Plan and Prepare

Key Gardening Terms

Terms & Definitions Every Gardener Should Know

Do you need clarification on gardening terminology? You’ll find the definitions of the most commonly used garden terms here. Expand your gardening knowledge from Planning and Preparing, Selecting and Growing, and Maintaining and Solving Problems.

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Accessible Gardens

These gardens are designed to eliminate barriers, allowing people of all ages and abilities to enjoy being outside in nature. Senior citizens as well as children with limited abilities can enjoy the great outdoors. Pathways are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and are on a surface that is easily navigated.


Plants that are not native and not invasive but are able to thrive in the local climate and soil conditions. See also Native (under N).


Plants that complete their life cycle in one year or less. See also Biennial (under B) and and Perennial (under P)


Balled & Burlapped

Larger trees and shrubs that were grown in the ground at a nursery. When ready for sale or shipment they are dug and the roots wrapped in burlap.

Bare Root

Mostly plants that are dormant perennial plants that are dug up and stored without any soil around their roots. Bare root plants are often sold by online nurseries as they are easier to transport without soil.


A plant that requires two growing seasons to complete its life cycle. See also Annual (under A) and Perennial (under P)

Biological Control

The process of reducing pests by utilizing other organisms. For example, the use of Bacillus thuringiensis is considered an organic biological pest control method.

Blossom End Rot

Blossom end rot (BER) is a physiological disorder of a plant in which the tissue of the blossom end of the fruit breaks down and rots. This can reduce yield as well as continue to harm and even kill the plant. Many times inconsistent watering is the culprit. Tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant can be affected.


Plants produce a flower stalk and seeds, and then often die early in the season. Lettuce and spinach will bolt during hot temperatures.


A bulb is any plant that stores its complete life cycle in an underground storage structure. Examples are onions, daffodils, and lilies.


Children’s Gardens

These gardens should be fun, colorful and stimulating. They offer a safe, hands-on experience, encouraging interaction with nature. There are many children’s gardens in North Texas that offer a great experience for the children.

Chill Hours

Particularly important to fruit trees are the average chill hours in your area of the country. Traditionally a chill hour was calculated if it was any temperature below 45 degrees. New research notes a chill hour as being between 34 degrees and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to find fruit tree varieties with the closest amount of required chill hours that you receive. North Texas chill hours range between 700-950 on average.

Clay Soil

Composed of many tiny plate-like soil particles that can compact with time to form a hard, solid mass that makes shoveling and digging difficult, and often results in poor drainage. See also Soil Types (under S).

Cold Frame

A frame with a clear top, either glass or plastic, can be placed on the ground or in a raised bed. This creates a barrier to the wind and also enhances any sun that reaches the new plants. This design increases the temperature under the cover.


Compost is the decomposition of plants and other living materials into a soil-like substance that is high in organic matter. Compost improves most soil types. See also Mulch (under M).



Removing the spent blooms from plants. This aids in reblooming.


Trees and plants that shed their leaves every year. See also Evergreen (under E).

Deer Resistant Plants

Plants that deer are less likely to eat or damage. However, these may vary by region, and deer will eat almost anything when hungry.


Describes plants that have a specified growth size. Some determinate tomato plants grow to a size of 3-4 feet high. Most of the crop ripens within a few weeks time, making these a great choice for food preservation. See also Indeterminate (under I)


Ground material that is dead with no beneficial nutrients or microbes. It is referred to as displaced soil such as when you clean up after working in the garden. On a larger scale, think of how much soil gets displaced from a landslide and suddenly becomes dirt. See also Soil (under S).

Disease Resistant Plants

Varieties that have a proven track record of being resistant to some of the most common diseases. Disease resistant does not mean immune from disease. Plants with high levels of disease resistance to certain kinds of pathogens can still get those diseases and be subject to production losses.

Drip Irrigation

Various hoses and tubes are used to emit small quantities of water directly to the root zone of plants. Drip irrigation is one of the best water conservation methods that a gardener can implement. They can be installed to an outdoor faucet or connected to lawn sprinklers. Drip systems significantly cut down on runoff of water and fertilizers into streets and sewer systems.

Drought Resistant

Plants that can withstand periods with little or no supplemental water once planted and established in the landscape. Establishment can take up to 1 year, depending on the plant type (annual flowers, shrubs or trees).

Drought Tolerant

Established plants that deal with severe drought on a regular basis and recover from repeated wilting.


Earth-Kind® Landscaping

The objective of Earth-Kind Landscaping is to combine the best of organic and traditional gardening and landscaping principles to create a horticultural system based on real world effectiveness and environmental responsibility. Earth-Kind Landscaping encourages water conservation.


Plants that grow on the surface of other plants for support but do not feed off those plants.  Because its roots do not touch the ground, its moisture and nutrients come from the air, and rain, or from debris accumulating around it such as leaf litter.  Some examples are bromeliads, tree ferns, orchids, moss, lichens, and cactus.

Evergreen -- Complete & Semi

Complete Evergreen: A tree or plant that doesn’t shed its leaves in the winter but stays green all year. See also Deciduous (under D).

Semi-Evergreen (also Semi-deciduous): A tree or plant that lose its foliage for a very short period, when old leaves fall off and new foliage growth is starting.



A product that is added to soil to provide nutrients to help plants grow. Fertilizers are either organic (naturally occurring materials) or inorganic (human-made products).

Fertilizer Types

NPK: These letters on a fertilizer package stand for nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), the three nutrients that compose complete fertilizers. You will see a series of three numbers, often separated by dashes. These numbers correspond, respectively, to the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in that fertilizer.

Balanced: A fertilizer that has NPK numbers about the same, such as a 10assets/images/calendar/texas-superstars-calendar-image.jpg0assets/images/calendar/texas-superstars-calendar-image.jpg0. Some balanced fertilizers may contain more phosphorus than what most plants need here in Texas.

Slow Release: Fertilizers that release a small, steady amount of nutrients over a course of time.

Water Soluble: Fertilizers are made to dissolve in water. Because they are easily broken down, they are fast-acting. They can either be in liquid or crystal form.

Organic: Fertilizers are made from mined rock minerals, and natural plant and animal materials. They include ingredients like manure, guano, dried and powdered blood, ground bone, crushed shells, finely pulverized fish, phosphate rock, and wood.

Synthetic: Fertilizers are “human made” inorganic compounds. Examples are Ammonium Nitrate, Ammonium Phosphate, Superphosphate, and Potassium Sulfate.

Firewise Landscape Design

This design creates a defensible space between your home, other structures, grasses and any flammable substances. Fires need fuel to burn, so keeping grasses, shrubs and trees cut back gives a fire a tougher time to get established. Also, keep gutters clear of debris and all dead limbs and branches removed from around the home. The area nearest your home is the most vulnerable.


Refers to the leafy parts of a tree or plant.



Non-woody plants that have bladelike leaves and a branching fibrous root system.

In the home landscape, green low-growing grasses may be grown for turf. Ornamental grasses tend to be taller grasses with more variety in color and shape and may be used in ornamental beds as stand-alone or with other perennials.

Grass Types

Cool Season: These grasses are types that grow exceptionally well in the cool weather of fall and spring. Frigid cold winters and moderate summers are no problem for these versatile grass types.

Warm Season: These grasses are turf types that thrive when temperatures are over 75 degrees. In the south, southeast, and southwest, where summers are long and average temperatures are high, warm-season grasses are the best. In the fall and winter, warm-season grasses become dormant.

Growth Habit

Climbing: Plants that can climb in various ways. Most are considered vines. They can use tendrils, or they can wrap or twine around a near structure. Roses are considered scramblers. They need to be tied and trained to stay on a trellis. Ivy has stem tendrils with touch-sensitive adhesive pads that allow them to stick to almost any surface.

Scramblers: Plants that have long, flexible stems that are unable to climb on their own. They may have thorns that help them grip other stems. Rambling roses are considered scramblers.

Spreading:  Plants that exhibit a sprawling type of growth, resulting from profuse lateral branching in mostly woody or succulent stems.

Trailing: Plants that trail along the ground or out of pots but do not root at nodes along the stem.

Upright: A plant that is taller than it is wide with straight (more or less) edges, these plants often have a somewhat spike-like appearance.


Hardening Off

The treatment of tender plants or seedlings that enable them to withstand cooler or warmer temperatures as well as wind. Leaving plants outdoors for short periods of time and building up to several days, will allow them to become strong enough to endure more adverse conditions. This process can take 1-2 weeks.

Hardiness Zone (USDA)

Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. Temperature zones are based on the lowest average temperature each area is expected to receive during the winter.


Typically plants are at least 50 years old, and are often pre-WWII varieties. Most heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait.

Heat Tolerant

Plants that can flourish in hot climates.


Herbicides are chemicals that kill plants or prevent them from growing.

Herbicide Types

Broad Spectrum: Broad spectrum herbicides kill all types of vegetation. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in a broad spectrum herbicide that is non-selective.

Post-Emergence: Herbicides that kill vegetation that has sprouted or is actively growing.

Pre-Emergence: When applied in a timely fashion, pre-emergent herbicides can prevent unwanted vegetation from sprouting.

Selective: These herbicides control specific weed species, while leaving your desired relatively unharmed.


A hybrid is created when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties of a plant, aiming to produce an offspring, or hybrid, that contains the best traits of each of the parents.



Describes tomato varieties that continue to grow and produce tomatoes all season until first frost. You can find tomatoes at all stages on the plant at one time. Also called pole or vining tomatoes because supports are necessary to guide plants that can easily reach 6′ or more. See also Determinate (under D).


A plant that is both non-native and able to establish on many sites, grow quickly, and spread to the point of disrupting plant communities or ecosystems.


Joint (node)

The point on a stem where a leaf or bud is attached.



The edible part of a nut.



A type of soil consisting of sand, clay, and organic matter. See als Soil and Soil Types (under S)



Mulch is any material that covers the soil’s surface. In nature, mulch is simply fallen leaves and plant debris. Compost, leaves, wood chips, straw and some man-made products are considered mulch. Mulch helps reduce soil erosion and soil compaction and improve soil structure. Mulch retains moisture and inhibits weed growth. See also Compost (under C).



Native plants are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions where they naturally occur. These important plant species provide nectar, pollen, and seeds that serve as food for native butterflies, insects, birds and other animals. See also Adapted (under A).


Open Pollinated

Varieties that produce seeds that grow into nearly identical plants as the plant they were harvested from. See also: Pollination.



Plants that are cold hardy and will return year after year. Some perennials are very long lived and others will survive only a few years. See also Annual (under A), Biennial (under B).

Pest Management

The most effective strategy for controlling pests is to combine methods in an approach known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). In IPM, pest control methods that are the least harmful to the environment and your pets are utilized.


Soil pH or soil reaction is an indication of the acidity or alkalinity of soil and is measured in pH units. The pH scale goes from 0 to 14 with pH 7 as the neutral point. pH is Important because most plants don’t like soils that are too acidic or alkaline. pH can be adjusted using amendments.


Pinching, also known as tipping, is a pruning method generally used on young plants to encourage branching.

Plant Propagation

The process of creating new plants.


The fertilization of a flower by wind, insect, birds, etc. where the male pollen reaches the female stigma, resulting in a seed, sometimes surrounded by an edible fruit like a pepper. See also: Open Pollination.


Insects or animals that obtain nectar and pollen from plants. Pollinators include butterflies, bees, flies, wasps, and ants. Birds, bats, moths, and small animals may also be pollinators.

Pollinator Garden

In simple terms, a pollinator garden is one that attracts bees, butterflies, moths, hummingbirds or other beneficial creatures that transfer pollen from flower to flower, or in some cases, within flowers.


Removal of plant parts such as buds, developed shoots, and roots to maintain a desirable form by controlling the direction and amount of growth. We practice the 3Ds. If a branch is dead, diseased or dying, we prune it out.


Rainwater Harvesting

Rainwater that can be stored for use during dry periods serves several purposes. Most rainwater ends up in storm drains as a wasted resource. It also has less salts than our municipal water. It can also save money by reducing your water bill.


Horizontal stems that grow underground. They serve as storage organs and a means of vegetative reproduction.

Root Bound

Plants become root bound (also called ‘pot bound’) when they outgrow their container and aren’t repotted in a larger one. So, their roots grow around and around, which inhibits growth.

Root Rot

Root rot is a general term that describes any disease where the pathogen causes the deterioration of a plant’s root system.


Sandy Soil

Composed of many irregular to rounded tiny grains of sand, as opposed to the many tiny plate-like soil particles that make up a clay soil. Sandy soil drains very quickly and doesn’t hold on to nutrients very well. See also Soil Types (under S)


The process of breaking through a hard outer covering of a seed to allow moisture to penetrate.


The process by which pollen is transferred from the pollen producing section of the plant to the pollen receiving part of the plant of the same flower or another flower of the same cultivar.


Ground material that is alive with living organisms such as worms, fungi, insects, bacteria, and organic matter. It supports life with its naturally occurring nutrients and minerals. It is a complete and self-sustaining ecosystem. See also Dirt (under D).

Soil Types

Clay Soil: Composed of many tiny plate-like soil particles that can compact with time to form a hard, solid mass that makes shoveling and digging difficult, and often results in poor drainage.

Sandy Soil: Composed of many irregular to rounded tiny grains of sand, as opposed to the many tiny plate-like soil particles that make up a clay soil. Sandy soil drains very quickly and doesn’t hold on to nutrients very well.

Loam: A type of soil consisting of sand, clay, and organic matter.


The process of subjecting seed to a moist and cold treatment to break dormancy, which occurs naturally when seed is sown outdoors in the fall and experiences a winter period.

Sun Exposure & Light Requirements

In Texas we also need to consider whether our sun exposure is morning or afternoon. Hot afternoons can be a struggle for some plants.

  • Full Sun- More than 6 hours of direct sun per day
  • Part Sun/Part Shade- 4-6 hours of direct sun per day
  • Full Shade- Less than 4 hours of sun per day



Enlarged underground stems serving as storage organs of starch or related materials. Potatoes and dahlias are well known examples of tubers.



A number of short, equal length flower stalks shaped like an umbrella and originating from one common point. From the carrot family, examples are parsley, fennel, dill, wild parsnip and carrot.


As a result of less sun, smaller trees, shrubs, and plants growing under a taller forest canopy have stunted growth and are called the understory.


A flower of one sex only.



A cold treatment, such as found in cold winter conditions, that induces flowering in some varieties.


Water Requirements

Garden plants can suffer when the soil dries out. On the flip side, they don’t like “wet feet,” meaning they can also suffer if their roots are sitting in water and not getting sufficient oxygen. Most garden plants, flowers, and shrubs do best when they receive at least one inch of water per week, although they may need more in our hot summer climate.

WaterWise Landscaping

Also known as “Xeriscape,” is quality landscaping that conserves water and protects the environment. Using seven common-sense principles, you can create a lush, beautiful landscape that saves time, money and energy and prevents water pollution and water waste.


A weed is simply a plant growing in the wrong place. Plants which are intentionally grown in yards and gardens are called cultivated plants. All other plants which are not supposed to be there and grow unwanted, are called weeds.



A patented name which stands for water-conserving landscapes.


A plant that has adapted to live under very dry conditions. Some examples of mechanisms plants have developed are to store water in fleshy leaves or cylinders (succulents/cactus), plants with waxy leaves (Carissa holly), plants that curl up leaves to prevent water loss or excess heat (azalea/rhododendron).

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