Last week I received a phone call from a novice gardener asking about a problem he was having. During the conversation he asked me what did ‘drip line’ mean?
This made me think that there are many people who garden but are not likely to know what some of the lingo means, that we experienced gardeners use and take for granted.
So been winter and having covered recently many of the winter things to talk about, like pruning, spraying Lime Sulphur etc now might be a good time to look at some of the terms commonly used and what they mean. It may pay to cut out this for future reference.
ACID MEDIUM -- A compost which contains little or no lime and has a pH of less than 6.5. Sometimes referred to as "sour" soil by gardeners.

AERATION -- The loosening of soil by digging or other mechanical means to allow air to pass freely.

AERIAL ROOT -- A root which grows out from the stem above ground level. Aerial roots are commonly seen on mature specimens of Monstera deliciosa and tomato plants

AIR LAYERING -- A method of propagating single-stem plants, such as Ficus elastica decora, which have lost their lower leaves and become leggy. An incision is made to a portion of outer stem layer, damp sphagnum moss is wrapped in a bag around it until roots develop. Then it is cut and replanted with its shorter stem size.

ALKALINE SOIL -- Soil that has a pH level of about 7.0 or more. Sometimes referred to as "sweet" soil by gardeners.

ANNUAL -- A plant which completes its life cycle within one year of germination. Compare biennial and perennial.

AQUATIC -- Plant which grows partially or completely in water.

ASEXUAL -- Vegetative reproductions - e.g. cuttings and division.

BARE-ROOT -- Usually referring to deciduous shrubs and trees, and some other perennials, with all the soil removed from their roots that are sold at nurseries.

BEARDED -- A petal bearing a tuft or row of long hairs.

BEDDING PLANT -- Plants suitable for massing in beds for their colorful flowers or foliage. Usually annuals.

BICOLOR -- A flower with petals which bear two distinctly different colors.

BIENNIAL -- A plant which completes its life cycle in two seasons. Compare annual and perennial.

BIOLOGICAL PEST CONTROL -- Using living organisms such as beneficial insects or parasites to destroy garden pests.

BLEEDING -- The loss of sap from plant tissues which have been cut.

BLIND -- The loss of the growing point, resulting in stoppage of growth. Also, failure to produce flowers or fruit.

BLOOM -- A natural mealy or waxy coating covering the leaves of some house plants.

BOLT -- Annual vegetables or flowers that grow quickly to flowering stage at the expense of their best overall development.

BONSAI -- The art of dwarfing trees by careful root and stem pruning coupled with root restriction.

BOTANICAL NAME -- The Latin scientific name of a plant is its botanical name. There is only one botanical name per plant so if you want a specific variety, use it's botanical name to be sure you're getting what you want.

BOTTOM HEAT -- Under surface heat provided in the soil by electric cables or hot water pipes.

BULB -- A storage organ, usually formed below ground level, used for propagation. A true bulb consists of fleshy scales surrounding the central bud, but the term is often loosely applied to corms, rhizomes and tubers.

BULBIL -- An immature small bulb formed on the stem of a plant; e.g Lily.

BULBLET -- An immature small bulb formed at the base of a mature bulb; e.g Hyacinth.

CAPILLARY ACTION -- The natural upward movement of water in confined areas, such as the spaces between soil particles.

CARNIVOROUS -- Used in the gardening world to denote a plant (usually tropical) that typically lives in highly acidic soil that doesn't adequately provide enough nourishment. Nature has adapted these plants to trap and consume insects for this need. An example is the Venus Flytrap plant.

CHLOROSIS -- An abnormal yellowing or blanching of the leaves due to lack of chlorophyll.

COMPOST -- Usual meaning for the house plant grower is a potting or seed/cutting mixture made from peat ("soilless compost") or sterilized soil ("loam compost") plus other materials such as sand, lime and fertilizer. Compost is also a term for decomposed organic matter such is what's left after a compost heap has degraded vegetable and animal matter. An excellent source of organic material for rebuilding and enriching soil.

COMPOST HEAP / COMPOSTING -- The result and act of combining organic materials under controlled conditions so that the original raw ingredients are transformed by decay and degradation into humus (or compost).

CORM -- A swollen, underground stem base used for propagation; e.g Crocus.

COVER CROP -- A crop grown to protect and enrich the soil or to control weeds.

CULTIVAR -- Used when determining plant names. Indicates the variety originated in cultivation and not the wild. This portion of a plants name is usually not Latin.

CUTTING -- A piece of a plant (leaf, stem or root) which can be used to produce a new plant.

DAMPING OFF -- Decay of young seedlings at ground level following fungal attack. Often the result of soil borne diseases and over watering.

DEAD-HEADING -- The removal of faded heads of flowers.

DECIDUOUS -- These are plants that loose their leaves at the end of the growing season. Maple trees are a good example.

DIOCECIOUS -- A plant which bears either male or female flowers. (Compare to Monoecious)

DIVISION -- A method of propagating plants by separating each one into two or more sections and then repotting.

DOLOMITIC LIMESTONE -- Sometimes used when 'liming' soil that has an acid pH level that is too high. As it contains calcium and magnesium carbonate it should be used only with soils that are also deficient in magnesium as well. (See also Calcitic Limestone)

DORMANT PERIOD (DORMANCY) -- The time when a plant has naturally stopped growing and the leaves have fallen or the top growth has died down. The dormant period is usually, but not always, in winter. Compare resting period.

DOUBLE FLOWER -- The Latin name for this is "flore pleno." It refers to flowers that have many petals present, such as roses.

DRAWN -- Excessively tall and weak growth, caused by plants being grown in too little light or too closely together.

DRIP LINE --The area beneath a plant where rain water naturally sheds off. The area Just below the outer leaves and branches. It is the area where the feeder roots are often found in many plants.

EPIPHYTE -- A plant which grows above ground attaching itself to trees or rocks. The Amazon Air Plant seen in many nurseries is a good example.

EVAPOTRANSPIRATION -- Abreviated as ET, it is the amount of water that transpires through a plants leaves combined with the amount that evaporates from the soil in which it is growing. Used as a guide for how much water a plant needs per day/week/year.

EVERGREEN -- A plant which retains its leaves in a living state during the winter.

EVERLASTING -- Flowers with papery petals which retain some or all of their color when dried for winter decorations.

EXOTIC -- Strictly speaking, a plant which is not native to the area, but popularly any unusual or striking plant.

F1 HYBRID -- A first generation offspring of two purebred strains. An Fl hybrid is generally more vigorous than an ordinary hybrid.

FAMILY -- One genus or several genera which have a basically similar floral pattern make up a family.

FERTILIZE(RS) -- The act of or the actual substance added to soil to provide additional nutrients for plants. May also be used to describe the pollination process flowers undergo with the help of bees and other insects.

FIBROUS-ROOTED -- A root system which contains many thin roots rather than a single tap root.

FLAT -- A shallow box or tray used to start cuttings or seedlings.

FOILIAR FERTILIZER -- A fertilizer applied in liquid form to a plant's foliage in a fine spray so that the plant can absorb the nutrients through its leaves.

FORCING -- The process of making a plant grow or flower before its natural season.

FROND -- A leaf of a fern or palm.

FUNGICIDE -- A chemical used to control diseases caused by fungi.

FUNGUS -- A primitive form of plant life which is known to the house plant grower as the most common cause of infectious disease -- powdery mildew. sooty mould and area mould.

GENUS -- Used when naming plants. Genus is the plant equivalent of our surnames. When followed by the name of the 'Species' you have it's botanical name. Almost always in Latin.

GERMINATION -- The first stage in the development of a plant from seed.

GIRDLING -- The choking of a branch by a wire, rope or other inflexible material which usually occurs most often in woody stemmed plants that have been tied down too tightly without regard for growth.

GRAFTING -- The process of joining a stem or bud of one plant on to the stem of another.

GREEN MANURE -- A crop (such as rye grass) that is grown and then incorporated into the soil to increase soil fertility or organic matter content. Usually turned over into the soil a few weeks before new planting begins.

GROUND COVER -- A plant used to provide a low-growing carpet between other plants.

HALF HARDY -- An indoor plant which requires a minimum temperature of 50"-55"F 10 to 13 C. for healthy growth. Compare hardy and tender.

HARDENING OFF -- Gradual acclimatization to colder conditions. Usually used when talking about transplanting of greenhouse plants or seedlings. Can be as simple as moving outside into a protected area for a short time, to more involved methods.

HARDY -- A plant which can withstand prolonged exposure to temperatures at or below 45"F. 7 C. Compare half hardy and tender.

HEEL -- A strip of bark and wood remaining at the base of a side shoot cutting pulled off a main shoot. Some cuttings root more readily if a heel is attached.

HERB -- A plant grown for flavoring or medicinal purposes.

HONEYDEW -- Sticky, sugary secretion deposited on plants by insects such as aphid and whitefly.

HOUSE PLANTS -- Plants that are grown and raised indoors in containers.

HUMUS -- A dark colored, stable form of organic matter that remains after most of plant or animal residues have decomposed.

HYBRID -- A plant with parents which are genetically distinct. The parent plants may be different cultivars, varieties, species or genera but not different families.

HYDROPONICS -- A method of growing a plant in water containing dissolved nutrients.

INFLORESCENCE -- The arrangement of flowers on the stem. A flower head.

INORGANIC -- A chemical or fertilizer which is not obtained from a source which is or has been alive.

INSECTICIDE -- A chemical (synthetic or organic) used to kill or repel insects.

KNOCKING OUT --Or Knock out-- The temporary removal of a plant from its pot in order to check the condition of the root ball.

LATEX -- Milky sap which exudes from cut surfaces of a few house plants, such as Ficus elastica decora and Euphorbia.

LEACHING -- A similar concept to making tea which leaches out the flavor of the tea leaves. This concept regards how water will rinse bad substances (like salt) or good ones (like nutrients) down deep into the soil or as runoff.

LEAF MOULD -- Partially decayed leaves used in some potting mixtures. It must be sieved and sterilized before use.

LEGGY -- Abnormally tall and spindly growth .

LEGUME -- A plant whose roots form an association with soilborne bacteria that can capture atmospheric nitrogen. A good example of this are soybeans.

LOAM -- Good quality soil used in preparing compost. Adequate supplies of clay, sand and fiber must be present.

LONG DAY PLANT -- A plant which requires light for a longer period than it would normally receive from daylight in order to induce flowering; e.g Saintpaulia.

MANURE -- An organic material excreted by animals (usually from steer is sold commonly) this is used as a fertilizer and an amendment to enrich the soil.

MICROCLIMATE -- The warmth and humidity of the air in close proximity to a plant. It may differ significantly from the general climate of the room.

MICROORGANISMS -- Animals and plants that are too small to be seen clearly with the naked eye.

MIST PROPAGATION -- The ideal method of propagation under glass, using automatic mist generators and soil heaters.

MONOECIOUS -- A plant which bears both male and female flowers. (Compare to Dioecious)

MULCH -- Any loose, usually organic material placed over the soil as a protective covering or for decorative purposes. Common mulches are ground bark, saw dust, leaves or straw.

MULTICOLOR -- A flower with petals which bear at least three distinctly different colors.

MUTATION -- A sudden change in the genetic make-up of a plant, leading to a new feature. This new feature can be inherited.

NEUTRAL -- Neither acid nor alkaline; pH 6.5-7.5.

NITROGEN CYCLE -- The transformation of nitrogen from an atmospheric gas to organic compounds in the soil, then to compounds in plants and eventually the release of nitrogen gas back into the atmosphere.

NITROGEN FIXATION -- The capture and conversion of atmospheric nitrogen gas into nitrogen compounds, stored in the soil, that can be used by plants.

OFFSET -- A young plantlet which appears on a mature plant. An offset can generally be detached and used for propagation

ORGANIC -- A chemical or fertilizer which is obtained from a source which is or has been alive. Also the general term used for a type of gardening using no chemical or synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

OVER-POTTING -- Repotting a plant into a pot which is too large to allow successful establishment.

PENDANT -- Hanging.

PERENNIAL -- A plant which will live for three years or more under normal conditions.

PERILITE -- A mineral expanded by heating to form very lightweight, porous white granules useful in container soil mixes to enhance moisture and air retention.

pH -- A measure of acidity and alkalinity. Below pH 6.5 is acid, above pH 7.5 is alkaline.

PINCHING OUT -- The removal of the growing point of a stem to induce bushiness or to encourage flowering. Also known as stopping.

PIP -- Two distinct meanings -- the seed of some fruits (e.g Orange) and the rootstock of some flowering plants (e.g Convallaria).

PLUG -- A small but well-rooted seedling raised in a cellular tray and sold for growing on.

PLUNGING -- The placing of a pot up to its rim outdoors in soil, peat, water or ashes.

POLLEN -- The yellow dust produced by the anters. It is the male element which fertilized the ovule.

POT-BOUND -- A plant growing in a pot which is too small to allow proper leaf and stem growth.

POTTING ON -- The repotting of a plant into a proper-sized larger pot which will allow continued root development.

PRICKING OUT -- The moving of seedlings from the tray or pot in which they were sown to other receptacles where they can be spaced out individually.

PROPAGATION -- In gardening usage, this refers to the many different ways of starting new plants.

PRUNING -- A method of cutting off leaves or branches within limits in order to remove dead or diseased foliage or branches. Also used to control or direct growth, increase quality or yield of flowers or fruit and to ensure growth position of main branches to enhance structural strength. (See Bonsai for ornamental reasons as well.)

RESTING PERIOD -- The time when a plant has naturally stopped growing but when there is little or no leaf fall. Compare dormant period

RHIZOME -- A thickened stem which grows horizontally below or on the soil surface.

ROOT BALL -- Matted roots plus enclosed soil within a the pot of a container grown plant.

ROOTING HORMONE -- A chemical or organic in powder or liquid form which promotes the formation of roots at the base of a cutting.

RUNNER -- A creeping stem which produces small plantlets along its length. Sometimes called a 'Stolen.' Example is strawberries.

SHORT DAY PLANT -- A plant which requires light for a shorter period than it would normally receive from daylight in order to induce flowering; e.g Chrysanthemum and Poinsettia.

SHRUB -- A woody plant with a framework of branches and little or no central stem. Compare tree.

SOIL POLYMERS -- Super absorbent polymers recently developed that can increase water retention of soils. They can absorb hundreds of time their weight in water and are primarily used in container bound plants.

SPECIES -- Used when naming plants. Designates a specific species of the 'Genus' and is best described as the plant worlds equivalent to our Christian names (or first names). Will follow the Genus name and is usually in Latin. Note: Once a plants full name is used, i.e. Hedera helix, future listings will abbreviate the Genus name and follow it with the species name. An example would be, H. helix, as the next plant in a listing.

SPHAGNUM MOSS -- Various mosses native to bogs are sphagnum. Often used for the lining of hanging baskets and for air layering. (See Air Layering)

SPORE -- A reproductive cell of nonflowering plants, such as ferns.

SPORT -- A plant which shows a marked and inheritable change from its parent; a mutation.

STERILIZED SOIL -- A rather misleading term, as steam- or chemically sterilized soil is only partially sterilized. Harmful organisms have been killed but helpful bacteria have been spared.

STIGMA -- The part of the female organ of the flower which catches the pollen.

STIPULE -- A small outgrowth at the base of the leaf stalk.

STOLON -- See runner.

STOPPING -- See pinching out.

STOVE PLANT -- A plant which requires warm greenhouse conditions in winter.

STRAIN -- A selection of a variety, cultivar or species which is raised from seed.

STRATIFY -- Chilling of seeds prior to germination. Can be done moist or dry dependant on type of seed. Seeds are placed in fridge for a period of time from about a week to several weeks, dependant on type of seed.

SUCCULENT -- Succulents plants have leaves and/or stems which are thick and fleshy. They often have waxy outer layers that allow the plants to retain water well.

SUCKER -- A shoot which arises from an underground shoot or root of a plant.

SYSTEMIC -- A pesticide which goes inside the plant and travels in the sap stream.

TAP ROOT -- A strong root, sometimes swollen, which grows vertically into the soil or compost.

TENDER -- An indoor plant which requires a minimum temperature of 60"F. Occasional short exposure to temperatures below this level may be tolerated. Compare hardy and half hardy.

TENDRIL -- A thread-like stem or leaf which clings to any nearby support.

TERRESTRIAL -- A plant which grows in the soil.

TOPIARY -- The art of clipping and training woody plants to form geometric shapes or intricate patterns. Box and Myrtle are suitable types.

TOPDRESS -- A process that means to apply on the surface of soil. Usually referring to the spreading of organic material such as ground bark or manure.

TRANSPIRATION -- The loss of water through the pores of the leaf.

TREE -- A woody plant with a distinct central trunk. Compare shrub.

TUBER -- A storage organ used for propagation. It may be a fleshy root (e.g Dahlia) or a swollen underground stem.

UNISEXUAL -- A flower of one sex only (See also Monoecious and Dioecious)

VARIEGATED LEAF -- A green leaf design which is blotched, edged or spotted with yellow, white or cream color.

VARIETY -- One of possibly many closely-related plant species. The variety name is usually in Latin.

VERMICULITE -- This is a mineral called mica that is heated and puffed up to form lightweight, sponge-like granules capable of holding both water and air.

WEED -- An uninvited and usually unattractive plant that surfaces in gardens. Usually seeds are delivered by wind, birds or water but not always.

XEROPHYTE -- A plant which is able to live under very dry conditions. Example would be cacti.

Well thats it folks, though there are many other terms and words which are used but most of them are of a more complex form and found in botany.

A larger list can be found at
which I have also used in formulating the dictionary.

Or a very big glossary can be found at

You can reach me by e-mail for any gardening problems to be answered at: