!
Gardening often involves working while kneeling. A pair of reliable knee pads can help you stay comfortable, so you can put in more hours in the garden.
Now, let’s delve into perhaps the most important list of gardening terms: the ones that tell you which techniques can help you grow successfully.
Tired of watering your lawn, but not ready to commit to a full high-maintenance garden? Xeriscaping might be right for you.
This technique involves saving water by planting native plants that resist drought well. It also involves arranging those plants so they maximize water conservation in your garden.
Xeriscaping is both easier and more environmentally friendly than a lawn, and requires less maintenance than most gardens. You can make a xeriscaped garden beautiful by choosing a mix of plants -- it doesn’t have to be all rocks and succulents.
Certain kinds of gardens (as well as lawns) need aeration. This means using a fork-like tool to put little holes in the soil, so it doesn’t get too compacted. That way, plants can reach more water and get the oxygen they need.
If you love DIY gardening, you might like vermicomposting. This means using earthworms to compost organic material, such as scraps from your kitchen. Then, you can use the results to fertilize your plants.
There are actually more gardening terms related to earthworms, too. “Worm casting” is the word for the organic waste produced by worms. Although it might sound gross, it’s actually one of the best types of compost for providing your plants with nutrients.
If you struggle to keep insects from destroying your plants, companion planting could hold the answer. In this technique, you’ll plant the type of plants that attract insects to eat the other, destructive insects. It’s a natural way to keep your garden healthy and pest-free.
Some of the best gardening terms aren’t just interesting: they’ll also save you time and money. Did you know that you can regrow many plants from the ones you already have? To do so, you’ll need to take cuttings.
With cuttings, you remove part of a parent plant, and regrow it as a new plant. The right technique will depend on the type of plant.
But overall, cuttings are a great way to expand your collection of plants without buying new ones or starting them from seeds.
When you “dead-head” a plant, you also remove part of it. But unlike cuttings, these pieces won’t grow back into new plants.
You’ll instead remove parts of the plant that are already dead (or dying).
That way, the plant won’t divert any more resources to the dead parts, so the living parts can stay healthier with more water and nutrients.
Direct seeding refers to planting seeds directly outside in the garden, as opposed to starting them indoors as seedlings.
If you have seedlings or other indoor plants that you want to transition to outside, you’ll need to harden them off first. This term refers to getting indoor plants used to the harsh conditions of outside.
To harden off a plant, leave it outside for a little bit each day, gradually increasing the time spent outside. Each night, bring it in, for about a week. After this period of increasing time outside, the plant should be ready to brave the elements in your garden.
We love gardening terms that encompass both the pretty and practical. Under-planting is one of those. In this technique, you’ll plant small plants under larger ones.
The small plants below get protected by the big ones, and your garden takes on a lush, beautiful, layered look. Just make sure the smaller plants can thrive with less sunlight.
If you notice that your plant is growing too high, you can pinch back the ends of new stems. This helps get your plant to grow more to the sides for a fuller look.
Using These Gardening Terms
These simple gardening terms will help you understand more of the gardening process, and what your options are. But as you keep learning and growing more plants, you’ll also become familiar with many new gardening terms along the way.
Gardening is more than just a chance to play in the dirt and reap what you sow: it’s also a great learning opportunity. We hope this list of terms will get you started on a long path of learning new things in your garden!
Have some interesting gardening terms you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!