|Glossary of Gardening Terms
Indirect sunlight - sun's radiation does not directly hit the leaves of the plant, however the plant is in a bright well lit
area (500-1000 fc).
Reflected sunlight - sun's light does not shine on the leaves of the plant but does shine on a light colored surface
(like snow) near the plant, allowing a plant to receive half strength light. There is little warmth associated with
reflected sunlight. (250 - 500 fc).
photoperiodism Plants flourish, and then go dormant based upon the cycles of sunlight. The sunlight process is
known as photoperiodism. It is a big word, but what you need to remember is, if you want the growth of a plant to slow
down or go dormant, (equivalent to a hibernation or deep sleep for animals
Dapple shade - a mix of direct sunlight, reflected sunlight and indirect sunlight usually caused when sunlight filters
through the leaves of a canopy of foliage. 4 hours or less of sunlight a day (25-50 fc).
Dense shade - direct sunlight for less than 3 hours a day, as under a deck or porch or dense pine tree.
Full shade - complete lack of direct sunlight usually caused by trees, building or structure that blocks the path of the
Full sun - direct sunlight for at least 6 hours of the day.
Partial sun - direct sunlight for 4 - 6 hours a day (500-1000 fc).
photosynthesis, whereby a plant makes its food. In general the more sunlight your plants get the more growth.
Hardiness Zone Map - The United States Department of Agriculture publishes a graph of zone designations for the
United States based on average annual minimum temperatures. This map is referred to as the USDA Plant Hardiness
Zones Map. The United States National Arboretum has posted a web version of this map as seen on the opposite
page. Go to www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/ for a more detailed look at zone boundaries. (Go to www.climate-zone.
com for international hardiness zone information.) Notice the temperature ranges roughly follow the longitude, latitude
and altitude lines of a globe. The hardiness zones are intended to relate to the lowest cold temperature a plant can
survive. If a plant is described as hardy to zone 6, then you can assume it will survive temperatures as low as -10o
The following terms relate to a plant’s temperature requirements:
Tender - these plants usually cannot tolerate frost.
Half Hardy - these plants can survive a frost but not a deep freeze. Frost occurs at 32o Fahrenheit or 0 o Celsius.
Hardy - these plants are capable of enduring a complete freeze. The exact cold temperature the plant can endure
relates to its hardiness zone, commonly expressed as hardy to zone 3.
Rain water – These are the water droplets that fall from the sky. Many gardeners collect this water from their
rooftops in rain barrels or cisterns and use it for the home and garden.
Aquifers - After water falls from the sky it hits the ground where it is absorbed. Aquifers are large reserves of water
below the Earth's surface.
Spring water - After rain hits the ground it percolates through the soil, then the subsoil then the minerals and rocks
layers. This percolation process filters and cleans the water. This water forms small streams which flow back out of
the rocks. Fountains from these rocks are known as springs.
Ground water - The term used to describe water under your garden. Your areas typical ground water level may be
obtained by inquiring of your local agricultural agent. (Go to www.csrees.usda.gov/extension to locate your local
agent.) Water that can be collected from a stream, river, or pond is also considered ground water.
Well water - Modern technology has allowed humans to locate aquifers beneath the soil and drill holes down to the
ground water levels and pump that water back up to the surface. These holes are called wells and provide what is
referred to as well water.
Softened water - Water that comes from the ground contains different minerals. An excess of minerals, such as
calcium, lime and iron, will cause water to be considered “hard”. It may discolor or leave mineral deposits on water
using appliances in your home. Well water can be flushed though salt pellets to remove the minerals and reduce
mineral build up on your shower, sinks and appliances. This treated water is called softened water because it does
not contain an abundance of hard mineral particles.
City water - Many municipalities have water treatment facilities. The theory is to reuse waste water after a series of
chemical treatment processes. The water, after being treated is pumped through a series of pipes back to peoples
Tap water - This water comes from the city treatment plants to your home and flows out of your kitchen, bath or other
faucet. Tap water can contain chlorine and fluoride.
Filtered water - Depending on where your water comes from, it may contain lead, chlorine, fluoride, calcium, iron,
lime, magnesium and potassium. Many people filter their water because they wish to remove these chemicals and
minerals form their water in hopes of improving the quality and taste.
Soil Texture The ease of soil cultivation is known as soil texture.
Grey water - This is waste water from your shower, laundry or dishes (not the toilet). It can be used to water your
garden in diluted amounts.
Xeriscaping is the art of combining drought tolerant plants with water conservation tactics to create a low
maintenance garden. Many Xeriscapes use local native plants that require little or no maintenance or irrigation.
Clay - Particles are derived from the breakdown of silica and aluminum oxide in the soil. Soil colors include shades of
red and yellow. Clay is hard when dry, and slick when wet.
Humus - Decomposing plant material. Humus is light and fluffy and dark in color.
Silt - Particles come from the breakdown of feldspar in the soil. Soil colors are in the reddish browns. Silt will clump
together when moist.
Sand - Particles are derived from the breakdown of quartz in the soil. Light soil colors from white to beige indicate a
Friability describes the consistency or tilth of your soil. Water and air are found in the spaces between the mineral
and organic components of soil.
Soil Drainage: Start by digging a 12 inch x 12 inch x12 inch hole in the earth (basically the same size as your shovel
head). Fill the hole with water (approximately 1 gallon). Time how long it takes the water to drain away. This is known
as a percolation test.
Soil Acidity - Acidity and alkalinity are measured on the pH scale, which runs from 0 (acid) to 14 (alkaline) the neutral
point being 7. The numbers of a pH scale increase or decrease exponentially. A pH of 5 is ten times more acidic then
a pH of 6. Acidity or soil pH is the measure of the acid forming hydrogen ions in the soil. The acidity reading is
expressed in degrees of acidity or alkalinity in terms of a pH value. A pH value of 7 is neutral; a pH value below 7
indicates an acidic soil also referred to as sour soil. A pH above 7 indicates an alkaline soil or sweet soil. The acidity
of a soil can affect the plant's roots ability to absorb nutrients from the soil
Organic matter - Consists of dead or decaying plants, insects, and dung. Organic matter is a critical soil amendment
as it improves tilth and slowly releases major and minor plant nutrients. Earthworms, insects, bacteria, fungi and other
organisms transform organic matter into humus.
Blood or Bone Meal - Ground bones and blood from meat processing factories. This amendment improves soil
texture and provides calcium. A free source can be clam shells found on the beach and egg shells. (I find bone and
blood meal also help to keep the creatures out of my garden.)
Compost - The act of decomposing or rotting organic matter. Compost is a good organic source of nutrition for many
plants. Gypsum is often spread on a compost pile to aid in the breakdown of organic matter.
Gypsum - Sulfate of lime containing 23% calcium oxide, the calcium helps to make potash available to plants. It also
improves soil texture or tilth. The sulfur component of this soil amendment acidifies the soil, thus neutralizing the lime
component. As an insecticide gypsum is effective against several types of beetles.
Humus - Decomposed organic matter used to improve soil texture.
Manure - Animal dung used to enrich the soil. Dung was traditionally gathered from stables, hen houses, or
barnyards. Today, manure includes droppings from worms, bats and gulls, but not dogs or cats. Composted or aged
manure are best for the home gardener.
Perlite - A soil conditioner used to create air pockets in soil and increase friability. Looks like round styrofoam beads.
Peat - Soil conditioner comprised of ancient decomposed grass harvested from bogs. Peat is very light weight when
dry and once saturated has the quality of excellent moisture retention. Peat is an inexpensive soil conditioner, but it is
acidic and can lower soil pH.
Vermiculite - Rock like mineral used to loosen dense compact or clay soil. It is flaky in appearance like a crushed
Bulbs are short, fleshy stems protected by thick, fleshy leaves, as seen in tulips, daffodils and crocus.
Corms are short, swollen stems covered by dry, scale-like leaves, as seen in the gladiolus and caladium plant.
Crowns are stems of an herbaceous perennial that are so short the leaves form a rosette at the base of the plant
just under the soil. Plants that are formed by crowns include delphiniums.
Rhizomes have a root-like stem that spread underground, like that of bamboo. Swollen rhizome tips have eyes, as
seen in the iris.
Stolons are modified stems that are long and creep along the top of the ground. Strawberry plants are examples of
Tubers are short, swollen underground stems that are engorged with food storage, with no internodes, as exampled
by the sweet potato and the dahlias.
Vines are elongated stems for climbing or creeping. Some vines are supported with modified leaves or tendrils. Other
vines are supported with little adhesive growths. Plants examples include morning glory, grape, peas and ivy
stems: There are two types woody stems and soft stems
roots: There are two types a tape root and fiberous roots
Annual - A plant that grows, flowers, sets seed, and dies, all in the same season.
Biennial - A plant that grows the first season, flowers, sets seed, and dies, after a second season.
Perennial - A plant that lives several seasons growing, flowering and setting seeds repeatedly.
Self sowing - A plant that grows, flowers, sets seed and dies. However, the seed left on the ground will germinate
and grow, on its own, the following season.
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