Garden Terms


Acidic: Soil or compost with a pH between 0 and 7.0. Sometimes referred to as "sour" soil by gardeners.

Aeration: Loosening compacted soil or compost to allow air to circulate.

Aerobic: Describes organisms living or occurring only when oxygen is present.

Alkaline: Soil with a pH between 7.0 and 14. Sometimes referred to as "sweet" soil by gardeners.

Anaerobic: Describes organisms living or occurring where there is no oxygen.

Annual: A plant that completes its life-cycle within a single growing season.

Beneficial Insect: An insect that eats or lays its eggs in other insects thereby controlling them.

Biennial: A plant that completes its full life-cycle in two growing seasons. It produces leaves in the first and flowers in the second.

Biodegradable: Capable of being broken down into simpler compounds by microorganisms. Organic materials are biodegradable.

Biological Pest Control: Using living organisms such as beneficial insects or parasites to destroy garden pests.

Bio-Solids: The nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage sludge. Often found in commercial compost and may contain concentrations of heavy metals.

Bolting: Producing flowers and seeds prematurely.

Chelation: The formation of bonds between organic compounds and metals, some of which are insoluble, as in humus. Soluble chelates are used in fertilizers to help keep nutrient metals, such as iron, mobile in the soil and thus available to plants rather than locked up in insoluble mineral salts.

Chlorosis: A yellowing or blanching of the leaves due to lack of chlorophyll, nutrient deficiencies or disease.

Cold Frame: An unheated structure, usually made of wood and covered with glass or plastic. Cold frames are used to protect plants from frost and are helpful season extenders.

Companion Planting: The sowing of seeds in the garden in such a way that plants help each other grow instead of competing against each other.

Compost: Completely decayed organic matter used for conditioning soil. It is dark, odorless and rich in nutrients.

Cover Crop: Vegetation grown to protect and build the soil during an interval when the area would otherwise lie fallow.

Crop Rotation: The planting of a specific crop in a site different from the previous year.

Cultivar: A plant variety that is cultivated, not wild.

Dead Heading: Cutting off dead or dying flowers to encourage further blooms by preventing the setting of seeds.

Direct Seed: To seed directly in the soil instead of starting in flats.

Double Digging: A method of preparing the soil by digging down two feet then putting the soil from one row into the next row.

Fertilizer: An organic or synthetic material added to the soil or the plant, that is important for its nutrient value.

Foliar Fertilizer: A fertilizer applied in liquid form to a plant's foliage in a fine spray so that the plant can absorb the nutrients through its leaves.

Green Manure: A crop that is grown and then incorporated into the soil to increase soil fertility or organic matter content. Usually turned over into the soil a few weeks before new planting begins.

Hardening Off: The process of acclimatizing plants grown under protection, in the greenhouse for example, to cooler conditions outdoors.

Heavy Soil: A soil that contains a high proportion of clay and is poorly drained.

Humus: A dark, loamy organic material resulting from the decay of plants and animal refuse. Healthy soil will consist of about 3.5-5% of this soft, sweet-smelling and crumbly organic matter.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): An effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.

Loam: Fertile soil, usually easy to work, with equal proportions of silt, sand and clay and with a high proportion of humus.

Micro-nutrients: Mineral elements which are needed by some plants in very small quantities. If the plants you are growing require specific 'trace elements' and they are not available in the soil, they must be added.

Mulch: Any organic material, such as wood chips, grass clippings, compost, straw, or leaves that is spread over the soil surface (around plants) to hold in moisture and help control weeds.

No-Till Gardening: A type of garden that calls for no cultivation of the soil after the initial tilling. Instead, regular mulches are added and plants are planted through the mulch. This saves on labor and eliminates weeds which might germinate as a result of tilling.

N-P-K: An abbreviation for the three main nutrients that have been identified as absolutely necessary for plants are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). These three are also known as "macronutrients," and are the source of the three numbers commonly found on organic fertilizer labels.

Open Pollination: Refers to seeds produced from plants which are allowed to pollinate primarily through insects, birds, wind, or other natural mechanisms. The seeds of open-pollinated plants will produce new generations of those plants. This is in contrast with hybrid plants, which are artificially cross-bred varieties that do not produce reliable seed.

Organic: Refers to something derived from living organisms and is made up of carbon-based compounds. It is also a general term used for a type of gardening using no chemical or synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

Organic Gardening: A method of gardening that is based on building a healthy, living soil through composting and using supplemental nutrients from naturally occurring rock, mineral, or ocean deposits. The basic principle is to feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants. Healthy plants are better able to resist pests and disease. If control is needed, cultural and mechanical methods are used first. A selection of acceptable naturally derived pesticides are used only as a last resort.

Perennial: A plant that grows and flowers for many years. Some are evergreens; others may die back to the ground but will grow back again the following season.

pH: A scale from 0-14 which expresses the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the water or soil. A pH of 7 is neutral (below 7 is acidic - above 7 is alkaline). Soil pH is important because it affects the availability of nutrients to plants and the activity of microorganisms in the soil.

Rhizome: A horizontal, fleshy underground stem or runner. Creeping grasses spread by rhizomes or stolons.

Season Extender: Techniques and equipment used to extend the growing season in both spring and fall. Examples include greenhouses, cold frames, hotbeds, row covers, and products such as Wall O' Waters.

Soil Amendment: Any material added to a soil to improve its physical properties, such as water retention, permeability, water infiltration, drainage, aeration and structure. They contain mostly organic matter or very slow release minerals and are often worked into the top 6 inches of the soil.

Soil Test: A measurement of major nutrient (phosphorous, potassium, and nitrogen) and pH levels in the soil.

Tilth: Often used to describe the general health of the soil including a balance of nutrients, water, and air. Soil that has good physical qualities is said to be in good tilth.

Topdressing: The application of fertilizers or soil amendments after seeding or transplanting or after the crop has been established.

Transplanting: Shifting of a plant from one soil or growth medium to another.

Vermicomposting: Using redworms to convert food scraps and other organic materials into rich, dark worm castings.

Worm Casting: The rich digested organic waste that redworms leave behind. Gardeners know them to be the most nutrient dense organic compost available.

Xeriscaping: Creating a low maintenance landscape with native plants and reduced areas of turfgrass. A primary goal of xeriscaping is reducing landscape water consumption.

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