Decoding Gardening Jargon

Any activity has a language that is unique to that field. This is true whether it is gardening, crocheting, skydiving, or extreme couponing. It is easy to get overwhelmed at first when you feel like everyone is yammering at you in a foreign language. If you are like me, your heart beats in your ears, your eyes glaze over, and you lose all sense of time and space. You might wonder what the heck you have gotten yourself into. 

Don’t panic. Just like how you became a Quiddich expert in middle school (No? Just me? Ok, liars!), you can figure out how to read a seed packet or gardening book. I want this page to be a quick reference for you so that when you are trying to find a term, it will be easy. So, I am putting them in alphabetical order instead of by subject. When I first started learning about gardens, I had NO IDEA what these words were referring to, so I had to scan a whole blog post to find it. Not fun. We’re going to do this glossary style for simplicity’s sake.


Introducing air into the soil by perforating it to avoid soil compaction. Basically, breaking up the dirt so that the roots can breathe and aren’t smooshed by tightly packed soil. 


Plants that typically complete their life cycle in one growing season. They die off after the season is over and don’t normally come back. 


A plant that completes their life cycle in two years. 


When a plant produces a flower stalk before it has been harvested. It has a negative impact on taste and harvest quality in general.

Companion planting:

Putting plants together that have beneficial traits such as insect control, soil nutrient production, or shelter.


Fertilizer created from decayed organic material.

Cover crop:

Plants that are planted with the purpose of covering the soil as a living mulch to control soil erosion and fertility.


A plant that has been created through careful control for their specific characteristics. They have to be constantly cultivated in order to retain their consistency. 


A piece of plant that has been removed to use in propagation.

Photo by Markus Spiske:

Damping off:

When you have babied your seedlings too much and they just flop over and give up on life. Or, more formally, when seedlings collapse because of fungal infections brought on by overly damp conditions. 


The scary sounding process of removing dead flower heads to promote blooming. 


Trees that lose their leaves every year.


In tomatoes, plants that stop growing after a certain point. Most of their fruits mature all at one time, making these plants good for canning.

Direct sow:

Planting seeds directly into the garden instead of starting them indoors and transplanting. 


An adaptation that prevents seeds from germinating unless certain conditions have been met in order to maximize the probability of seedling survival. For example, some seeds need to be exposed to extreme damp, cold conditions before they germinate so that they are more likely to survive because the frost date has passed. 

Dynamic accumulators:

Plants that are said to suck up minerals and nutrients from the lower layers of the soil and store them in their foliage. They can then be used for mulch and fertilizer to improve the nutrient content of the top layers of soil where it can be more beneficial to all the plants. 


Trees that don’t drop their leaves every year. Instead they stay green. Get it? You get it. 


The leaves of the plant.

Foliar feeding:

The process of feeding plants by spraying fertilizer to their leaves.

Hardening off:

The process of easing the transition from indoors to outdoors by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions.


A plant’s ability to handle extreme weather in an area. 


Open pollinated plants that have been passed down through generations.

Herbaceous perennial:

A plant that dies down every year, but the roots stay alive and new growth comes up the next planting season. These are the zombie plants that you thought you killed, but then all of a sudden popped back up when you were least expecting.


Not to be confused with hummus, which is yummy. Humus is finished compost. More specifically, the nutrient rich stuff left from decayed organic matter that plants think is yummy but is definitely not hummus.


A plant that is the result of cross breeding two varieties or species that are genetically different. They tend to be infertile.


In tomatoes, plants that grow and produce fruit continually throughout the growing season.

Indoor sow:

Planting seeds in trays or other containers indoors instead of directly in the garden. Great for plants like peppers that are tender but require a long time to grow.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash


Sounds sexy, but it isn’t. It is the stretched out growth pattern of plants reaching for more light. Long stems with leaves concentrated on the ends are a sign that your plant is trying to climb out the window to get more sun.


Material used to grow plants in. Peat moss is an example of a growing medium.


Material used to cover soil to protect and enrich it.


A fungus that grows in the root system of a plant and has a symbiotic relationship with it.

Open pollinated:

A plant that is the result of natural pollination as opposed to hybridization. Pollinated by wind, insects, birds, or humans.


Plants that have a life cycle of several years (more than two).


The process of plant reproduction where pollen is taken from an anther to a stigma in order to produce seeds.


Anything that takes pollen from the anther of one flower to the stamen of another in order to reproduce.


Creating more plants of a particular species or cultivar. For example, by taking cuttings and rooting them in water.


An underground plant stem that grows horizontally that can send out shoots and root systems for a new plant.


Weakening the protective outer layer of a seed to encourage germination. For example, by scratching or chemical treating.

Soil amendment:

Any material added to soil to improve its composition for plants.


The process of breaking a seed’s dormancy by simulating the conditions needed for the seed to germinate. Often by freezing the seeds in a tray of damp soil.


Refers to a leaf with more than one color.


Plants that grow on their own instead of being planted by the gardener. They can come from compost, birds, animals, wind, ect…

Worm casting:

Fertilizer composed of earthworm waste.

Photo by sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash

So, that is it for the gardening jargon. I hope it helps you to make informed decisions on how to care for your plant babies and keeps you from getting overwhelmed by what can be a complex subject sometimes. I plan to add more to this glossary as I go along so let me know in the comments if there is a term I missed that seems important.


Will, Melissa J. “Gardener’s Dictionary (Easy To Understand Definitions).” Empress of Dirt, Accessed 6, October 2022/

BBC Gardener’s World Magazine. “Gardening for beginners: jargon buster.” Gardener’s World, Accessed 6, October 2022.

Vegetable Gardening Guru. “Terminology.” Planet Natural Research Center, Accessed 6 October, 2022.

Cutler, Karan Davis. Burpee- The Complete Vegetable & Herb Gardener: a guide to growing your garden organically, Macmillan/Burpee. 1997, New York.

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