Charlotte’s A to Z of gardening


Gardening has its own large vocabulary, and when you first encounter it, it can feel intimidating, says Charlotte Tomb

Parrot tulips are not a species but a group of cultivars with the name Tulipa Parrot Group – they are the result of natural mutations to single late tulips and triumph tulips caused by the tulip breaking virus.
Images: Charlotte Tombs

Why do most jobs come with their own vocabulary? Wherever you work, you will inevitably encounter a whole new language, with abbreviations and acronyms for things you have no clue about. Slowly all becomes clear as you learn the ropes.
I thought it would be fun to compile a basic gardening vocab cheat sheet of the odder words – you hear so many of these being flung about and I wasn’t sure of some myself. Hopefully I can clear some up for you:
Amending: Adding organic matter or other substances to soil to improve its structure, fertility, or drainage.
Biennial: Plants with a two-year life cycle, typically producing foliage the first year and flowers and seeds the second year.
Bolting: Premature flowering and seed production in plants, often caused by stress or environmental factors, usually making them unusable.
Cold stratification: A process of exposing seeds to cold, moist conditions to break dormancy and stimulate germination – home growers do this with a kitchen fridge.
Companion planting: Growing different plants together, including for pest control or nutrient enhancement; planting garlic among roses or chives among chrysanths to deter aphids.
Damping off: Fungal disease affecting seedlings, causing them to wilt and die at soil level.
Direct Sowing: Planting seeds directly into the ground rather than starting them indoors.
Espalier: Training plants to grow flat against a wall or trellis in a specific pattern.
Foliar Feeding: Applying fertiliser directly to plant leaves for rapid nutrient absorption.
Green manure: Cover crops grown and then tilled back into the soil to improve fertility and structure.
Half-Hardy Annual: Plants that are able to withstand light frost and cooler temperatures but may require protection during the harshest weather conditions.

Hardening off: Gradually acclimatising indoor or greenhouse-grown plants to outdoor conditions before transplanting.
Hardy annual: Plants that complete their life cycle within one growing season, withstanding frost and cold temperatures.
Hardscape: Non-living elements in a garden, such as paths, patios and walls, that provide structure and functionality.
Hybrid: A plant variety resulting from the crossbreeding of two different parent plants, often selected for specific traits.
Marcescence: The retention of dead leaves on trees and shrubs throughout the winter – think beech hedges.
Mulch: Material spread over the soil surface to retain moisture, suppress weeds and regulate soil temperature.
Overwintering: Protecting plants from cold temperatures to ensure their survival until spring.
Perennial: Plants that live for more than two years, regrowing each spring from the same root system.
pH Level: A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, affecting nutrient availability to plants.
Pricking out: Transferring seedlings from a densely sown container to individual pots to allow for proper growth and development.
Propagation: The process of creating new plants from seeds, cuttings or other plant parts.
Rejuvenation pruning: Severe pruning to remove old or diseased growth and stimulate new, vigorous growth.
Sucker: Shoots that grow from the base or roots of plants, often removed to prevent overcrowding or maintain desired growth.
Thinning: Removing excess seedlings or plants to provide adequate space for healthy growth.
Underplanting: Planting low-growing or shade-tolerant plants beneath taller plants to maximize space and visual interest.


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