Jeff Ishee is a farm and garden writer/broadcaster based in Augusta County, VA. He is host and producer of “Virginia Farming” Television and “On the Farm” Radio.

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Learning Garden Lingo
by Jeff Ishee    

Are you occasionally perplexed by a term used in a gardening book or magazine article? You are not alone if — as a newcomer to America’s most popular pastime — you are sometimes confused with terminology such as “friable loam.” Gardening is like many other hobbies, with unique and often colorful lingo.

This year’s garden season beckons, making this the perfect time to review some of the most common terms used to describe aspects of our country’s favorite leisure activity.

Gardening Definitions:

Annuals: Plants that complete their lifecycle in one year. A true annual germinates, grows, flowers, sets seed and dies in one season.

Broadcast: Scattering seed or fertilizer over a broad area rather than placing it directly on the row.

Compost is used to increase soil fertility and friability.
Photo by Jeff Ishee

Compost: Decayed organic matter, including leaves, wood shavings, animal manure, etc. Widely used to add short-term fertility and long-term friability to topsoil.

Cover crop: A crop grown to protect the surface of the soil from wind and water erosion, as well as to control weeds. Cover crops are utilized to protect the soil during non-crop periods. Examples include a winter cover crop of annual ryegrass, hairy vetch or canola (rapeseed).

Crop rotation: A method of varying the growing area of plants on a scheduled basis. This technique prevents weeds or disease organisms from becoming established in any given space. Rotation also offers benefits for unique plant fertility requirements. Native Americans learned long ago that corn (a nitrogen consumer) is usually prolific when grown in the same soil as beans (nitrogen provider) from the previous season.

Cultivar: A cultivated strain of plant. Used synonymously with “variety” and written between single quotation marks — ‘Silver Queen’ is one popular cultivar of sweet corn.

Drip irrigation: A method of watering plants so only the soil in the immediate vicinity of the plant is moistened. This is typically accomplished by the use of a plastic tube and a low flow rate.

Everbearing: Plants that bloom intermittently and produce fruit throughout the growing season. This includes some cultivars of strawberries.

Friable: A term describing soil that easily breaks or crumbles when handled. This condition is the opposite of compacted soil. Wise old farmers (and gardeners) recognize that fertile, friable loam is the ultimate growing medium.

Hairy vetch is commonly used as both a cover crop and green manure crop. What’s the difference between the two? Learn the answer above.
Photo ©

Green manure crop: Often confused with a cover crop, a green manure crop is grown primarily to add nutrients to the soil when it’s plowed under. Many vegetable gardeners incorporate a green manure plot into their rotation scheme during the prime gardening season. Green manure crops include hairy vetch, clover and peas (tilled under before the peas go to seed).

Heirloom plants: These are non-hybrid plant varieties that are generally more than 50 years old and often shared, a few seeds at a time, among family members and friends for generations. For some gardeners, growing heirloom plants and preserving viable seeds is a lifelong passion. Thanks to these dedicated gardeners, we still have many cultivars of plants that could have been lost forever.

Hilling: When I see this term, I immediately envision my dad plunging his index finger knuckle deep into the soil. He introduced me to vegetable gardening four decades ago. Hilling is a planting method where a small round hill is formed 4 or 5 inches high. Seeds are then planted on the plateau of the hill. This helps seeds to germinate better in warmer soil and provides adequate drainage for plants susceptible to problems due to wet conditions.

Humus: A dark-colored, stable form of organic matter that remains after most of the plant residue has decomposed. Think of the forest floor in a wilderness area, with a thick layer of humus covering the true topsoil.

Peas are an example of a legume. Their roots form an association with soil bacteria to capture atmospheric nitrogen and add it to the soil.
Photo by Patricia K. Ammon

Legume: These are plants whose roots form an association with soil bacteria to capture atmospheric nitrogen. These plants actually add nitrogen to the soil rather than take it away. Peas and beans are examples of legumes.

Loam: Topsoil with moderate amounts of sand, silt and clay. Excellent for most plants.

Mulch: Organic or synthetic material placed on the soil surface around plants to conserve moisture, prevent crusting, reduce soil erosion and control weeds. Examples include pine bark, grass clippings and black plastic.

Perennials: Plants that normally live more than two years.

Rootbound: A condition found in over-mature, containerized plants. Roots grow profusely in an undersized container and have no room to expand. Rootbound plants are usually stunted and have a reduced potential for future growth. Inspect plants before purchase. Lightly pull the plant from the pot. If you see a mass of roots going in every direction, the plant is rootbound.


(From State-by-State Gardening February 2006.)


Posted: 06/13/12   RSS | Print


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