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Garden Jargon


When first starting to garden, some phrases and horticultural terms can be a little confusing, so I thought I would try to compile a list of some of the more common gardening terms to help you on your gardening journey in 2022.


I’ve listed them in alphabetical order so that you can refer back to them with ease. Hopefully these will you to help you understand a little more about the language used when gardening or to refer to when you are getting stuck into all those wonderful gardening books. Which reminds me don’t forget to check out our bookshelf recommendations for some reading inspiration.


Acclimatisation

This is when plants adjust to cooler conditions. Often used in spring before planting out the plants you have been growing indoors. May also be referred to as hardening off.


Acid soil

Soil that has a pH level lower than 7. Some plants, such as blueberries and some rhododendrons, require acid soil to thrive.


Aerate

This is the loosening of compact soil to allow air, water and nutrients in, usually used when discussing lawns. It helps to keep your lawn looking healthy. It can be achieved with a garden fork but there are many aeration products on the market to help you with this task depending on how big your lawn is.


Aerobic

Is the presence of oxygen in your soil, commonly used to describe organic matter that breaks down with oxygen.


Alkaline soil

The opposite of previously mentioned acid soil, this refers to soil that has a pH of 7 or more. Plants that enjoy an alkaline soil are lavender, honeysuckle and veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot and many more.


Anaerobic

The opposite of previously mentioned aerobic and is used to describe organic matter that breaks down without oxygen. If you find that your homemade compost begins to smell this means that it has become too compact to decomposed properly and therefore anaerobic and lacking in oxygen (one of the many reasons why you should turn your compost often).


Annual

Plants that will flower and set seed in one year, therefore complete its lifecycle.


Aphid

I’m sure many of you gardeners are familiar with these already but just in case. These are small sap sucking insects also referred to as greenfly and blackfly. They can damage plants if not dealt with swiftly as they multiply quickly. However there are natural predators that can help you out with this type of invasion, house sparrows feed them to their chicks and they are a great source of nourishment for lacewing larvae and ladybird larvae.


Bare-root

You will find that this is mostly used when referring to trees, shrubs and roses and quite often you might purchase wallflowers bare-root. This just refers to the fact that they are dug out of the ground in autumn or winter (when they are ‘dormant’), with no soil around the roots and sold this way instead of being in a pot.


Beneficial insect

This refers to some insects that control other more invasive and destructive insects in your garden, so you don’t need to. Bees, ladybirds, hoverflies and wasps fall under this category as well as other pollinators.


Biennial

This refers to a plant that flowers and sets seed in its second year, a good example of this are foxgloves and honesty.


Biological control

Often used in organic gardening instead of nasty sprays. This is the use of living organisms to control other more invasive garden guests. A good example are nematodes to control slugs. I’m a keen advocate of biological control both in the garden and on our houseplants.


Blanching

Used mainly when referring to rhubarb, celery or chicory which involves blocking the light to make leaves and stems more tender.


Blossom end rot

This is a dark rotten spot at the blossom end (the bottom) of your fruit and vegetables. It’s caused by a lack of calcium and is often a result of irregular watering. It occurs mainly in tomatoes, aubergines and peppers.


Bolting

This is most common in vegetables such as beetroot, salad and even radish but can happen to all crops and is often caused by stress. This could be due to fluctuation in temperature, draught or even flooding. It’s when the plant flowers and sets seed before producing you with a crop to enjoy.


Broadcast

This is a technique of sowing seed where you scatter it over the ground rather than sow in rows.


Brown rot

A fungal disease that affects fruit, particularly plums, apples, pears and cherries, even some ornamental trees.


Catch-crop

This is one of my favourites and so easy to adopt in your garden. It’s a crop that’s sown in a gap between other crops that have yet to fill the space. Often spring onions, radish, salad leaves, seeds that are quick to germinate and establish, so you can harvest them before the main crop shades them out.


Chitting

Refers to placing seed potatoes in a light and frost-free spot, to encourage root development prior to planting them out. This is said to improve the yield of the potato crop.


Cloche

A cover to protect plants from cold and unwanted garden guests. Comes in many materials depending on what you are protecting the plants from, if it’s cold, then you would use either horticultural fleece, glass bell jar cloches and if it’s unwanted guests you would use netting, preferably natural hessian or jute.


Club root

Is a soil borne disease that is specific to the brassica family, cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli etc. This causes distorted growth which appears in the form of stunting, wilting, yellowing and the roots to become swollen. It reduces the yield and in some cases produces no yield at all.


Cold frame

An unheated outdoor frame, like a mini greenhouse, in which young or tender plants are placed to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions. I quite often will use my cold frames to germinate seeds that don’t require heat to germinate. If you don’t have a large enough garden for a green house these are the next best thing.


Companion planting

This is a technique I want to use more of in my garden this year. This applies to vegetables, herbs and flowers that are planted together for various reasons. Whether it is to save space, attract pollinating insects or to deter unwanted insects. A good example is to grow onions with carrots to deter carrot fly, sow sweet peas with runner beans to attract bees, and sweet corn with squash and runner beans (known as the 3 sisters) to save space.


Cotyledon

The first leaves that emerge from the seed after it has germinated.


Cover crop

These are more commonly known as green manures and are widely used in agriculture to protect the soil from erosion rather than leaving it fallow until the next sowing season. Another benefit to cover crops is that some will add additional nutrients back into your soil. Mostly used during the winter months to protect your soil.


Crop rotation

This means to rotate what you sow in your beds each year and never sowing the same vegetables in the same place year after year. In adopting crop rotation you help to prevent soil borne diseases and damage caused by unwanted insects.


Deadheading

This is one task that both me and Mr Good Roots Barn enjoys. Deadheading is the removal of faded or dead flowers. Of course this only applies if you are not intending to collect seed from that plant, if you are collecting seed then don’t deadhead as the seed pods follow the fading flower heads.


Dicotyledon

Also know as dicots. Used to describe the first (embryonic or immature) leaves that emerge from the seed after it has germinated, however dicotyledons are seeds containing two embryonic leaves.


Drill

A sowing technique where a furrow (long narrow trench) is made into which you sow your seed. Also referred to as rows.


Earlies

Mostly used to describe a crop of potatoes (sometimes peas), which is harvested earlier than the main crop. May also be referred to as first earlies.


Earth up

This refers to drawing soil around the roots of a plant, to improve the yield. Often used when growing potatoes to block light and prevent greening of the tubers.


Fertile

Refers to healthy soil, which is rich in nutrients and humus. Perfect for growing.


Fertiliser

Organic material which is added to soil to improve its fertility. This is used to describe the liquid feed such as comfrey or worm tea as well as leaf mould and compost. These directly provide plants with the nutrients they need to thrive.


Fleece

Previously mentioned under cloche, horticultural fleece is used to protect plants from frost or in some cases as a barrier against unwanted insects, such as carrot fly, which incidentally can’t fly but actually jump up to 60cm, so a protection of fleece around the edge of your bed higher than 60cm can help to deter them.


Foliar feeding

Applying liquid fertilisers to the leaves of plants, rather than the roots. This can be beneficial if you are struggling to give your plants adequate nutrients via soil fertilisers and tends to benefit the plants a lot quicker than a soil fertiliser.


Forcing

Similar to the technique of blanching as previously mentioned. Forcing is to block light to encourage a plant to grow earlier than it should, often to produce sweeter-tasting stems. Mostly referred to with rhubarb.


Frost hardy

Plants capable of surviving freezing temperatures. Some examples are most brassicas, carrots, parsnips, some spinach varieties, turnips, leeks just to name a few.


Frost tender

Plants likely to be damaged or killed by freezing temperatures. Examples of these include some leafy salads, basil, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, chillies etc


Full shade

No sunlight at all. Often beneath dense tree canopies or at a north-facing wall of a house.


Full sun

Six hours or more of direct sunlight, most usually in south-facing gardens.


Germinate / Germination

When seeds begin to grow leaves and roots. Always my favourite start to any gardening adventure.


Grafting

Grafting is a technique used to join one plant (scion) into or on a stem of another (stock) in such a way that a union is formed and they continue to grow. Most common in trees.


Green manure

Referred to previously in cover crops, green manure is a plant-based manure, usually a crop grown specifically for digging back into the soil before it flowers, to add nutrients. Comfrey, red clover and phacelia are commonly used green manures.


Ground cover

Used to describe low-growing plants which spread across the soil and can be grown beneath a tree or near a path. Often used in challenging areas where little else grows or a windy spot in the garden.


Growing habit

Refers to the way a plant grows and takes shape.


Half hardy

Plants unable to survive the winter temperatures without protection. Usually can only withstand temperatures down to 0 degrees celsius, below this and they will suffer and mostly likely die.


Harden off

The acclimatisation of seedlings that started out life indoors or in the greenhouse, moving them to outside conditions before planting in the soil.


Hardy

Plants that can survive winter temperatures without protection.


Herbicide

Used to describe an artificial chemical used to kill weeds. Even though we garden here at Good Roots Barn organically and we would encourage you to do the same, I’ve included it because I think it’s an important word to know and avoid as a gardener. I’d go as far as to say anything with ‘cide’ in the title should be avoided, there’s always a natural alternative.


Honeydew

Is a sap-like liquid excreted by aphids which leaves your plant leaves feeling very sticky. It can develop sooty mould and slow down the productivity of your plant. It is also consumed by ants, who ‘farm’ the aphids to encourage them to produce more, so watch out for this.


Humus

Is organic matter in the soil, often the result of decayed leaves, manure and compost, much of which as been eaten and recycled by worms.


Intercropping

Similar to previously mentioned catch crop except this is growing small crops in the spaces between larger, slow-growing plants. Often they benefit from the shade created by the larger crop, so there is no rush to harvest them and they grow alongside each other perfectly.


Irrigation

The process of watering plants, usually employing a system of some kind, such as a sprinkler or a drop-irrigation system.


Lasagna Planting

Involves planting layers of bulbs in pots, just like making lasagne. The latest-flowering bulbs are planted at the bottom of the pot, with layers of earlier-flowering bulbs above them. The result is a pot crammed with wave after wave of spring flowers, giving you colour right through spring.


Leaching

The loss of nutrients from the soil, usually where no plant roots are present, in heavy rain. Another good reason to try green manures or cover crops.


Leafmould

One of my favourites things to make in the garden and it’s created by gathering fallen leaves and letting them rot down. It can be used as a mulch and added to potting mixes. And no garden should be without it.


Legume

Refers to members of the pea family, for example beans, peas, sweet peas.


Maincrop

Is commonly used for potatoes and other crops, such as peas, that crop in the middle of the season. Your main crop is harvestable after your earlies and second earlies.


Manure

Usually animal droppings which are rotted down and used to fertilise the soil. Most common animal manures include horse and chicken. But green manures are also becoming more and more popular without any of the concerns over whether even composted manure still retains hormones, antibiotics, viable weed seeds, pesticides and diseases due to commercial farming practises. So always makes sure you know where your manure has come from.


Micronutrients

Used to describe trace elements and nutrients in the soil, which plants need in small quantities. They include calcium, sulphur and magnesium.


Micro-organisms

Organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye, often found in the soil, which help keep the soil healthy and aid in producing healthy rich compost.


Mildew

This is a fungal infection of leaves, it is actually a generic word for certain kinds of mould or fungus, sometimes referred to as Powery Mildew or Downy Mildew. Often brought on by wet humid weather.


Monocotyledon

Monocotyledons are seeds containing only one embryonic (or immature) leaf. These include grasses, orchids and members of the onion family, such as leeks and onions.


Mulch

Is a thick layer of compost, manure, or leaf mould, which is placed on the surface of the soil. It has many benefits, helps to feed the soil, prevent weeds and conserve moisture. Bark chippings and stones are also used but perhaps with little benefit to helping to feed the soil.


No dig

This is a relatively new term in horticulture but one that I whole heartedly support and practise. It’s a non-cultivated method whereby you protect the soil structure and it’s microorganisms by not digging it over. You simply mulch and allow nature to do the rest.


Organic

Used to describe a method of gardening that does not include any artificial or chemical fertilisers, fungicides or pesticides. Also used to describe non-artificial fertilisers too but be sure to check the labels and if possible make your own organic fertilisers from comfrey or worm tea (ditch the “cides” is my recommendation).


Organic matter

Is composted remains of plants, including leafmould, compost, manure, humus. Valuable to any garden.


Peat free

Commonly referred to when discussing compost that does not include peat. Peat is the surface organic layer of a soil that consists of partially decomposed organic matter, derived mostly from plant material, which has accumulated under conditions of waterlogging, oxygen deficiency, high acidity and nutrient deficiency over many many years. It’s an incredible material when added to compost however it’s completely unnecessary for any gardener to use it. The harvesting of peat is incredible destructive and harmful to the environment. If you are not making your own compost then be sure to check that the compost you are buying from your local garden centre is peat free.


Perennial

Plants that live for more than two years.


Permaculture

The development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. It’s a design philosophy that focuses on designing human systems based on natural ecosystems. It is based on the notion that we often take for granted where our food comes from, along with our water sources and building materials. Permaculture really boils down to meeting our goals while using less energy. Possibly pre-dates the new buzz word sustainable.


Pesticide

Again not something we use here at Good Roots Barn but a word I think you should be familiar with. This is an artificial chemical used to kill unwanted insects, but in fact most (if not all) don’t differentiate the beneficial insects such as pollinators and the unwanted insects such as aphids for example, so inevitably you end up killing your entire eco system (birds included, since they don’t know you’ve been spraying the insects until they’ve consumed them and begin feeling sick themselves). You should also note that it’s sometimes used to describe organic solutions too.


Pinching out

Is the process of using your thumb and forefinger to remove the growing tips or sideshoots of plants. Most commonly used to either encourage more sideshoots resulting in a bushier plant or removing side shoots from tomatoes for example so that the plant puts its energy into growing fruit.


Planting out

Transplanting seedlings developed in the greenhouse or indoors, to the garden. A very satisfying job but don’t forget the crucial step of hardening off or acclimatisation.


Pollination

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from an anther of a plant to the stigma of another plant, later enabling fertilisation and the production of seeds, an essential part of the plants reproductive cycle. Most often by an animal or by wind.


Pollinator

Animals that fertilise flowers as they visit them, typically bees, moths, butterflies, birds and bats.


Potting on

Planting young plants into a new container for mature growth. One of my favourite jobs in the garden along with pricking out.

Pricking out

For someone that sows from seed this is a most satisfying job. Moving tiny seedlings from pots or trays into new pots, to give them more room to grow and develop. Usually done when their first true leaves appear.


Propagator

A pot or tray, usually with a lid, which is used to germinate seeds. These can also be heated for those seeds that require heat to germinate, such as chillies and peppers.


Propagation

Is a broad term used to describe techniques used to grow plants, usually from seed, cuttings or division.


Pruning

Is a horticultural, arboricultural and silvicultural practice involving the selective removal of certain parts of a plant, such as branches, buds, or roots.


Red spider mite

Is a tiny, sap-sucking spider-like insect that spins webs on plants, often found in the greenhouse since they like the conditions.


Root ball

Describes the root system and surrounding soil or compost of a plant.


Root-bound

Used to describe a plant that has outgrown its pot.


Root crop

Is a vegetable, such as a carrot, parsnip, beetroot or radish where the roots are harvested to eat.


Root rot

A fungal disease that affects the roots of plants, causing them to wither and die. It is primarily caused by poor drainage of damp soil, overwatering or a poorly functioning root system.


Second earlies

Is commonly used for potatoes (also peas) that’s harvested in between the earlies and the maincrop.


Self-blanching

Used to describe a plant that doesn’t need earthing up, such as celery.


Soil sieve

One of my favourite tools in the potting shed, it’s a large sieve used to sieve compost for potting mixes.


Slow-release fertiliser

A fertiliser that releases its nutrients over a few weeks, rather than straight away. Often added to commercial compost. However organic fertilisers tend to be slow-release by their very nature.


Sowing

Placing seed on moist soil or compost to germinate.


Staking

Staking a plant means refers to using upright stakes which are driven into the ground and fastening plants to them using twine. The stakes provide strength and support, and they permit plants to continue pushing skyward when they'd otherwise be overcome by rain, high winds, or the weight of their fruit or flowers.


Successional sowing

Sowing seed at intervals (weekly or fortnightly) to ensure a continuous crop, rather than having to harvest everything at the same time.


Tender

A plant likely to be killed or damaged by winter temperatures. Tender plants will not survive temperatures below 5 degrees celsius.


Thinning out

Is the technique of removing seedlings planted too closely together, to allow the remaining seedlings to grow properly.


Tilth

Describes the consistency of the soil you’re planting into. A fine tilth, where crumbs of soil are small, is best for sowing seed.


Top dressing

Applying fertiliser, such as compost, manure, bark or stones as a mulch on the surface of the soil. I often do this with our houseplants to help give them a boost.


Topsoil

This is the soil you plant into. It’s the most nutritious part of the soil, compared to subsoil, which isn’t very nutritious.


Transpiration

The movement of water through a plant.


Transplanting

Removing plants from their pots, either to be potted on into larger pots or into the soil.


True leaves

Used to describe the first leaves that grow after the cotyledon leaves, which are usually different to the cotyledon leaves. And it’s usually at this point that you would be thinking about pricking them out and potting them on into their individual pots to help them grow and develop.


Watering from below

Some potted plants don’t enjoy being watered from the top of the soil and therefore you can use the technique of watering from below or bottom watering (also sometimes called reverse watering) which gives your plant's roots hydration from the bottom up. To achieve this you simply place your potted plant (in a pot with drainage holes) into a saucer or tub of a few inches of water and allow the soil and roots to absorb. This is a great technique for houseplants especially as most houseplants suffer from overwatering.


Waterlogged

Used to describe plants, usually growing in pots, which are completely submerged in water. Either through overwatering and or insufficient drainage.


Wilting

Used to describe plants that have shrunk and collapsed, often due to lack of water, frost or fungal disease.


Yield

Used to describe the size of your harvest, a good yield being a large crop.


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