A Mini-Glossary of Gardening Jargon

Sue Williams
Adams County Master Gardener

We can sometimes be confused, even overwhelmed, by the many gardening specific words and terms used by those who are regularly engaged in fooling around with the earth and its bounty. Perhaps this brief introduction to some of the most often used terms in the trade (defined at times with a bit of tongue in cheek) will assist you in becoming more familiar with garden vocabulary.

Soil Amendments: This has nothing to do with the U.S. Constitution. Rather it refers to what one may do to correct soil deficiencies and increase the health and productivity of what is planted or already growing in the soil. What you may add to it is, of course, dependent upon your soil’s present condition and what is, or will be, growing there.

Hardening Off: The term hardening off is often used to describe the process of acclimating plants to outdoor conditions after growing them from seed indoors, or simply keeping them indoors for a period of time (as in winter). To successfully harden off plants, gradually expose them to outdoor temperatures during the day rather than immediately planting them into the garden. Plants should also be protected from full sun while they are being hardened off.

Double Digging: This is not to be confused with "double dipping" as it pertains to certain income practices. It refers to tilling or turning the soil twice, creating a trench with the first dig, piling that soil to the side, and then going deeper for the second dig to provide more soft soil depth in the area. It is a common practice when setting plants like asparagus which need to be placed well down into the ground or where the topsoil is thin and hard.

Overwintering: This does not apply to hibernating animals but rather to certain plants that can make it through periods of long cold weather if properly protected. A personal example may be helpful; in the fall of 2001, we planted spinach, which, though immature as winter arrived, made it through the winter months in a cold frame and became our first spring crop.

"Native Plants and Trees: Definitions of "native" are perhaps as numerous as the number of such species found in any given geographic area. In essence, "native" refers to plants, shrubs, and trees that have grown and flourished in an area for many years. In Pennsylvania, hemlock and mountain laurel are good examples. Native flowers, shrubs, and trees can be better choices for the homeowner’s landscape because they prosper better than imported or "exotic" ones.

Determinate/Indeterminate: These terms are usually used to describe the growth patterns and productivity periods of plants. For example, determinate species of tomatoes tend to reach a certain size, stop growing, produce fruit over a limited period of time, and then decline. Indeterminate plants continue growing until frost arrives and produce fruit throughout their lifetimes.

Norway maple
Acer platanoides

Invasive Plants: This term sounds threatening, and it can be. Such trees, shrubs, and vines tend to spread quickly by roots, seeds, shoots, or all three. Left unchecked, they can literally take over an area, choking out other desirable plantings. In our experience, honeysuckle, Norway maple trees (because of prolific seed distribution), and many ivies have been problematic, invasive plants.

"pH" Factor: Not the past history of your garden and yard, but instead a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. It is important to know this and other factors regarding your soil before adding too many amendments. Kits are available at the Adams County Extension Office on the Old Harrisburg Road for taking soil samples. The cost of analysis and a report is modest.

Damping Off: This term has nothing to do with what one does after a shower or face wash. It refers to the misfortune of seeing carefully planted seeds or young plants fail to germinate or wilt and die because they were grown indoors in a non-pasteurized soil mix. The simplest way to avoid this calamity is to put seeds and small plants in a soilless or peatlike mix. If you must use garden soil, make sure you bake it in the oven at 200 degrees F until it reaches 180 degrees F and hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes.

Cultivar: A cultivar is simply an artificially contrived species not found naturally in nature. The voluminous varieties of roses we now encounter are good examples, as are lilies and daisies.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): No, this is not the various means that a spouse may employ to keep the significant other under reasonable control without complete eradication. But the principle is similar: IPM refers to the attempt to use a variety of strategies to keep garden pests under control, while at the same time attempting to minimize damage to the environment. Biological, rather than chemical controls (releasing ladybugs to control certain insects) have been employed with considerable success.

Each human activity, business, or sport develops its own vocabulary or jargon, and gardening is no exception. I hope this little primer provides you with some new information, or perhaps a refresher course, about some frequently used gardening words and terms. There are, of course, many others; perhaps you can add a few of your own.

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