Back to Basics: Gardening Terms for Beginners

There’s nothing like reading up on a gardening technique you’d like to try only to run across terms that require even more research simply to understand them.

If you’re not quite sure what the difference is between seed scarification and stratification, or you can’t even imagine what deadheading involves, don’t feel bad. Most newcomers to gardening are in the same boat. 

To help, we’ve put together a beginner’s glossary - broken down by subject - that you can use as a cheat sheet.

Gardening Terms for Beginners | Vego Garden

Plant Life Cycles

Annuals: Plants with a one-year life cycle.

Biennials: These plants take two years to complete their life cycle.

Bolting: When plants flower or produce seeds prematurely. It often occurs in response to stress factors like high temperatures or long daylight hours.

Deciduous: Plants that shed their leaves annually.

Dormancy: A period in a plant's life cycle when its growth, development, and metabolic activities slow down or temporarily stop. During dormancy, the plant conserves energy and resources, often in response to environmental conditions like winter cold or dry seasons.

Evergreen: Plants that retain their leaves throughout the year.

Perennials: Plants that live for multiple growing seasons.


Amendment: A material that’s added to soil to improve its physical properties, structure, or fertility. Examples include nutrients and compost.

Compost: Decomposed organic matter, such as kitchen scraps and yard waste, that is rich in nutrients and enhances soil structure and fertility.

Brown Compost: Compostable materials high in carbon, including dried leaves and tree branches, which contribute to the “brown” or “dry” component of compost.

Green Compost: Compostable materials high in nitrogen, including fresh kitchen scraps and green plant materials. These materials contribute to the “green” or “moist” component of compost.

Fertilizer: A substance, either natural or synthetic, that’s added to soil or plants to provide essential nutrients, promoting healthy growth and development.

Loam: A soil type that has a balanced mixture of sand, silt, and clay, providing optimal conditions for plant growth.

Mulch: A protective layer of material, such as straw, wood chips or leaves, spread over the soil surface to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate temperature.

Organic Soil/Matter: Soil or matter derived from living organisms, often rich in organic nutrients and beneficial microorganisms that promote plant growth.

pH: A measure of soil acidity or alkalinity, influencing nutrient availability to plants. A pH value below 7 is acidic, while above 7 is alkaline.

Potting Mix: A specially formulated soil mixture for container gardening that provides a balanced blend of nutrients, aeration, and drainage for potted plants.

Silt: Fine soil particles, smaller than sand but larger than clay, that contribute to soil fertility and structure.

Soil Texture: The relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay in soil. Soil texture helps determine a soil's ability to supply water and nutrients to plants.

Planting Methods

Bare Root: This refers to dormant plants that have been removed from the ground, with their soil removed, and preserved for later planting. This method is commonly used to sell and transfer trees, shrubs, and some perennial plants.

Broadcast: To scatter seeds evenly over a wide area.

Companion Planting: Growing different plants together to enhance growth, deter pests, or improve flavor.

Hügelkultur: Creating raised beds using decaying wood and organic matter to improve soil fertility and water retention.

Sow: To plant seeds in soil or another growing medium.

Direct Sow: Planting seeds directly in the garden where they will grow, rather than starting them indoors.

Undersow: Planting a cover crop beneath an existing crop for soil protection and improvement.

Plant Reproduction and Seeds

Cutting (or Slip): When a portion of a plant, like a stem or leaf, is cut and placed in potting soil to grow into a new plant.

Graft: The union of two plant parts, usually a shoot or bud, with a rooted plant to create a new plant with desired characteristics.

Open-Pollinated: When plants are pollinated by natural means, allowing for diverse offspring with similar characteristics to the parent plant.

Propagation: The reproduction or multiplication of plants, either sexually (seeds) or asexually (cuttings, grafting).

Rhizomes: Underground stems that grow horizontally, producing roots and shoots, enabling plants to spread and reproduce.

Scarification: Intentionally damaging the seed coat to enhance germination by allowing water and air to penetrate the seed.

Seedling: A young plant that has recently sprouted from a seed. Seedlings typically have delicate stems and leaves.

Stratification: Exposing seeds to natural conditions like cold and moisture so they will germinate.

Plant Processes

Photosynthesis: When plants convert sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into glucose (sugar) and oxygen using chlorophyll in their leaves.

Transpiration: The process by which plants release water vapor through tiny pores (stomata) in their leaves, contributing to water movement in the plant and cooling.

Woody: Describes a plant that has grown a hard stem and produces wood as its structural tissue. Woody plants are perennials that retain a portion of their structure above ground all year long.

Plant Anatomy

Nodes: Points on a plant stem where leaves, branches, or flowers emerge.

Pistil - The female seed-bearing organ of a flower, comprising the ovary, style, and stigma.

Sepals: The protective outermost part of a flower, usually green and leaf-like.

Stamen: The male reproductive organ of a flower, consisting of the pollen-containing anther and filament.

Plant Care

Deadheading: Removing dead or dying flowers from a plant to encourage new blooms.

Ground Cover: Low-growing plants that cover the soil surface, helping to control weeds, reduce erosion, and enhance the aesthetics of a garden.

Hardiness Zone: A geographical area categorized by its average annual minimum temperature. The Hardiness Zone indicates the climate conditions a plant is likely to endure and helps gardeners choose plants that can thrive in their specific region. 

Rootbound: When a plant's roots become densely packed and encircle its container, restricting growth.

Topdress: Applying a layer of organic or inorganic material to the surface of the soil around plants, often for fertilization or to improve soil structure.

1 comment

  • Beth DiMeo

    Thank you for this article – I have some supplies to start growing some seedlings indoors – I have several
    Varieties of vegetables and herbs – I am not sure how many seeds to plant in each seedling container and if a small pot can hold more than one seedling as they start small / also if they need a grow light or if partial sunlight is ok – lastly if it is better to just start outdoors as the temperatures will soon be approaching 40s – 60s would love to see more tips or guidance on this

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