The humorous side of garden terminology
In today's "Growing Together" column, Don Kinzler explains why a garden "amendment" isn't part of the Constitution.
Have you been concerned that a new perennial might escape? Have your strawberry plants ever heaved? Have you taken a slip?
If these questions make any sense whatsoever, you speak the gardener’s dialect.
Time-honored terms make gardening vocabulary interesting, but they can sound downright odd.
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Here are some commonly used gardening words with definitions.
- A garden “amendment” isn’t part of the Constitution. Instead, it’s a material added to improve soil, such as compost or peat moss.
- “Escape” isn’t prisoners making a jailbreak. It means a plant has begun to spread uncontrollably out of its desired bounds.
- “Rest period” isn’t what’s needed following an afternoon of pulling weeds. It’s the period of dormancy, often in bulbs, required before active growth resumes.
- When perennials or berry plants “heave,” alternating freezing and thawing of soil tears roots, lifts plants partially out of the ground and can result in winter injury.
- “Self-cleaning” isn’t limited to ovens. In gardening, the term means a flowering plant that sheds old blossoms neatly without requiring hand removal.
- “Cutting back” doesn’t refer to our need to reduce calories after the holidays. It means reducing the height of a plant, often drastically, usually to encourage better branching or fresh growth.
- To “pinch” means using the thumb and forefinger to remove the tip growth, encouraging plants to develop side branching.
- “Chlorosis” might sound like a liver ailment, but it’s a yellowing of plant leaves, often caused by iron or magnesium deficiency.
- An “eye” is a bud on the surface of a tuber or enlarged root, as in potatoes and peonies.
- “Cross” doesn’t mean you’re irritable. It’s the transfer of pollen from one flower to another.
- A “flat” isn’t a tire with a nail hole. It’s a greenhouse tray in which packs or pots of plants are grown, carried or sold.
- “Breaks” are side shoots often stimulated by pinching out the plant’s top growing point.
- A “slip” is an old term for a “cutting,” which is a plant part that’s coaxed into producing roots to create a new plant.
- “Thinning” doesn’t mean a receding hairline. It’s the removal of some seedlings to reduce overcrowding so remaining plants have room to develop.
- “Dust” isn’t what happens if you ignore your housework, but is the name given to powder-like insecticides.
- A “volunteer” is a plant that grows from a seed that wasn’t sown intentionally, such as a volunteer tree seedling.
- A “weed” is any plant growing where it’s not wanted. I’m often asked to identify whether a given plant is a weed, but even wheat is a weed if it’s growing where we don’t want it.
- “Media” is the mix in which plants are growing, not radio, television or Facebook.
- “Bolting” doesn’t mean making a run for it. Instead, it's when vegetable plants begin their flowering stage while the plant is still too tiny, such as when cauliflower bolts.
- “Forcing” a plant might sound unkind, but it’s simply coaxing it to grow or bloom outside its normal season, such as forcing a pot of tulips.
- “Heavy” soil has a high proportion of clay that retains water, as opposed to “light” soil that quickly drains from its high sand content.
- “Heirloom” isn’t your grandmother’s collection of porcelain teacups, but refers to older flower and vegetable varieties developed before modern hybrids.
- A “border” isn’t your son who’s moved back home to live in your basement, but a continuous planting along the outer boundaries of a lawn, often consisting of a mixture of shrubs or perennial flowers.
- “Potbound” has nothing to do with smoking dope. It’s the term given to a plant whose roots have tightly filled the soil ball, totally circling inside the pot.
- If a plant doesn’t like “wet feet,” it doesn’t grow well in a location that is frequently too wet and poorly drained.
- “Established” doesn’t mean you’re a longtime resident. It refers to a plant that’s become firmly rooted in a new location and is beginning to send out additional growth.
Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.